CSIRO job cuts to hit research for 'public good'

April 8, 2016
The CSIRO Staff Association has demanded science minister Christopher Pyne halt any cuts until after the federal election.

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) management planned to stop "doing science for science's sake" and would no longer carry out research for the "public good," unless it was linked to jobs and economic growth, emails between senior managers released to a Senate inquiry reveal.

The emails are among almost 700 pages of internal CSIRO documents made available to a Greens-Labor convened inquiry into the proposal to slash up to 350 jobs in the organisation.

The emails confirm Australia's major national science body, under new chief executive Dr Larry Marshall, aims at "eliminating all capability" of its current climate change research programs. One email from the deputy director of CSIRO's oceans and atmosphere division on January 18 says CSIRO aims to make a "clean cut" to get rid of "public good/government-funded climate research" by sacking 120 climate science staff.

A full draft plan for the oceans and atmosphere division released in February indicated the proposed cuts included: abolishing research on global greenhouse emissions; abolishing research on sea level rise; abolishing research on Antarctica; and abolishing multi-year, multi-decadal climate modelling and analysis.

Dr Jaclyn Brown, a senior research scientist at the Hobart office of the oceans and atmosphere division said staff were operating under the shadow of the impending cuts.

"It's very hard to sit at your desk and do work when you've been told your work is not important or valued anymore," she told ABC News on April 4. "We've spent decades becoming experts in our fields. We've worked for years, long hours with low pay, to build up our knowledge, and now we're being tossed aside."

The CSIRO Staff Association has demanded science minister Christopher Pyne intervene to halt any cuts until after the upcoming federal election. This follows news that the planned cuts may be deeper than earlier suggested, with 450 jobs set to go. This means there have been 1300 job cuts at CSIRO over the past two years.

The union remains in dispute with CSIRO management over the job cuts debacle, with the issue set to return to the Fair Work Commission on April 14.

Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski said on Apri 6: "CSIRO staff have lost confidence in the executive management and morale is at rock bottom. The Staff Association is calling on Minister Pyne to suspend the cuts and instigate an independent inquiry into CSIRO's management structure and processes.”

The union's letter to Pyne condemns the role of the CEO: "Dr Marshall has made inaccurate and inflammatory public statements about scientific research and has failed to engage staff and stakeholders in a professional manner. He has damaged CSIRO's reputation by proposing cuts to public good research in favour of work designed to generate short-term commercial gain."

Meanwhile. CSIRO staff have lodged a formal complaint of bullying behaviour against Marshall following a staff meeting addressed by the CEO at the land and water division of CSIRO at Black Mountain, Canberra, on March 22.

The situation inside CSIRO is set to explode, with tensions between staff and management at boiling point. Unless the Turnbull government, which bears final responsibility for the problem with its insistence on huge cuts to CSIRO funding, takes action to end the threatened job cuts, the future of Australia's premiere scientific organisation is in severe danger.

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