- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS
INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
- Committee Name
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
- Sub program
- System Id
Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Table Of ContentsDownload PDF
Previous Fragment Next Fragment
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS
(Senate-Thursday, 26 February 2009)
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Australian Office of Financial Management
- Australian Bureau of Statistics
RESOURCES, ENERGY AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO
Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism
- Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism
INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Office of the Chief Scientist
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Australian Research Council
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
- Office of the Chief Scientist
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS - 26/02/2009 - INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO - Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
CHAIR —I welcome the CSIRO officers. Is there an opening statement?
Dr Clark —First of all, I would like to say it is a great honour to be asked to lead the CSIRO and I really look forward to sharing with each of you the responsibility of Australia’s science for Australia’s future. As you know, CSIRO was built on a foundation of the integrity of its excellent science, and we absolutely need to build on this foundation but I also look forward to building more respect and looking at the challenges that face the nation. These challenges are very complex, and they are challenges that face not just the nation but, as we are finding out, they are the same challenges that face us as humankind.
In the few weeks that I have been in the CSIRO, I am really starting to realise that CSIRO brings together four absolutely magical things. The first is the opportunity to work on big breakthroughs—things that stretch as far as the new wheat varieties that can improve yields and resist disease. We are seeing national understanding of our water resources and cheaper renewable energy. Secondly, we have teams of smart people with different knowledge that we are now bringing together to work on long-term problems. As I meet the people of CSIRO—and I have yet to get around and meet them all—and learn of the work, what I am really impressed with, and I know the community has also been impressed, is the deep knowledge of the people, the intelligence and the dedication that we are seeing in CSIRO. Finally, the ability to work with stakeholders in industry, the environment and the community to really make a difference, to turn science into reality, is a real hallmark of CSIRO.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you. Congratulations on your appointment and, if I might say, you seem to share the same passion as your predecessor. Your predecessor gave a departing speech at the last Senate estimates. Can I say that I usually object to a long opening statement, but his was one I did not take exception to because it was a great history of what had been achieved and about the future. Your brief statement this evening has, I think, followed in that tradition of passionate leadership by the CEO of the CSIRO. Congratulations on your appointment and I look forward to working with you. In your opening statement you told us about big breakthroughs. I want to ask you about one, and I do not mean to trivialise the big breakthroughs the CSIRO does work on. During the cricket season I was listening in and one of the commentators was telling me that the CSIRO—we are already getting a smile—was being tasked to work on developing a cricket ball for day/night test matches. I was wondering whether is that true and how are we getting on with it?
Dr Clark —I have to say that I am going to seek the aid of my colleagues on this one.
Senator ABETZ —It just goes to show that, even when I am on holidays listening to the cricket, I am alert to portfolio issues.
Mr Whelan —Yes, it is true that we are working with the Australian Cricket Board to see if we can develop a cricket ball or a covering for a cricket ball that enables it to be better seen at night. I do not have the details as to how it is progressing but I am more than happy to provide those to you on notice.
Senator ABETZ —As a bit of a fan of day/night matches I hope it succeeds and we might be able to get the benefit of test matches on the TV in the evening as well when they are not being played on the other side of the world.
Senator EGGLESTON —I understand that we have a cooperative research centre for bushfires; is that correct? Where is that CRC for bushfires located?
Mr Paterson —The CRC program is managed by the department so it is not part of the CSIRO. We have dealt with the departmental issues previously.
Senator EGGLESTON —We will not deal with that. There may be other issues here which are also departmental ones. What about the CSIRO’s ability to engage and retain scientists and the two per cent efficiency dividend?
Senator Carr —Is it a question to the CSIRO?
Senator EGGLESTON —Rather than the department?
CHAIR —This is a question about CSIRO’s efficiency dividend, so I think—
Senator Carr —That is a question to the CSIRO. I am sure the officers will be only too happy to take it.
Senator EGGLESTON —Last year there was a report from the joint committee inquiry into the impact of the two per cent efficiency dividend on government agencies. It commented that the CSIRO found it difficult to engage and retain scientists. Since last year’s application of the efficiency dividend, what are the figures from the CSIRO on how many staff were laid off and also how many have been employed?
Dr Clark —We have those figures.
Senator EGGLESTON —Could that be broken down to full-time and part-time positions?
Mr Whelan —The net movement of staff since the end of the last financial year has been a reduction of five staff.
Senator EGGLESTON —A net loss of five.
Mr Whelan —Yes, in full-time equivalent terms.
Senator EGGLESTON —When you say that is a net loss, how many actually left and how many did you put on?
Mr Whelan —I do not have that level of detail with me. I would be happy to take that on notice.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you. How many positions are currently vacant that the CSIRO is looking to fill? What level of vacancies do you have?
Mr Whelan —We do not have exact details with us, but at any point in time we would have the order of somewhere between 100 and 200 positions in the marketplace.
Senator EGGLESTON —That is quite a lot.
Mr Whelan —Just to clarify, that it is off a base of 6,372 staff; so, in overall numbers, it is probably a relatively small proportion.
Senator EGGLESTON —You do have a big staff, yes. Do you have any idea what is the longest time it has taken CSIRO to fill a position since the efficiency dividend was applied?
Mr Whelan —I would not have that data, no.
