The Australian Antarctic Division might be forced to fund itself with charitable donations. Photo: Andrew Peacock
One of Australia's flagship research agencies might be forced to fund itself with charitable donations and commercial sponsorships as the Federal Environment Department battles a budget crisis.
Workers at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart were told on Tuesday that the beleaguered department was already looking at ''philanthropy'' and ''commercial sponsorships'' as alternative funding sources. But staff groups are worried about job cuts and say they do not want the organisation taken over by private companies with strings attached to funding or donations.
The Canberra Times revealed on Tuesday that the division, along with Parks Australia, which runs some of the nation's leading national parks including Kakadu and Uluru, would survive the massive cuts at the department but only with ''modifications''.
About 480 public servants will lose their jobs at Environment, on top of 190 bureaucrats who have already gone. Hundreds of programs and activities will either be modified or axed in a sweeping restructure as the department tries to cope with dwindling funds.
Parks Australia and the Australian Antarctic Division must find new ways of raising money, according to an internal departmental review.
At a meeting at the Antarctic Division's headquarters in Hobart on Tuesday, departmental secretary Gordon de Brouwer was short on detail for the gathered scientists and researchers.
There was no more detail forthcoming from the department on how the national parks operation would be expected to fund itself in the future.
The main public sector union, the CPSU, said it was angry at the lack of detail provided by the departmental boss. The union's Tasmania regional secretary Jessica Munday said that after the two-hour meeting, AAD workers felt they were none the wiser.
''Two hours later and staff are still apprehensive of their future. Until we have further details on how many people might be cut from the division we can't give our members much confidence.
''The division has already lost 30 people and staff are telling us that they are working at full capacity, so more cuts could impact workloads and research capabilities.''
The union official said that the research workers did not even know what was meant by alternative funding sources.
''Unfortunately the department is keeping staff in the dark about what 'alternative funding sources' actually means,'' Ms Munday said.
''All the secretary would say was that he was exploring business sponsorships or philanthropy but refused to give any more detail.
''We understand that budgets across the public service are under pressure but workers at the division care passionately about the environments that they work to preserve and so would rightly question what that would mean.
''Working on the principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune, staff would rightly be concerned if commercial interests influenced the type of research undertaken.''