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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1977

Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (21:22): I want to use the first part of my grievance debate speech not to grieve but to praise. I want to praise my local university, Central Queensland University, for the leadership role it has assumed in our region in recent times and the fact that it has matched that leadership and vision with an impressive record of investment that will create a legacy for generations of Central Queenslanders. The commitment of the university to our region and its desire to be an active partner in our growth and evolution into an economic powerhouse is best demonstrated by its most far-reaching proposal, and that is to merge with the CQ Institute of TAFE to become a dual sector institution. This proposal comes out of the recognition that Central Queensland, the cities of Gladstone, Rockhampton and Mackay and the communities of the Bowen Basin are experiencing never before seen levels of economic activity in the resources and energy sectors. That of course is creating unique demands for skilled workers across a staggering range of disciplines and occupations. Education and training in Central Queensland needs to meet that challenge, and CQ University wants to seize that opportunity.

Now for the grievance. Late last year, a major precondition to the merger of CQ University and CQ Institute of TAFE, the creation of Queensland's first dual sector institution and a landmark for our region, fell into place. After a lot of hard work on the part of the university and lobbying from me, the university secured $73.8 million from the government's structural adjustment fund to make the dual sector dream a reality. The funding will go towards a state-of-the-art engineering precinct at the uni's Mackay campus, together with an upgrade of the existing TAFE facility in the centre of Mackay. It includes an allied health clinic in Rockhampton and a number of other vital projects to bring about the effective integration of the two institutions into one. In a ringing endorsement of the dual sector proposal and in recognition of the significance to our region of this bold reform, the Commonwealth government allocated to our local university an incredible one-fifth of the total funding available—that is, $73.8 million from a total fund of $377 million. That is not a bad effort and one that CQU can be proud of. This is now at risk, thanks to the dithering of the LNP in Queensland and of its leader, Campbell Newman. Running in parallel to the Commonwealth's funding process, the university has been engaged for some time with the state government to satisfy its due diligence requirements ahead of the merger. This is a process at arm's length from the political sphere that is being carried out by the relevant state government departments. Not surprisingly, the university has been closely involved, providing information to the bureaucracy to assist with that study. It is my understanding that the finishing touches are being put on the due diligence review and that its findings are expected to be available to the incoming state government sometime before the end of April. The conclusions of that due diligence review need to be put to the Queensland cabinet for consideration and sign-off before the merger can proceed any further, which means before any of the Commonwealth's $73.8 million can be released.

Timing is everything here. This issue needs to be the first order of cabinet business for whoever leads Queensland after 24 March. Campbell must commit now to this project, or we risk losing $73.8 million in Commonwealth funding for our Central Queensland University. Central Queensland students and businesses will miss out unless Labor is re-elected or Mr Newman comes to his senses. I am working as hard as I can to keep the federal minister informed of the situation and to find a way through, but there is no getting away from the fact that the Commonwealth funding is there to bring together two institutions, one of which is a state government entity. The attitude of the Queensland government is fundamental to this merger, to this potential powerhouse of learning, research and skills development, getting off the ground. The outcome of the coming state election is shaping as crucial to this important initiative, which I believe will define our region in years to come. I say that because we have two parties competing for leadership of our state which, apparently, have two very different attitudes to this project.

On the one hand, we have the Labor Party led by Anna Bligh, who has left the people of Central Queensland in no doubt that she sees the creation of Queensland's first dual sector university as a step forward for our region, one that she wants to be part of. The merger will produce an institution capable of providing opportunities for local people to get the educational foothold they need to be part of our region's growth and prosperity. She also recognises that it will meet the demands of industry right across the board, filling the shortages that threaten to hold us back, whether it be in mining, LNG, agriculture or health, business or IT. Anna Bligh has embraced this project and pledged her full support for it should she become Premier after 24 March. We can be confident that she will move heaven and earth to have the due diligence report before cabinet as a matter of priority, which is what is needed for milestones to be met and for federal government funds to flow.

On the other hand, we have the LNP and its leader, Campbell Newman, showing a disturbing lack of commitment to the merger. I do not think anyone can get Campbell Newman to even talk about the project, and the shadow minister he has sent out to comment on the issue has everyone who cares about education and training and the future of Central Queensland terrified, frankly, by his stumbling response to questions. In one article he was quoted as saying:

I am not signing an open cheque book for them.

That is the point everyone is making. We are not asking Ted Malone to sign a cheque for anyone. We are begging him not to throw away $74 million that has already been offered. Here is something that the university and TAFE have been working on for at least two years. It has the backing of the federal government, the current Premier and community and business leaders across Central Queensland. We can all see the enormous value and potential of this project. Sadly, we can also see it slipping away, together with $74 million of investment by the Commonwealth government, because Campbell Newman wants to stay a small target and slide his way into power without having to reveal what that really means for Queensland.

I have spent too long backing CQU on this project, fought too hard to get that money in a very competitive process, as I am sure members here would appreciate, to let Campbell Newman get away with treating CQU like that and treating Central Queensland like that. Campbell Newman has to commit to this project and he has to do it now. His shadow minister, Ted Malone, told the people of Rockhampton in Saturday's Morning Bulletin that there are no guarantees with this. Well, what are they waiting for? The shadow minister is hiding behind vague cop-outs like the need for further investigation into TAFE and needing to know where we are going with TAFE. What has the shadow minister been doing for the last three years? We are now two weeks into the election. Hasn't he developed some policy on TAFE and training? Wouldn't he have already taken some passing interest in the merger of CQU and CQ TAFE—a major reform that has been under active consideration and development for most of his term on the front bench, and, I might say, a reform that has a direct bearing on his electorate? He says the LNP need to know where they are going with TAFE. Well, aren't the people of Queensland entitled to know, two weeks into an election, where the LNP are going on TAFE? And aren't the people of Central Queensland entitled to know where the LNP is going on this important project after CQ University and CQ Institute of TAFE?

Mr Newman has to do better than that if he is going to convince the people of our part of Queensland and other regional areas that he can be more than the mayor of Brisbane. For the LNP to be so disinterested and reckless about a project of such significance to our region says to me that Campbell Newman does not even know we exist. We have the commitment from Anna Bligh that dealing with the due diligence report on this project will be a first-order priority for a Labor government if re-elected. The people of Central Queensland expect and deserve no less from Campbell Newman, and he should commit now.