Senator EGGLESTON —Can you tell us whether there are any positions within your organisation that are particularly difficult to fill?
Mr Whelan —From time to time there are many positions that are hard to fill. It depends on market conditions. Certainly at the peak of the resources boom it was very hard to get mining engineers to come and work in a public sector research organisation when they could be making $300,000 or $400,000 in the private sector. It would be fair to say, though, that that situation has changed and we certainly find it easier to attract and retain people in those disciplines than previously. It really does depend on the market conditions.
Senator EGGLESTON —I can believe that you probably will not have too many problems in the near future, anyway, with mining engineers. Is the CSIRO maintaining its attractiveness as a place of employment?
Mr Whelan —I think we have seen over the last three or four years through initiatives such as the chief executive’s science leaders program, some of the flagship collaboration funding for students and fellows, that CSIRO has not only been able to attract and retain some of the best talent in Australia but has also been very successful in attracting back talent from overseas. I think perhaps the best indicator of our standing in the marketplace might be the study that is produced annually on the preferences of graduates in science and engineering from Australian universities. CSIRO has been consistently ranked No. 1 as the preferred employer, and our margin as No. 1 preferred employer for science, engineering and ICT graduates have increased over the last three years.
Senator EGGLESTON —Are you saying that the efficiency dividend which has resulted in the culling of some programs and the laying off of staff has not caused any problems with morale within the CSIRO?
Mr Whelan —If I could just clarify something in your question, in terms of the impact of the efficiency dividend on CSIRO, we have worked very hard to make sure that there is no or limited impact on our research programs. As we have discussed previously with this committee, we have tried to limit the impact of those reductions to fixed costs and support costs. There have been some reductions in support costs. We estimate that we will probably lose about 85 full-time staff over the course of the next year or so in support. In terms of our research programs, there has been no major change in research direction.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you. Following on from that, I would like to discuss the rising cost of scientific equipment. During last year’s report from the joint committee inquiry into the impact of the efficiency dividend on government agencies, CSIRO commented that they were finding it difficult to meet the rising cost of scientific equipment. How have the budget cuts and efficiency dividend placed on CSIRO affected its ability to purchase new scientific equipment?
Mr Whelan —There has been no direct impact from the efficiency dividends on our capital budget but, going to the point that we were making to that particular committee, we do find ourselves capital constrained. The fact of the matter is that to remain globally competitive we need access to more capital. Some of the programs that the government has announced, which senators were asking questions about earlier this evening in terms of nanofabrication technologies and the like, are some of the facilities that we are now getting access to. I have observed that over recent times there has been a move from governments of both persuasions to fund more collaborative research infrastructure. We are certainly trying to access that. But with respect to our own organisation, due to the change in the value of the dollar and increasing demands to keep pace with research, we would like to spend more money on capital, but we will prioritise that, and at this point in time I do not believe it is having a significant impact on our research.
Senator EGGLESTON —Do you have a wish list of equipment you would like to buy?
Mr Whelan —Indeed. We prioritise our research all the time. There is a lot of equipment that we would like to be able to purchase and we prioritise it and buy it in priority order.
Senator EGGLESTON —What kind of extra funding would you require to satisfy that?
Mr Whelan —How long is a piece of string? If we are talking about scientists who would like to pursue their passion for science, there probably is no limit to the amount of funding our scientists would like.
Senator ABETZ —Would it be fair to say it could swallow the whole budget?
Mr Whelan —That is probably an exaggeration, but some of our scientists would not mind having a go.
Senator ABETZ —In New Zealand it would be the petty cash.
Mr Whelan —There is lots of equipment that they would like to buy. That has always been the case, and we prioritise our investments.
Senator EGGLESTON —Senator Carr, the minister here tonight, in the past has accused the opposition of misrepresenting CSIRO’s funding, referring to the $25 million in additional funds for CSIRO’s research on clean coal technology. When CSIRO made the comments to the committee regarding the rising cost of scientific equipment, were you referring to the equipment needed for the clean coal research?
Mr Whelan —No. There was no specific reference to any equipment for any specific program.
Senator EGGLESTON —How is the clean coal funding addressing the needs for increased funds in other areas of CSIRO research? Is it only for clean coal research?
Senator Carr —Are you asking if the government funds for clean coal can be used for other purposes?
Senator EGGLESTON —Essentially, yes.
Mr Whelan —As a general rule, where the government announces tied or targeted funding, the resources are deployed for that purpose, but the impact can sometimes be beyond the immediately obvious research areas. For example, work in clean coal might involve mathematicians and ICT personnel. It may not just involve personnel who work in our energy research centre. It is possible for those funds to have an impact across a wide range of capabilities in CSIRO.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you. I believe there is a new charter for the CSIRO. Is that true?
Mr Whelan —That is correct. There is a charter that has been agreed between the minister and the board of CSIRO. I understand that it is not dissimilar to a range of charters being put in place for public sector research agencies.
Senator EGGLESTON —What has been the agency’s experience with the new charter so far?
Mr Whelan —In many respects the charter codified a series of arrangements that were already in place. It is very consistent with CSIRO’s existing policy on public comment. It reminds officers and in fact it encourages officers of CSIRO to talk about their science and to promote its impact in the community, but it also reminds them to be mindful about commenting on government policy or, indeed, opposition policy for that matter.
