Universities get down to business at Pt Nepean


THE federal government has earmarked $25 million to build a “world-class marine and oceanographic research and education centre” in the quarantine station at Point Nepean National Park.

Flinders MP Greg Hunt said the universities were undertaking a business case and proposal in partnership with Parks Victoria and “all levels of government that aligns with the state government’s master plan for the … precinct”.

Mr Hunt said a four-year grant agreement had been finalised with Melbourne and Monash universities to build the National Centre for Coasts, Environment and Climate on the historic site.

Mr Hunt’s office later told The News that the centre would be situated in refurbished existing buildings.

The latest proposal follows several failed attempts to establish a permanent tertiary level research centre at Point Nepean.

The announcement also preceded revelations that Melbourne and Monash universities would be cutting staff due to declining enrolments, mainly by overseas students.

Melbourne University is looking at a $1 billion deficit budget (2020/23) and the loss of 450 jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cuts were announced after staff refused to accept a two per cent pay cut.

Nepean MP Chris Brayne said the type of environmental research that would be undertaken in the latest proposal “is a feature of the Point Nepean National Park master plan”.

In 2006, the then Prime Minister John Howard and Mr Hunt distributed a newsletter which stated that $9.7 million would be “allocated to the [Launceston-based] Australian Maritime College to create a National Centre for Marine and Coastal Conservation”. On 16 June that same year, then Treasurer Peter Costello and Mr Hunt issued a joint news release saying the federal government would provide $27 million “to restore and protect [Point Nepean’s] important heritage values and assist in the completion of the National Centre for Marine and Coastal Conservation”.

However, within one year the deal with the AMC had fallen through and the federal government then invited Melbourne University to step in and fill the void.

A memorandum of understanding was entered into, but a business case never undertaken.

In June 2010, Mr Hunt told Parliament that a “vision” for a National Centre for Coasts and Climate at Point Nepean had been “allowed to slide”. He accused the state government of having “immediately pocketed” $7 million allocated to Melbourne University for the centre in breach of the terms and intention of the Commonwealth handing over control of Point Nepean to the state.

A decade on, Mr Hunt says he is delighted “that this long-held vision is now a step closer”.

“This project brings a long-term, sustainable environmental use to the buildings [as well as] two higher education institutions to the Mornington Peninsula and a world-class marine and coastal research facility to Victoria and Australia,” he said.

Mr Hunt predicted the centre would “become one of the world’s great marine and oceanographic research centres”.

It will foster “interdisciplinary research on marine and coastal ecosystems, climate science and environmental management, with its location at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay [being] ideal for researchers to observe ocean, coast and atmospheric conditions”.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the universities would focus on environmental and cultural sensitivities of the Point Nepean precinct and listen and work closely with the local community as the project develops.

“The potential of the facility to contribute to greater public understanding of the ecological and cultural treasures of Point Nepean is also something the universities will be exploring,” Ms Ley said.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 11 August 2020


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