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CSIRO braces for budget cut of up to $150 million

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James Massola and Bridie Smith

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Cuts to the CSIRO?

Speculation is swirling around budget cuts to the CSIRO. Andrew Leigh (ALP) and Andrew Laming (LNP) discuss the possible outcomes.

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Australia’s peak science body is bracing for a May budget cut of up $150 million, or more than 20 per cent of its total government funding.

Fairfax Media can reveal the CSIRO’s top executive team has been modelling a range of scenarios that would see the scientific agency lose up 20 per cent of its $757 million a year funding. Some in the agency's upper echelons expect funding will be cut by 10-15 per cent or by $75 to $110 million. It is expected the federal government's Commission of Audit will recommend big savings.

CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon acknowledged the organisation was preparing its response to different budget scenarios. ‘‘We’ll all be biting our nails in the lead-up to the budget," he said.

"We'll all be biting our nails in the lead-up to the budget": CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon.

"We'll all be biting our nails in the lead-up to the budget": CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon. Photo: Jesse Marlow

It is understood the CSIRO has not finalised its operational budget for the next financial year and is waiting for the May budget in a further sign the agency expects a big hit. CSIRO receives about 60 per cent of its funding from the federal government.

Several sources said the CSIRO's 10-member executive team, led by chief executive Megan Clark is preparing for the worst. On Friday, the agency announced 300 jobs would go in the next financial year. The move comes after the CSIRO axed 400 jobs last year.

The agency's executive management council, which includes the chiefs of the the energy, environment, IT, manufacturing and health sciences divisions, have been told by the executive team to put their divisions under the microscope.

One well-placed CSIRO source said managers had been told “We can’t do everything so we to have work out what we can do’’.

A second source familiar with CSIRO’s budget planning said managers had been told to identify areas of scientific research the organisation could “get out of”.

Mr McKeon, the 2011 Australian of the year, told Fairfax Media it was impossible to know what the budget would hold for the organisation next month. 

‘‘We have to wait until budget night to see what the marching orders are,’’ he said. ‘‘But clearly we are in an era where there is a likelihood of some belt-tightening.’’ 

Last week, Fairfax Media revealed Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane had been told to find up to $2 billion in savings in his portolfio, which includes science.

Deputy Greens leader Adam Bandt said a 15-20 per cent funding cut would "rip the guts out of CSIRO and accelerate Australia’s ‘brain drain’ and promised his party would fight the move.

"We can’t continue to produce world-class research if the government keeps threatening the research budget every May. Tony Abbott must rule out any cuts to CSIRO and research in the May budget,'' he said.

Labor science spokesman Kim Carr said the cut would be a travesty for science in Australia.

“The government is doing great harm to Australia’s national interest and putting us at an immense disadvantage in the highly competitive international science community."

Last year, Mr Abbott acknowledged the Coalition did not have a science minister but urged the country’s scientific community to judge his government ‘‘by our performance, not by our titles’’.

Former Victorian chief scientist Sir Gustav Nossal said he would be appalled if the cuts hit the organisation, which he described as a national icon.

‘‘CSIRO will produce research results that will sponsor innovation and help to create smarter industries which is what Australia needs after a mining boom,’’ he said.

And Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist Brian Schmidt said the government and agency needed to agree on a common vision for its role in Australia’s future.

"I would be very disappointed with the agency being restructured without a grand vision for its future in place first."

A spokeswoman for industry minister Ian Macfarlane refused to comment on the budget.

72 comments

  • Once again, we're selling our future to make the books look good for the next election. If the founders of the billion dollar start-ups thought about the short term like the government is doing now, they would never have started at all.
    Governments are at their best when investing for the long term future which often are not popular while still in progress. We might chuckle and shake our heads at the ghost cities in China, but we will probably feel the fool with the eventual influx of people. The pre-planned city will have less of the patched-up troubles of old organically grown cities.
    The CSIRO is an investment for the long term future. Sure, there can be some cost savings that can be gained with reviews and audits but a cut of this magnitude will likely stop entire research programs.
    Worse, the CSIRO might be forced to give up climate change research and focus on finding Noah's ark or something.