Senator EGGLESTON —Is that a constraint in terms of scholarly freedoms?
Mr Whelan —Not at all. In fact, the charter goes to those very issues and encourages freedom of scientific thought. Bear in mind that we are talking about CSIRO, which is a mission-directed research organisation, where the organisation, in conjunction with stakeholders, determines the research programs to be pursued, as opposed to individual scientists picking up a bright idea.
Senator EGGLESTON —Can you say what a researcher now has to do if they wish to release a statement about either their research or a policy matter in which they hold a high level of expertise?
Mr Whelan —They essentially follow the same process that they followed previously. If it is a scientific paper that they are going to publish, then it would be peer reviewed within CSIRO. It would be reviewed by an appropriate journal. The editorial committee of that journal may seek further input from CSIRO. If the particular paper that they were publishing contained potentially sensitive matters that might relate to government policy or matters that were currently being debated in the public domain, we would generally provide the minister with a briefing ahead of time and the paper would be published—similarly with reports we provide to the government. If it was a press release, it is a not dissimilar protocol. There are some rules with respect to the need for officers to be appropriately trained if they are going to be talking to the media and for them to provide advance notification. Again, if the matter relates to government policy or perhaps to an event that the minister or another member of government might be involved with, we would provide prior notice to the government. It is essentially the same framework that we have had in place, certainly for the last seven years that I have been with the organisation.
Senator EGGLESTON —If you had some scientific results which cast some doubt on the government position, you would still be able to publish them?
Mr Whelan —Neither the charter, nor any other arrangement that I am aware of, limits the ability of CSIRO scientists to publish the results of their research.
Senator EGGLESTON —One of the recommendations of the Cutler review was to make government information more freely available to business. What is CSIRO’s response to this recommendation? Do your new charter facilities facilitate or hinder you in doing this?
Mr Whelan —The charter addresses CSIRO’s policy position on that. To the extent that the scientific research has been publicly funded and is for public benefit, then the organisation is encouraged to publish and widely disseminate those results. However, CSIRO also conducts research on a fully funded basis for a range of organisations, sometimes government departments and sometimes private sector organisations, and those organisations that fund that research control the process of releasing those results. The charter does not limit that. The charter simply acknowledges that those obligations will exist through those commercial contracts.
Senator EGGLESTON —Peter Lilly, who is the Director of CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship, wrote an article in the Australian Financial Review last month outlining some of the research being carried out on exploration, extraction and processing of resources. He puts forward an argument that Australia must invest in resources-focused research if we are to remain competitive. What is CSIRO doing to make sure that, when investment in resources does pick up, we are not left behind?
Mr Whelan —The organisation, through the flagship that Dr Lilly leads, is investing in a range of precompetitive research that is focused on techniques for looking below the country’s regolith, the thick layer of overburden that separates mineral deposits from the surface. It is looking at new exploration technologies. It is looking at low impact extraction processes and the like. That research is about making sure that the resources sector, which does invest heavily in Australia, does not have any barriers to further investment. It is a substantial program, one that widely engages the resources sector, and it is exactly the type of research that we need to be doing to make sure that the Australian resources sector remains competitive.
Senator EGGLESTON —Are you constrained in achieving that objective by the efficiency dividend?
Mr Whelan —As I indicated earlier, we have worked hard to try to make sure that there has been no impact on our research programs from the efficiency dividend.
Senator ABETZ —The marvel of modern technology has been at work this evening. APAC is a new program on AUSTAR where people can observe these committee proceedings. And my questioning about the cricket ball has meant I have received a text message which says, ‘Thanks. We need that cricket ball.’ That is the marvel of modern technology. You have community support out there on that one.
CHAIR —Mr Cameron has a couple of questions that we will do before the break.
Senator CAMERON —As to the UltraBattery project—there has been some publicity in recent times about your research into advanced battery technology, which is very important work. Can you provide the committee with an update on the research in this area, and does it have any potential for Australian manufacturing?
Mr Clarke —The UltraBattery research is looking at the most advanced battery technology to be used in hybrids. In terms of an update on that, we are certainly at trial stage with the UltraBattery. The 100,000-hour tests have been completed successfully. We are also in discussions with manufacturers in this country not just for the hybrid vehicles but also for hybrid locomotives as well. It is a very advanced program and there are some benefits that we are pursuing.
Senator CAMERON —In light of the continuing bushfire emergency in Victoria, can you tell the committee something of CSIRO’s research in this area, and does CSIRO have continued research programs addressing bushfire issues?
Mr Clarke —The bushfires were very tragic events and our thoughts are still with the families and communities that have lost lives and property. CSIRO has had extensive research in this area. You may be interested to know that during the bushfires some of that research was operationally deployed. The firefighter training had been deployed. The fire tanker crew protection systems were deployed, and you are probably aware that on Monday, 23 February, one of the tanker crews was overcome by fire. It was that research done with the CFA, the Country Fire Authority, that provided the pods for the firemen to survive and emerge from that vehicle unharmed.
Other research includes the weather forecasting and related fire danger updates that were deployed. Ongoing areas include the current survey on the impact on built assets, and we are leading two of the areas being investigated by the bushfire CRC taskforce—namely, the fire behaviour activity. These, of course, were extraordinary and unprecedented events and they need investigation and learning. It also includes the infrastructure urban planning aspects. We are also contributing to other areas such as community attitudes and, unfortunately, the area of arson. We will, of course, move forward and stand ready to support the royal commission and the coronial inquest on that.
