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Springvale Student Accommodation - Closure

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Tags: Housing Crisis, Education

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - I think that is a flawed strategy, Mr Winter, but I appreciate that you spent seven minutes talking about the Greens.

Tonight, I want to, again, go back to an issue that we raised in parliament last week which is the pending closure of the Springvale Student Accommodation.

Mr Speaker, you would know because there are young people from your electorate who count on Springvale as a place to stay and further their education. It is not just years 11 and 12 students from the Tasman Peninsula. We have been contacted from parents from all over Tasmania who are very worried about the future of the Springvale Student Accommodation, which I remind members has been operating for about 70 years, providing a safe place for young people from rural and regional areas to further their education in the south of the state.

What the House needs to understand is that it is the Education minister's decision alone which lead to the closure of the Springvale Student Accommodation.

Mr Bob Gilmour who ran Springvale since about 2003-2004 posted to a group of Springvale parents the other night after seeing the minister's answer to our question in question time. He said:

I am appalled. Here are the facts:

(1) I own a business called Springvale Accommodation.

(2) That business has operated Springvale Hostel since 1 January 2004.

(3) Springvale leases the hostel buildings. It does not own them.

(4) At the end of 2019 this company was in good to excellent financial shape.

His business model requires 50 students to break even. Based on all factors, he anticipated a very good year for 2020 but, of course, that was before COVID-19 hit. COVID killed that.

(5) By the end of 2020 the business was on the skids. For most of the year numbers were about 40.

(6) We received no financial assistance from any quarter. We lost about $2000 a week for the last 30 weeks of the year.

He says:

In March this year I went to the Department of Education for help. Now, read this carefully -

He says to parents.

the first offer put to me was that the department would fund Springvale Accommodation Pty Ltd for the shortfall for terms 1 and 2. The hostel would then close at the end of term 2. In other words, the department and the minister felt comfortable putting 35 of your sons and daughters

And he is talking to parents here:

And 13 of my staff on the street in the middle of the school year. I urge the department to rethink this.

They did, and the second offer was to support Springvale Accommodation Pty Ltd until the end of the year. That is where matters now stand.

What happened to my business is my responsibility. It happened on my watch and I accept responsibility, but the responsibility for closing the hostel is the department's and the minister's.

I have zero power in that space. The only solution the department offered is closure. The knee jerk reaction was closure. The department's agenda was closure.

Says Mr Gilmore -

At no time have they suggested looking at a different model of operation, a different operator, a combination of the above, and at no time have they entertained any other proposition but closure.

We have the minister in here last week, off the Greens questions, basically saying that the closure has come down to a decision of the operator not to operate Springvale anymore. Now we know the operator went to government for help, and the department's first reaction was 'close Springvale'.

We have a facility there that has been counted on by rural and regional students and their families for decades. It has provided a secure accommodation option in greater Hobart for young people who want to study in Hobart.

What we know now is that a number of options have been put to parents. I have a here a letter from Sally McGushin, the education adviser for the National Council of Women in Tasmania. She has written to the minister last week, off the back of a question that we asked. She says -

The lack of transparency about the decision to close Springvale epitomises the lack of respect shown to the Springvale staff, students and their families. So why is Springvale closing?

In Parliament on 18 August, Minister, you stated that it was Bob Gilmore's decision. It is not up to Bob Gilmore to close the hostel. Even if he made a decision to withdraw his services, it is still a departmental decision. The hostel belongs to the department.

Sally McGushin goes through a number of options that have been put to parents by the Springvale Change Group. One of the first things parents have been proposed with is starting with boarding at Hutchins or Collegiate, but as she says -

State school students will never really fit in there. No matter how welcoming staff and other students might be, the state school students will not be part of the wider Hutchins/Collegiate school communities and, moreover, these schools will be obliged to give their students priority.

She says -

Minister, you also mentioned TasTAFE. Firstly, they will only accept grade 11 and 12 students, not grade 7 and 10. Then, like Hutchins and Collegiate, it will give priority to its own students and is unlikely to be able to guarantee students a place in the following year.

Then there was a suggestion from the Springvale team that parents look at Colony 47. Sally McGushin says -

There is no doubt that Colony 47 provides very valuable housing support to many folk, including school students, but those students should have an independent income. Do you expect the Springvale students' families to kick them out so they are entitled to youth allowance?

Then there was the suggestion of Jane Franklin Hall at the university, which takes in older residents. Then there is a suggestion to these parents of UTAS accommodation; home stay. Some parents are being told, like the Tasman Peninsula parents, that these children could do a hybrid model where they do some of their study at Tasman District High, for example, and some of their study in town.

The bottom line, Mr Speaker, is that minister Jaensch could save Springvale. Minister Jaensch, with an allocation of between $150 000 and $200 000 a year, could make sure that this accommodation option was there next year, the year after, and the year after that, as it has been for the last 70 years, Mr Speaker, providing an excellent and safe accommodation option for rural and regional Tasmanian students.