Brisbane stands up for the CSIRO

Issue 

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) lost one fifth of it's staff (20 per cent) in the two years from June 2013 to June 2015, according to CSIRO Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski. That's more than 1300 jobs.

This is just one measure of the level of attacks being meted down on the organisation at the moment and is part of the backdrop to the formation of "Friends of the CSIRO".

More than 30 people attended a forum in Brisbane on June 23 and similar gatherings have been held in Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart with other cities to follow.

Ross Gwyther (pictured) from Friends of the CSIRO told the crowd that they are seeking to establish working groups in every major city that can help to campaign to reverse the cuts and restore the research work that is being lost.

He identified three goals for the group. In the short term, the group is aiming to prevent the job losses that are still happening right now. In the medium term, the lost funding needs to be restored. In the longer term, the aim is to build the case for strengthening the CSIRO as a public research institution.

Chairing the meeting, Doctors for the Environment representative David King said that "those of us who appreciate science need to stand up now".

Popovski argued that the CSIRO has suffered job losses and funding cuts and even poor leadership in the past. What is different now, he said, is that the organisation is suffering an unprecedented level of overt political interference.

The meeting also heard that the current attacks on the CSIRO are a matter of global concern. Statements of concern by the World Meteorological Organisation and NASA were cited as evidence for this as was the fact that the New York Times has run three front page articles this year against the cuts.

Popovski (pictured right) pointed out that most of the younger, junior scientists have already lost their jobs. The job losses that are happening now include the jobs of senior scientists (in some cases, the "elite scientists" in their fields) representing a loss of invaluable experience.

The high profile cuts to climate research were highlighted at the forum but other less public losses were also identified, including the threat to the Australian National Insect Collection.

Labor and Greens representatives also addressed the meeting. Each party is running on a pledge to increase CSIRO funding by approximately $75 million annually for the next four years. This is less than the $114 million cut in the Abbott horror budget of 2014 (that Labor and Greens both voted for when they passed the supply bills).

Nevertheless, Popovski told the meeting that any funding boost "would be fantastic" as it would give a sense that the organisation was being supported. As government funding has been cut, private funding also has been lost. Popovski believes that if government appropriations were to increase again this would lead to a broader confidence boost that would lead to increases in funding from other sources also.

Another major positive identified at the forum was the broad levels of public support for the CSIRO.

Friends of the CSIRO can be contacted via email (friendsofcsiro@gmail.com) or their website or social media. Donations can be made to Friends of the CSIRO via BSB 633-000 Acct 157325341.