Senator CAMERON —I will put this question on notice. Has there been any advancement on the CSIRO analysis of the effectiveness of biochar as a carbon storage program for the future?
Mr Clarke —We have covered that. With us today is Dr Joanne Daly, and this is the area of research covered in her group.
Dr Daly —Could you repeat the question, please?
Senator CAMERON —I went to the CSIRO website to have a look at some of your work on biochar. It does not seem to be very advanced in terms of that being an effective storage solution for carbon for the future. Can you update me on where you see that technology?
Dr Daly —We believe that there is some potential for this technology and we have recently released a study, which is on our website, that assesses the research gaps and the work for the future.
Senator CAMERON —What is the time frame for this technology to come to fruition?
Dr Daly —I cannot comment on that at this stage.
CHAIR —We will have a tea break until 9.00 pm and return with CSIRO.
Proceedings suspended from 8.46 pm to 8.58 pm
—We are still on the CSIRO and Senator Bushby will commence.
—I would like to also refer to the report No. 413 of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, The efficiency dividend and small agencies: size does matter. I think Senator Eggleston may have read out part of this quote but I would like to read a quote which makes some statements about which I would like to ask probably the minister some questions:
Previously, 70% of its—
appropriation was exempt because this proportion of its funding was for research and considered to be similar in nature to a grants program. However, the efficiency dividend was applied to all of its funding in 2008-09.
This represented a significant additional burden on the organisation, one that resulted in the closure of regional facilities. The Committee—
would hope that such seemingly arbitrary and unfair decisions will not be imposed in the future. Furthermore, should any further ‘one-off’ efficiency dividend or an increase to the existing 1.25% efficiency dividend be imposed in the next financial year, the Committee believes that the CSIRO warrants special consideration.
My question to the minister is: does he agree with the unanimous view of the government dominated JCPAA that your government’s efficiency dividend was ‘arbitrary and unfair’ as it applied to the CSIRO and, more importantly, that the CSIRO warrants special consideration in the context of future efficiency dividends?
Senator Carr —The joint committee tabled its report on the efficiency dividend and made the point that a number of smaller agencies should be treated in different categories. That is obviously the case within this portfolio in which we have a number of smaller agencies, not just the CSIRO, which of course is not a small agency. As part of the government, I had to implement a decision that the government had taken in regard to the last budget. We stand by that decision.
Senator BUSHBY —You are effectively saying then that you disagree with the JCPAA assessment?
Senator Carr —What I will say to you is that, as a member of the government, I will support the decisions of the government. A parliamentary committee is entitled to make its representations to government and on behalf of the parliament, which it has done.
Senator BUSHBY —Do you agree that the CSIRO warrants special consideration when looking at future efficiency dividends?
Senator Carr —The CSIRO has on previous occasions been treated differently to the way that has occurred in this particular budget. However, I might add that, despite the efficiency dividend, the CSIRO had an increase in its appropriation across the quadrennium.
Senator BUSHBY —In aggregate when you add on special purpose, additional payments.
Senator Carr —I think you will find that that is right. No agency I am aware of within any portfolio is happy with efficiency dividends. I would be very surprised to find any agency that would agree with the principle of efficiency dividends; however, that is the decision that the government has taken, which I support.
Senator BUSHBY —I do not argue that any agency would be happy having had an efficiency dividend imposed, but the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, which as I mentioned is government dominated—it is chaired by a member of the government and has majority government members—examined all the efficiency dividends and their impact right across government and singled out the CSIRO as one that is worthy of special consideration when looking at future efficiency dividends.
Senator Carr —I am sure that the government as a whole will consider the committee’s report and will make its responses to it in due course.
Senator BUSHBY —I will leave it at that.
CHAIR —Thank you. Senator Brandis?
Senator BRANDIS —In August 2008 or thereabouts the CSIRO provided a report to the Australian Federal Police which comprised a risk assessment model for air service officers—so-called air marshals. Is there an officer available who is familiar with that report?
Mr Whelan —I am familiar with it only by virtue of reading Hansard and public comments in Hansard this week.
Senator BRANDIS —Then you have obviously read my questions to Commissioner Keelty on Monday night, when this issue was touched on. Commissioner Keelty indicated that a decision to cut back the numbers of air marshals—I think air service officers their official title—followed the receipt of a CSIRO risk assessment model. Are you familiar with that evidence?
Mr Whelan —Yes, I am, Senator.
Senator BRANDIS —Can you please tell me when that report was commissioned.
Mr Whelan —Senator, I am not able to provide you any detail on that tonight; I am only familiar with that line of inquiry. It is not unusual for CSIRO to provide risk assessments to government agencies or indeed private sector organisations; we do it regularly. I do not have the details of that report.
Senator BRANDIS —Mr Whelan, when did you read the Hansard?
Mr Whelan —This morning, Senator.
Senator BRANDIS —Having read the Hansard you must have been aware that this issue might arise in questions to CSIRO?
Mr Whelan —To be frank, Senator, I thought it was unlikely to arise this evening given some of the other matters that we have been associated with.
Senator BRANDIS —Mr Whelan, is the officer who is familiar with this area not here tonight?