    Commenter
    Knee Jerk
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 14, 2014, 7:07AM
    • You're right knee jerk. While we do need to tighten the belt, the potential size of this cut is *insane*! More than 20%?!? And after massive cuts to support staff last year?!? I just don't believe it can be done without causing horrific and long-term debilitating damage. Let's hope wisdom prevails.

      Commenter
      boop
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 7:59AM
    • Yes, why waste time and money being the 'clever' country when we could scrap funding, do nothing and become the asinine country virtually overnight?
      I was in the audience of a graduation of science students at Macquarie University recently. By far the greater percentage, probably well over 80%, were from various Asian backgrounds. How many were Australians as opposed to international students I don't know, but it paints a clear picture of how little white Australia values the technological strength that builds great ideas, businesses & nations.
      So many of Tony Abbott's policy settings are geared toward preserving antiquated techniques and business models at the expense of Australia's future growth and development. We can't put a wall up against the future or the reality of necessary change. If we try to, we will become a 'developing' nation as we try to catch up with the rest of the world.

      Commenter
      Mrs Kensington
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 9:10AM
    • CSIRO is fundamentally disfunctional due to uncoordinated recruitment and a flawed matrix system of managment. There are no surprises in this statement.

      The surprise is that key managers have been allowed to expand their fiefdoms over the years without any censorship. Watch carefully as these senior executives will be survivors of the cull while rank and file workers are consigned to the scrapheap.

      Commenter
      Eureka
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 9:18AM
    • This Government is taking us straight back to the dark ages. I can't wait for the next election to vote this mob of anti-science morons out.

      Commenter
      JJ
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 9:34AM
    • Who needs science when you have religion !!!
      Keep up the sound, logical action of reaction one term tony. The rich & bigots need you.

      Commenter
      Yuppy
      Location
      Yuppy Ville
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 9:40AM
    • Eureka. You are suggesting we censor Australia's premier scientific research body. Fiefdoms? That's rich from someone backing a government that wishes to hand out the titles 'Sir' and 'Dame'. How about all of the brilliant research and technological developments they have pioneered; through them Australia has punched well above its weight technologically for decades. Oh, but that's right, they don't endorse Tony's point of faith that there is no climate change.
      Perhaps we could accuse them all of heresy as well as giving them the sack and watching docilely as our best minds and considerable intellectual investment pack up and move overseas. Perhaps you'll have a 'eureka' moment when you realise a few years down the track that Australia has become an economic backwater without investment in science.

      Commenter
      Mrs Kensington
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 10:02AM
    • In my opinion there is a war on science. Fully funded and endorsed by the Fossil Fuel incumbent robber barons. The scientific method is not giving them the facts they want to hear, or would want the public to know. Short termist profits are all this deluded government and their backers wish to consider. Reading straight from a dusty 80's capitalism manual that is now long irrelevant. We no longer are a innovative growth society, instead we have become a rentier growth society putting greater distance between the rich and the poor. We are now handing the batten of innovation and jobs growth and renewable energy to north asia. Third world banana status here we come.

      Commenter
      Urban Off-gridder
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 10:17AM
    • Eureka,
      how does cutting a budget translate to these fiefdoms changing? Surely you would undertake a review, put some hard dollars to those changes and then make them.

      Commenter
      Econorat
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 10:32AM
    • Whilst not developed by the CSIRO, Australian David Warren's invention the "Black Box" has certainly been in the news of late with the search for MH370. Slashes to the CSIRO, no ministry for Science further highlights this Govts shameful attitude to Science and Scientists.
      The brain drain will continue and as a result the best of our Technological and Scientific inventions will be the prizes of other countries. Research on food crops affected by CC is another essential. Nup just dig it up, chop it down mentality.
      Any wonder the polls are as they are. The most myopic Govt in my lifetime. And how much do they give to Access Ministries, $200 marriage counselling, inDirect Action, Transfield's new contract.
      Obvious where their priorities lie and it's not with Science. Dumb and getting Dumber, what number on the IPA is this slash.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 10:33AM

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