CSIRO job cuts crisis deepens

June 2, 2016
CSIRO chief Larry Marshall, a former Silicon Valley businessman.

Pressure is mounting for the replacement of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) chief executive Dr Larry Marshall as the crisis deepens over the proposed sackings of hundreds of research scientists from the organisation's climate change and other divisions. Marshall is the controversial former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, appointed head of CSIRO in late 2014.

The deep cuts to CSIRO's science programs have come under continuing international criticism, including from the New York Times and in an open letter, sent to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, signed by 3000 scientists from 60 countries.

The latest warning comes from Dennis Baldocchi, head of the global Fluxnet network of monitoring stations, which includes the Ozflux research team, who said the closure of the research will dent Australia's ability to manage future climate change. Scientists in the team have been told their work — monitoring how carbon-dioxide, water and energy move between the forests and the atmosphere — is no longer needed, and only a single technician will remain.

Senior scientists have revealed that 13 out of 14 staff researching how vegetation is responding to rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns — information that feeds into the world's main climate models — at CSIRO's micrometeorology and complex system science site at Yarralumla have been told their jobs are "surplus to needs". At risk is the research that informs the Australian National Outlook report that assesses how the economy will be affected by global warming.

Given a budget cut of $115 million, CSIRO management has identified 275 staff for redundancy, although the final number may be as high as 317. Many of them are scientists contributing to long-term sea, air and climate science programs that are critical to national and international research efforts to mitigate and adapt to future climate changes.

Greens science spokesperson Adam Bandt called on the CSIRO's board to reject the federal government's endorsement of a three-year contract extension for Marshall when it meets over June 23–24.

"The appointment of Larry Marshall was a failed experiment by Tony Abbott. It turns out you can't run a long-standing public institution like a Silicon Valley start-up," Mr Bandt said.

New Zealand climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said: "What you are dealing with here is a breakdown in the recruitment and selection process. The little I know about [Marshall] makes it seem most inappropriate for him to lead CSIRO: sort of like the preposterous proposition of Donald Trump becoming president of the US."

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