Mr Whelan —That is correct, Senator. We have members of the executive here tonight who are responsible for broad parts of CSIRO. That report would have been prepared by a research team in one of our CSIRO divisions. Nobody at that level is here tonight to talk to you about that matter.
Senator BRANDIS —Mr Whelan, since you were aware since you read the Hansard this morning that this was a matter of interest and that it had been raised in this very estimates session, I am afraid I am not satisfied with your inability to explain the absence of any attempt to secure the presence here tonight of officers who might be able to respond to my questions.
Senator CAMERON —So what! Go to important issues.
Senator BRANDIS —I am sorry you do not regard the air security officer program as an important issue, Senator Cameron.
Senator Carr —You are entitled to be satisfied or dissatisfied with an answer, but an officer has responded properly. He has indicated to you that it is the nature of this organisation; they can not possibly have every single one of the 6,000 employees of CSIRO available on call for you on the presumption that you might ask a question—without any notice, without any conversation with anyone—because you have raised it at another committee. That is not a fair presumption to put to this officer.
Senator CAMERON —Absolutely.
Senator BRANDIS —Mr Whelan, it is not any part of the CSIRO’s business to make threat assessments—terrorism threat assessments—is it?
Mr Whelan —CSIRO conducts a wide range of modelling and mathematical and statistical analysis. How that analysis is applied by the end users is a matter for those end users. It is not inconceivable that the modelling that CSIRO undertakes could be used for that purpose.
Senator BRANDIS —That is not an answer to the question I asked you though. It is not the business or the expertise of the CSIRO to make terrorism threat assessments, is it?
Mr Whelan —No, it is not.
Senator BRANDIS —Thank you. I fully understand your earlier response that modelling, including statistical and other forms of modelling, is something that is within the CSIRO’s field of expertise; I do not cavil with that. Given that the CSIRO does have expertise in statistical modelling but that it has no expertise in making terrorist threat assessments, may we take it that, when developing this model for the Australian Federal Police, the CSIRO worked upon certain assumptions or premises in relation to the level of terrorist threat to Australian airline passengers provided to it by other agencies—in particular, national security and law enforcement agencies?
Mr Whelan —As I indicated, I could not speculate on the nature of the research, what was involved—
Senator BRANDIS —Are you familiar with the research?
Mr Whelan —No, I am not.
Senator BRANDIS —And there is nobody else here who is?
Mr Whelan —No, I am sorry, Senator.
Senator BRANDIS —You will have to take these questions on notice, Mr Whelan. Did the CSIRO report recommend a reduction in the number of air security officers?
Mr Whelan —I will take that question on notice, Senator.
Senator BRANDIS —Did the CSIRO report recommend that the number of air security officers should be maintained at its then existing level or did it recommend that the number of air security officers be increased?
Mr Whelan —I will take that question on notice and any other questions of detail about the research, Senator.
Senator BRANDIS —All right. Who was the officer of CSIRO who was the team leader for this research, please?
Mr Whelan —I will have to take that on notice.
Senator BRANDIS —You do not even know that?
Mr Whelan —Senator, we conduct more than 4,500 research projects. I could tell you the names of the people who lead the 100 research themes, and I have those details with me, but I am not sure in which of these themes this research was conducted.
Senator BRANDIS —Could you also take on notice, please, that I would like the names of each of the CSIRO officers involved in this particular research project. I would like to know the date upon which the research was commissioned.
Mr Whelan —Senator, I am happy to take those matters under consideration.
Senator BRANDIS —I understand.
Mr Whelan —Just to clarify, some of the matters you go to may be covered by the nature of the assignment that was conducted. I do not know on what basis it was conducted. If it was fully paid research by the AFP, there may be some constraints in that regard. I would need to have a look at that.
Senator BRANDIS —I can tell you Mr Whelan, as I suspect you are already aware since you have read the Hansard of the other estimates proceedings, that this report was a confidential report. None of my questions will be directed to asking you to reveal the confidential aspects or the content of the report; I am more interested in the circumstances in which the report came to be commissioned and was transmitted to relevant agencies. I would like to know the date on which the report was commissioned. I would like to know who prepared the brief to the CSIRO for the preparation of the report. I would like, subject to the redaction of the—
Mr Whelan —Senator, just to clarify, if it was a brief that we received from the AFP, it is probably appropriate the AFP provide you with that information.
Senator BRANDIS —No, I am asking you. I have asked Commissioner Keelty and he has taken that question on notice. I am asking you and you can take the question on notice. In one way or another I hope to get a straight answer. I would like you to provide me, subject to the fact that of course you may feel the need for there to be the redaction of confidential material within it, with a copy of the brief. I would like to know the names of the agencies which commissioned the report. We know from Commissioner Keelty’s evidence that the Australian Federal Police was one of them. It is apparent from Commissioner Keelty’s evidence that the AFP was not the only agency which contributed to this process, so I would like to know the names of the other agencies with which you collaborated in the preparation of this report. I would like to know the date on which the report was delivered by the CSIRO to those who requested it, in particular the Australian Federal Police. I would like to know the names of any other agencies that were furnished with a copy of the report. I would like to know whether a copy of the report was given to the minister and, if a copy of the report was given to the minister, the date in which the report was given to the minister.
Mr Whelan —Just to clarify, Senator, to which minister are you referring?
