The Uni Tas election risk: white elephants all over

Liberal candidates for Hobart in the State Election say if the party forms a majority government it will amend the University of Tasmania Act to stop U Tas selling its Sandy Bay campus without “explicit support” in both chambers of Parliament.

It’s a pitch to activists opposed to the plan to relocate to the CBD and round 300 in the brawl over where the University should be based.  In 2022, a non-binding vote on the plan was on the city council ballot and it was rejected by close to 70 per cent of voters.

VC Rufus Black was on ABC Hobart Radio the other day, ducking the location question by suggesting that the Commonwealth wants to invest in regional university infrastructure (maybe he meant hubs).

“I think there are lots of ways through this and now we’ve got effectively all the parts of government starting to recognise we have got to find a solution here,” he said.

This is super-high stakes stuff for Professor Black. The University needs to sell most of Sandy Bay to fund the well-underway city move.

Perhaps the Vice-Chancellor is betting on the close to sure-thing that neither the Libs nor Labor are likely to have a majority in the House and both parties are not keen to be seen doing deals with the Greens. Which may mean whatever happens will depend on MPs elected for the Jacqui Lambie Network. This could be good for Professor Black – the University’s relocation to a flash new site in Launceston is popular and JLN is polling well in the north, behind the two major parties.

And pitching the University as an institution for all Tasmanians can’t hurt. Friends of the University pointed out the 2022 vote did not include Hobart voters outside the inner city, for whom the university is two bus rides away. And the University has just announced that from next year, medicine students will be able to do their entire course at northwest campuses, instead of spending the middle three years in Hobart.

Whatever the election result, the next State Government may not want the white-elephants-all-over outcome of the University having city sites it cannot pay for because Sandy Bay is intact, but under-utilised. Because bailing out U Tas would be expensive.

Which may be what Professor Black is banking on.



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