Weipa activists get private hostel plan put to bed

After 18 months of campaigning, tenacious QTU members in Weipa have succeeded in their battle to stop a new hostel housing Indigenous students falling into the hands of the private sector.

While backing plans for the hostel, which will give up to 120 additional Indigenous students the chance to attend the local campus of the Western Cape College, teachers were adamant that suggestions that it should be run by an independent operator were not in the interests of the school, the community or the students themselves.

Just before Christmas, their efforts finally paid off when Education Minister Cameron Dick confirmed that the 120-bed Western Cape Residential Campus will indeed be operated by the Department of Education and Training.

“This new campus will provide quality residential care for students, who may currently travel great distances to board at schools on the east coast,” he said.

QTU members campaigned enthusiastically to raise awareness of the advantages of a department-run hostel, which would benefit from existing and established policies in areas like behaviour management and avoid the communication issues that have blighted similar relationships between colleges and independent hostels.

During their long campaign, Weipa activists adopted a variety of methods to get their message across, including producing a range of posters and stickers, initiating a Weipa community forum, holding several sub-branch meetings which addressed resolutions to the Director-General, lobbying Cook MP Jason O’Brien and taking their message to the local media.

The boarding facility is due to open in the first half of 2012 and it is expected that up to 60 students will board there in its first year of operation. It will be the third boarding facility operated by the department, with others already operating at Spinifex College in Mount Isa and Dalby.

The Australian Government has provided more than $30 million to build the new facility, as well as giving $2.5 million to the Queensland Government towards operation costs.  The Queensland Government is also providing $2.5 million over five years to operate the new campus.

The Indigenous Land Corporation has been funded by the Australian Government to project manage the construction of the facility and will own it on behalf of the Australian Government.

It is also hoped that the new campus will provide new employment opportunities for local people in Weipa through jobs such as house parenting, cleaning, laundry services, grounds maintenance and tutoring.

AEU President Angelo Gavrielatos and QTU Deputy General Secretary Kate Seed inspected the new hostel construction site late in 2011 and congratulated Weipa members and local Union Reps Kelly Creedon, Peter Thompson, Luke Millard and Sam Trebble on the success of their campaign.

Maureen Duffy
Peninsula and North West Organiser

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 1, 17 February 2012, p15