Senator BRANDIS —I am assuming that the relevant minister would have been the minister responsible for the Australian Federal Police and for this program, namely, Mr Debus, the minister for homeland security. I do not think I can take it any further with you Mr Whelan. Thank you.
CHAIR —Senator Heffernan?
Senator HEFFERNAN —I have got some questions for Dr Martyn Jeggo.
Dr Jeggo —I am Dr Martyn Jeggo, Director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Good evening, Senator.
Senator HEFFERNAN —How long have you held that position? I realise you are a Pom. How long have you been there?
Dr Jeggo —Seven years.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Thanks very much. Could you give the committee a brief summary of your previous appointment?
Dr Jeggo —Prior to coming to Australia I worked for the United Nations for 17 years running a program of support to animal health laboratories throughout the world. It involved support to some 150 countries. We developed and advanced the capabilities of these national laboratories. Prior to that, I was in research at a laboratory in the UK and prior to that I ran the central veterinary laboratory, which was in north Yemen, following my graduation.
Senator HEFFERNAN —How much time did you spend at Pirbright?
Dr Jeggo —I was at Pirbright for eight years.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Do you know Dr Alick Lascelles, the former chief of the division of animal industries for the CSIRO?
Dr Jeggo —I do not know him personally.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Have you read his correspondence to The Land newspaper in recent days?
Dr Jeggo —I am aware of that, yes.
Senator HEFFERNAN —In that correspondence AAHL falls within his ambit. Do you agree with Lascelles that it is not necessary to have live foot and mouth virus at AAHL in order to diagnose the disease?
Dr Jeggo —Yes, I would agree with that.
Senator HEFFERNAN —The Beale report lists experimentation as another reason for having live foot and mouth at AAHL. That is one of the reasons. Can’t this be carried out if necessary by AAHL scientists overseas in a country where foot and mouth is already present?
Dr Jeggo —That is certainly an option.
Senator HEFFERNAN —The report also lists vaccine production as a reason for live foot and mouth virus at AAHL. Why would this be necessary before an outbreak, given the agreement that Australia has with Merial to supply vaccines for all nine strains if we need it?
Dr Jeggo —Could you repeat the actual question?
Senator HEFFERNAN —The report also says that we should bring in live foot and mouth disease to Australia. Australia has had no identifiable outbreak of foot and mouth in its time of the world’s probably most exotic disease for cloven hoofed animals. The Beale report says that one of the reasons that we should bring it in is for vaccine production. Why would this be necessary before an outbreak given the agreement Australia has with Merial to supply the vaccine for all nine strains if we need it?
Dr Jeggo —I was not aware that the Beale report had recommended that live virus be brought in for vaccine production.
Senator HEFFERNAN —No, they did not recommend that but they said one of the reasons we could bring it in was that.
Dr Jeggo —Currently, vaccine manufacture for foot and mouth disease occurs in a number of facilities around the world, some of them very advanced and they do a very good job of it.
Senator HEFFERNAN —They do.
Senator EGGLESTON —Because of that, Australian in fact holds a vaccine bank, as you rightly state, with Merial in the UK.
Senator HEFFERNAN —I am a fond admirer of the CSIRO—there is no question about that—as I am of the ABC and their rural programs. In your opinion, and you do not have to answer this, is it worth—
Senator Carr —You cannot ask an officer for an opinion.
Senator HEFFERNAN —I will not ask for an opinion. I will ask a question. Do you think it is worth bringing live foot and mouth disease virus into Australia?
Dr Jeggo —I am not sure I can really give an opinion on that. It is a very complex question.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Can you confirm whether or not the scientists based at AAHL put in a written submission to the Beale inquiry?
Dr Daly —Senator Heffernan, I can confirm that our submission did not make that recommendation.
Senator HEFFERNAN —No, that was not the question. I asked: did scientists based at AAHL put in a written submission?
Dr Jeggo —The only submission I am aware of is the one that was given by the CSIRO to the Beale inquiry.
Dr Daly —Scientists actually helped to develop that submission. We are not aware of any other submission by any CSIRO officer to the Beale review.
Senator HEFFERNAN —So, they may have part-authored or cooperated in the authoring of the report?
Dr Daly —The submission to the Beale review from the CSIRO was prepared by experts, including many that—
Senator HEFFERNAN —Right, thank you very much for that. Did the scientists at AAHL convey to the bill panel the information that led to recommendation 59?
Dr Jeggo —I do not believe so, no. I do not believe there was any recommendation or any suggestion from AAHL scientists to import live foot-and-mouth virus.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Or present a case in which it might be imported?
Dr Jeggo —No; in fact, almost the reverse. At that stage scientists at AAHL did discuss with the Beale inquiry a proposal to conduct work involving live foot-and-mouth virus overseas.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Very good. If not—and the answer is no—are you aware of where this information and request came from?
Dr Jeggo —No, I am not.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Do you think it is peculiar that you do not know? Wouldn’t you have been a little bit interested? You are the peak facility. We are talking about live foot-and-mouth. Most farmers are terrified of this, a lot of scientists are terrified of it, vets are terrified of it—it is there on the report. The Beale report does not say bring it in, but it sets out an opportunity to bring it in.
Dr Daly —Senator Heffernan, Dr Jeggo has answered your question. He was not aware of anyone who made that recommendation.
