Data researchers in the country's national science agency are facing up to 70 job cuts after a new strategy for the research unit was announced.
CSIRO's data science unit, Data61, will overhaul its goals to focus on growing artificial intelligence as unveiled in a new five-year strategy this month.
The unit, which previously focused more broadly on digital research, is expected to grow its artificial intelligence team with the introduction of a National Artificial Intelligence Centre and an AI graduate program.
But management has also flagged it will need to downsize other areas of its workforce in order to focus on the new strategy.
The unit's director Professor Jon Whittle told staff on May 17 around 70 jobs were on the chopping block but it planned to recover its workforce headcount of more than 450 within two years.
Jobs across biological data science, robotics capabilities, wireless systems and legal informatics were among the areas to be slashed to make way for new plans.
The majority of the expected 57 redundancies are located in Sydney and Brisbane with six positions on the cutting floor being based in Canberra.
Further losses were possible with eight early terms being considered and an additional four staff potentially having to conclude at the end of their terms.
Professor Whittle said he hoped a number of the employees affected would be redeployed to other areas of the agency.
"We expect to be able to redeploy a number of our people both within the [business unit] and more broadly across CSIRO, so we expect the final number of impacted people to be fewer. Within two years we expect headcount to be at similar levels to today," Professor Whittle's email said.
"I recognise change is never easy. There will be a structured consultation process ensuring there is open discussion about the implementation of these changes and, where possible, we will be looking across the business unit and the broader organisation to find opportunities for redeployment."
The cuts come after the agency was allocated $53.8 million in the federal budget to drive new artificial intelligence initiatives, including preparation for the next pandemic or natural disaster.
The agency's staff association acting secretary Susan Tonks said the cuts were a concern given the government's priorities to make Australia a leading digital economy.
"This decision to cut up to 70 jobs at Data61 is a real concern, especially given the positive statements made recently by CSIRO executive of the importance of the business unit to the governments' digital economy strategy," Ms Tonks said.
"Staff association organisers have already started work to support affected members and protect workplace rights. Where possible the union is fighting to save CSIRO jobs by minimising and mitigating involuntary redundancies."
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