CSIRO cuts ‘degrade and tarnish’ agency: Senator Carr

Cuts and low morale signal the beginning of an irreversible 'brain drain'

Senator Kim Carr

Senator Kim Carr

Shadow minister for innovation, Senator Kim Carr, has denounced the Federal Government’s latest cuts to the CSIRO, describing the axing of 275 jobs and the closure of critical climate research programs as "degrading".

“The Abbott-Turnbull Government has allowed Australia’s largest public research agency to be degraded in every sense of the term,” Carr said during his fiery speech on Wednesday to the CSIRO Forum in Hobart.

In 2014, the research agency suffered a $115 million funding cut, leading to mass job loss. Now another 275 jobs are to go, including as many as 75 climate scientists.

"This on top of the Turnbull Government’s $22 million cut to critical climate research programs managed by the Department of the Environment," said Carr. "It will effectively shut down the CSIRO’s fundamental research in climate science, a decision condemned by scientists around the world.”

In his speech, Carr discounted CSIRO management’s move to create 'business units', a course of action he said has “political goals in mind” rather than the best interest of agency objectives.

“That name change says everything about the direction in which management is taking the agency. The jargon of Silicon Valley has become official CSIRO-speak. Just as operational divisions are now business units, strategic reviews are now ‘deep dives'.’”

Carr denounced the government’s reasons behind the cuts, with a CSIRO briefing to the science minister, Christopher Pyne, claiming the aim of the job cuts is to: “support research that will position Australian industry to harness the growing digital economy".

The briefing also noted the job cuts aimed to increase investment in traditional industries, such as minerals and mining, in order to make them more profitable and sustainable. Given the new direction, Carr said the “narrowing of the CSIRO’s focus” couldn't be clearer.

“The stated intention of hiring later - in the same numbers lost now - cannot hide the fact that the CSIRO has turned its back on crucial areas of basic research,” he said. “You can be sure new hiring will not be in those areas.

“CSIRO management, complying with the Turnbull Government’s line, is turning the agency into a glorified commercial consultancy. In doing so, it has also degraded [the research agency's] commitment to probity, transparency and proper process.”

Carr also slammed CSIRO management for its lack of consultation about the job cuts, and what he called “the abandonment of climate research".

“It is just one part of a litany of betrayals of the public trust ... Senior staff were instructed to use their private email accounts in discussing the job losses. That is a potential breach of the Archives Act and the Public Governance and Accountability Act," he said.

It was scandalous that management proceeded with the job cuts without explicit Board approval, Carr said, as appropriate stakeholders were not fully engaged in the decision - a move the senator claimed was “always going to be highly contentious and a major cause of disruption within the organisation".

“There has been a failure of governance processes and most importantly a failure of political leadership by the Turnbull Liberal Government on behalf of the nation.”

Additionally, he said, there’s extensive conversation within CSIRO that expresses concern the organisation will withdraw from its responsibilities for good public research and instead turn into a commercial consultancy arrangement.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the conversation about cultural change within the CSIRO has been aimed at fundamentally shifting the scientific priorities of the CSIRO and using commercial or external revenue as the basis for the allocation of resources, rather than the critically important role the CSIRO plays to the national good.”

He said the latest moves have tarnished the reputation of Australia’s national science organisation, both nationally and overseas.

“It is hardly surprising that CSIRO management has lost the trust of staff, and that morale has collapsed. We are already seeing the beginning of a brain drain that may take many years to reverse,” he said.

“The CSIRO has been held in high esteem around the world. That international reputation is now being trashed. This is evident to everyone except to CSIRO management and the Turnbull Liberal Government.”

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