Senator HEFFERNAN —He’s going all right—don’t panic! There was no written submission from AAHL, was there?
Dr Jeggo —Not that I am aware, no.
Mr Whelan —Senator, just to clarify: there was a written submission, one submission, from CSIRO to the Beale review that drew upon the expertise in AAHL. It would be unusual for an individual division to lodge a separate submission.
Senator HEFFERNAN —That is fair enough. What we all want to know is who is the unfortunate soul who sowed the seed that came up with recommendation 59? Obviously the other night at estimates no-one wanted to answer that and we will eventually get the answer. If there is no written submission from AAHL, were there any verbal discussions with the Beale panel?
Dr Jeggo —The Beale panel visited AAHL and held discussions with us.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Thanks very much for that. Did you speak to the panel?
Dr Jeggo —I did indeed.
Senator HEFFERNAN —How many conversations did you have with the panel?
Dr Jeggo —I met with the panel at AAHL during their briefing with AAHL staff. I also met with panel at the DAFF headquarters when they took the opportunity to meet with the Australian Animal Health Committee.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Was that with just the four panel members? Was it a private meeting? Were there notes taken? Was there a secretary involved? Were there department officials sitting in on the conversation or did you have a private conversation with Roger Beale?
Dr Jeggo —In no way could it be construed as a private conversation. There were other people present at all times.
Senator HEFFERNAN —In those conversations did you or anyone from AAHL ask for support to have a live virus come to AAHL?
Dr Jeggo —No.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Can you recall the content of the actual conversation you had with the Beale panel and give the committee an outline of those discussions?
Dr Jeggo —I would find that difficult. Essentially, we discussed a range of issues that the Beale panel was concerned with, but I do not have a precise record of that.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Thanks very much. Are you familiar with the report of the AAHL security assessment group on the newcastle disease virus incident at AAHL?
Dr Jeggo —I was not the director at that time, but I have seen the report, yes.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Would you agree that newcastle disease virus escaped from AAHL on that day as a result of a combination of human error and equipment failure?
Dr Daly —The virus did not escape from AAHL.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Didn’t it?
Dr Daly —No, it did not.
Senator HEFFERNAN —How did it get out?
Dr Daly —Senator, the newcastle incident was that a young officer had a splash of a substance into their eye. They reported the matter immediately to the microbial security agent. There was a risk assessment done of what action should be taken and what should the officer do, and the assessment deemed that the person was safe to go home.
Senator HEFFERNAN —But they took the disease home.
Dr Daly —In their eye. The virus was present in their eye.
Senator HEFFERNAN —The disease got out through the door and went home.
Dr Daly —The person went home.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Human failure; no-one’s fault.
Dr Daly —Senator, it was not human failure. There was a decision taken after a risk assessment that there was no risk by this person going home to recover from the splash in their eye.
Senator HEFFERNAN —So how did it get out?
Dr Daly —I have answered your question.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Answer it again.
Dr Daly —The person had a splash in their eye. They had virus particles in their eye. After a risk assessment was taken, it was deemed possible for the person to go home.
Senator HEFFERNAN —I will not call it human failure then; I will say an accident.
Dr Daly —No, it was not an accident, Senator; it was a conscious decision to allow the person to go home to recover.
Senator HEFFERNAN —The reason it got in the person’s eye and walked out the door was an accident—right?
Dr Daly —It got into their eye through an accident. The person—
Senator HEFFERNAN —That is it; that is all I want you to say.
Dr Daly —No. The person was allowed to go home after risk assessment.
Senator Carr —Senator Heffernan, to perhaps help consideration of this issue, the matter you raise obviously concerns a great many people and it is reasonable that you should raise the matter with the officers in the manner which you have. The government’s in principle agreement to recommendation 59 of the report should not, however, be interpreted as agreement to import any particular virus, including foot-and-mouth virus. Any decision on the particular importation would need to be very carefully assessed to achieve the best outcome of particular circumstances. I can confirm that, should an import permit application for foot-and-mouth disease be proposed, there would be extensive consultation processes with industry and other relevant stakeholders prior to the lodgement of any formal request.
I am also advised, Senator, that there is currently no application before the government for an import permit application relating to any of these matters and that there is no intention by the government to support any further application at this stage. I further add—and I wish to table this, as it might help you—that tonight Mr Roger Beale has issued a statement concerning this matter through the minister for agriculture, Tony Burke. I seek to table that now.
CHAIR —Thank you, Minister.
Senator HEFFERNAN —I am very conscious of all that; that was all raised the other night. There is no question that the government is not agreeing to bring in foot-and-mouth. What I am trying to find out is: who was the person who recommended that they do?
Senator Carr —Senator, I am not certain we can take this much further.
Senator HEFFERNAN —We can.
Senator Carr —The statements that you see tonight may well assist you.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Thanks very much for your help. Does AAHL have its own budget?
Mr Whelan —Yes. The Animal Health Laboratory is part of our division of livestock industries.
Senator HEFFERNAN —What is their annual budget?
Mr Whelan —I will just look it up for you. The total budget in the 2008-09 operational plan for the Animal Health Laboratory including the research that we conduct there is $28.2 million.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Thanks very much for that. I realise what happened in the UK when the foot-and-mouth did get out of the laboratory, through a broken sewerage pipe, a drive down to the pub and all the rest of the human failures, cannot happen at AAHL because you have got internal sewerage. Is that right?
