Australia's lead science agency is preparing to spend nearly $200 million on property in Canberra while the axe hangs over the jobs of 1400 of its scientists and researchers.
The CSIRO has begun the tender process for $196 million of work on its property portfolio while staff leaders say they are still in the dark about details of the job losses.
The work, with money provided in the Labor government's last budget in May, will see $196 million spent on bringing the organisation's 1300 Canberra-based workers under one roof by vastly expanding the Black Mountain site on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.
Fairfax revealed on Friday that 1400 of CSIRO's 6500 researchers and scientists could lose their jobs under a hiring freeze that bans the renewal of contract and temporary positions.
On Tuesday the World Wildlife Fund joined the chorus of criticism of the cuts with the fund's Australian president, Rob Purves, a founding member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, saying Australia was hardly a poor country and should support institutions such as the CSIRO.
CSIRO Staff Association president Michael Borgas said on Tuesday that he had asked CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark for more details on the hiring freeze and looming cuts but had not yet received an answer.
"They haven't given us a formal response yet to the key issues, which are how long the freeze is going to last and better estimates of the numbers of people involved and what areas of research are considered as essential," Mr Borgas said. Official statements from CSIRO have disputed the numbers of job losses on the table. It did not respond to questions on Tuesday.
But Mr Borgas conceded the need for spending to bring the organisation's property portfolio to a "sustainable" standard.
"Part of Megan Clark's strategy has been to get that capital budget operating independently from the operational budget," he said. "Building new infrastructure is important … a lot of that new infrastructure is going to be done with an eye to sustainability and innovation so we'd be supporting that."
CSIRO's Canberra property portfolio has 1364 staff in six sites around the city with a massive 110,000 square metres of laboratories, ''technical support facilities", glasshouses and commercial office space.
It wants to move its staff from leased buildings in the central suburbs of Campbell, Yarralumla and Acton and from Crace in Canberra's north to the Black Mountain site, which it owns outright.
According to the tender documents, the ageing buildings scattered around the capital present a growing risk to the health and safety of CSIRO workers and will be replaced by "fit for purpose" new headquarters at Black Mountain by 2021.
The project will be split into two phases with the first to see $100 million spent before 2017 and another $96 million by 2021.