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CSIRO seen as 'employer of last resort' for scientists

Date

Phillip Thomson

 CSIRO was becoming less like a research agency and more of an engineering consultancy as 500 jobs and millions of dollars were carved off the organisation, according to a globally respected oceanographer. 

“The days where CSIRO was seen as a national icon are fast disappearing,” Professor Trevor McDougall from the University of NSW has told The Hobart Mercury.

“It used to be that a research job at CSIRO was seen as a golden opportunity but now CSIRO is ­regarded as an ­employer of last resort.

“It only takes a funding cut of a few per cent to start this downhill process and the cuts to CSIRO by the present government are of a magnitude that, unless reversed, guarantees this dumbing-down of the CSIRO.”

The CSIRO did not comment but a CSIRO Staff Association spokesman said his union was worried about damage to the 90-year-old organisation's reputation and morale.

"We're concerned about cuts to the CSIRO, particularly in the area of marine and atmospheric research of which there are a large amount of scientists employed in Hobart where these comments have been coming from," the association spokesman said. 

"We plan to make a submission to a Senate inquiry into Australia's role in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic, especially on how it relates to science and research.   

"Much of the CSIRO's marine and atmospheric research is focused on the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

"Cuts in these areas of research as a result of the federal budget cut to the CSIRO give us grave concerns for CSIRO's reputation as a world leader in marine atmospheric and climate research."

It was expected the staff association would argue the effects of federal government funding allocated to Southern Ocean and Antarctic research in the recent budget would be watered down by cuts to the CSIRO.

The staff association would also look to highlight the difficulty the science organisation may face in finding the money to operate a new research vessel, the RV Investigator. 

The government has provided an additional $65.7 million for the Marine National Facility to operate the RV Investigator, but the CSIRO will have to provide matched funding of $21.2 million from within its existing resources to keep the vessel afloat.

The staff association has already said the CSIRO budget had been cut by  $111.4 million over four years and the organisation would be hit by a separate ‘efficiency dividend’ cut of $3.4 million in the forward estimates.

And there were other, indirect changes which were expected to hurt the CSIRO. 

The Australian Climate Change Science Program will be subsumed into the National Environmental Science Program, with an associated funding cut of $21.7 million which could lead to a loss of up to $4 million to the CSIRO.

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