Brumby backs ‘foolproof’ Victorian quarantine facility

La Trobe University chancellor and former Victorian premier John Brumby speaks about the need for a purpose built quarantine facility as vital to the survival of regional universities, which played a“crucial role” in meeting skills shortages.

Speaking after the first graduation ceremony in Shepparton in two years, Mr Brumby said the absence of international students was a serious problem, given the university played a “fundamental role” in helping the Shepparton economy grow and meeting skills shortages.

“Our university is shrinking because overseas students can't study here any longer,” he said.

“And we're at full capacity for domestic students — we're at cap — so we need to see a resumption of those international students.”

Mr Brumby said La Trobe was “very supportive of a standalone quarantine facility”, which would be “100 per cent foolproof, 100 per cent safe” and “much better than hotel quarantine”.

Citing demographer Bernard Salt, Mr Brumby said the country was seeing “the biggest movement of people out of the cities since the 1850s gold rush”, including in Shepparton, Bendigo and Wodonga, where La Trobe operated.

“Think of this region, think of the shortages in some of the skills that you've already seen,” he said.

“Think of the shortages in some of the farm labour that we're already seeing across this region.

“The only thing that's going to fix that is, when Australia opens up, being able to do that safely.”

Mr Brumby said he was proud of the contribution made by La Trobe, employing staff, participating in community life and most of all, “the people we train are really a crucial part of the skills equation here in Shepparton and the region”.

“In Mildura we had 71 graduates in health sciences, and 41 of them were already working full-time at the Mildura Base Hospital,” he said.

“Everybody who graduates here (in Shepparton) — they get a job opportunity.

“So we play a fundamental role in helping the Shepparton economy grow and expand and create opportunities for our graduates.”

The former premier said most universities last year shrunk by up to 25 per cent.

“It's still tough times for universities, so that's the truth of the matter,” he said.

“We had to reduce our workforce by 450 people last year, and that's hard, you know, they're good people, they're good lecturers, they’re good tutors, they're good researchers.”

Mr Brumby said he was “really pleased” that the Federal Government was “talking constructively” with the state government about a standalone quarantine facility in Victoria.

The Victorian Government requested the Commonwealth cover construction costs of the proposed 500-bed alternative quarantine hub in Mickleham, and take “ultimate ownership of the hub”.

This would be similar to the only other standalone quarantine site in Australia, Howard Springs in the Northern Territory.

This article first appeared in Shepparton News, 19th May 2021