Councillors seek La Trobe University alliance

CRACKS were evident in Latrobe City Council’s response to Friday’s confirmation a new regional university for Gippsland would be pursued by Monash and Ballarat universities.

While Latrobe City Mayor Sandy Kam foreshadowed council would accept an invitation to participate in the transition’s planning, Cr Christina Sindt told The Express she and four fellow councillors would pursue an alliance with La Trobe University instead.

Cr Sindt said she was joined by councillors Sharon Gibson, Peter Gibbons, Darrel White and Dale Harriman at a meeting with Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent last week where they discussed their preference for a La Trobe proposition.

Mr Broadbent declined to comment on the meeting, saying only that it was a “closed meeting” and it was “important to have a tertiary facility” in the region.

Cr Sindt, however, said the “assembly” of five councillors represented a majority on council and that she, personally, was “horrified at the (current) take-over plan” by Ballarat University being conducted by “two self-interested parties who have made a premature announcement in contravention of the wishes the elected representatives of the Latrobe City community”.

Cr Sindt provided copies of correspondence she had sent to La Trobe University’s leaders last week, asking whether they would be interested in merging with Monash Gippsland.

“We have a medical school which may be of special interest, which has links with Latrobe Regional Hospital, and there are plans to develop a new $6.7 million Latrobe Valley University Training Clinic in Churchill, which would become a key centre for the export of knowledge-based services as well as the manufacture of dental prosthetics,” the letter to Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar said.

“This may be complementary to the La Trobe University Dentistry course.

“We understand that there have been some preliminary discussions by a State Member of Parliament last year about the possibility of La Trobe University taking over this campus, but that Monash University were reluctant to give up the Medical School,” it said.

The letter goes on to say councillors believed it would “be unconscionable for Monash University to withdraw from Latrobe City, yet retain the prestigious School of Medicine”.

Late Friday, Cr Kam released a statement saying council was “obviously disappointed that the request for the decision to be deferred was not accepted by Monash and Ballarat Universities” but it was “important for council to…engage in planning for the transition”.

“I will be discussing how council might participate in this process with my fellow councillors,” Cr Kam said.

She said Pro Vice Chancellors from both universities had asked council to meet with them and “I will be encouraging my fellow councillors to accept that invitation”.