Dr Jeggo —Correct.
Senator HEFFERNAN —What is the structural and physical condition of the AAHL complex like?
Dr Jeggo —I think it is in excellent condition. CSIRO recently, in 2002, conducted an external engineering review of the facility. The facility at that time was deemed to be in good condition but that there could be advances made using some new technology, and so there was a $24 million refit undertaken.
Senator HEFFERNAN —I understand there has been some leaking in the ceiling at AAHL. Can you clarify or explain what sort of leaks and building maintenance have been going on at AAHL?
Dr Jeggo —I am not aware of any leaks in the ceiling as such. The building is maintained by a full fleet of 60 engineers and trade staff and I would contend is in excellent condition.
Senator HEFFERNAN —So how much of your budget is spent on building maintenance?
Mr Whelan —We will have to take that on notice.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Thanks very much. I will have a follow up-question when I get the answer to that. Given the history of foot-and-mouth, do you think it is appropriate for Australia to import live? With great respect, Minister, this is a very, very serious issue for Australia. Cape York Peninsula is 17½ million hectares. There are an estimated 800,000 feral pigs there. There are 20,000 untagged feral cattle there. I could take you through the history of the Top. We would be up for between $9 billion and $14 billion in no time if we had, by human error or an accident or an act of God, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth. Australia’s farmers and most of Australia’s scientists do not want it to come in. We would like the government to be able to say something about it or make an arrangement like Bob Hawke did. He put a moratorium on it for some years and then extended the moratorium, and in the meantime the science came forth with gene technology where there is absolutely no need to have a live agent. Is that correct, Mr Jeggo?
Dr Clark —Senator, you have asked our specialist questions and he has endeavoured to answer them with accuracy.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Very nicely and I am very grateful.
Dr Clark —He has made it very clear that it is not our role to pass opinion.
Senator HEFFERNAN —No, that is fair enough. I do not want you to get the cane when you leave. Doug will give me the cane when I leave. Minister, I appreciate your patience. And I appreciate the wisdom of the government in Bob Hawke’s time when we put that moratorium on and science caught up to the fact that we do not have to have it here. For instance, we recently imported—I will not get onto Cocos Island—some elephants into Australia. If we had not reopened Cocos and we had brought them to Taronga Park, which could be a quarantine station, and one of them was found to have foot-and-mouth, it would have very serious consequences. We would like the government to find a way, without offending the international community or putting themselves in a hole that they cannot get out of, simply to say, ‘We are not bringing in foot-and-mouth live.’ I thank you for your patience.
Senator Carr —I am happy to raise this matter and I am sure that the minister would be aware of it. I just want to reiterate that there is no application before the government for an import permit and there is no intention by the government to support any further application at this stage.
Senator HEFFERNAN —No, I understand that.
Senator Carr —I have tabled a document from Mr Beale, which is supported by statements from panel members, and that document is also being tabled.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Could I just say that we take comfort from the evidence of Dr Jeggo. We accepted Minister Sherry, who said at the other hearing that we may. That is a different committee. The committee that I am on may well meet with the panel, perhaps in camera. We would just love to know how recommendation 59 got there. Thanks very much.
Senator ABETZ —Can you just remind me, Mr Paterson or Minister, when the Cutler review came down? Was it August last year?
Mr Paterson —I gave in evidence earlier, I think, that it was received by the government on 29 August and released—
Senator HEFFERNAN —Okay. And it was made public on September 9.
Mr Paterson —Yes.
Senator HEFFERNAN —Thank you for that. Dr Clark or possibly Mr Whelan, in that report on page 71, Mr Cutler says:
Within this next year approximately 100 further positions will be lost. … the closure of regional laboratories and the concomitant losses of the staff in the agribusiness sector will impose substantial costs on industries of the sector.
Is that paragraph known to you and is that prediction correct?
Mr Whelan —That paragraph is known to me, Senator. Some of the contents were actually drawn from evidence we gave to an estimates committee where I think I provided, in the answers to questions from you, an estimate that CSIRO would reduce its staffing by approximately 85 FTEs or 100 staff or thereabouts as a result of the budget changes. The extrapolation to the impact on the agricultural sector is Dr Cutler’s alone; it is not CSIRO’s view.
Senator ABETZ —Eighty-five or 100, it is the same sort of situation. I love the term ‘budget changes’. I think I had that discussions last time and we finally agreed that budget changes that are positive usually do not lead to job losses but budget changes that are negative or less money usually do mean job losses. But we will not go there again. In broad terms, Dr Cutler’s commentary on page 71 of his report is something that you would not take exception to?
Mr Whelan —Senator, I will reiterate and perhaps I will just unpack it a bit.
Senator ABETZ —Not too much. Only briefly, due to time.
Mr Whelan —I will try to do it quickly. The reference to 85 to 100 was drawn from evidence in this committee. The extrapolation that that was going to have an impact on the rural sector and research programs is not something that we have committed to any evidence before this committee; it is a view that Dr Cutler or the review panel has formed. It may have been drawn from the fact that we have done some consolidation of regional laboratories, but, as I have indicated to this committee, we have not made any major changes to our research programs as a result.
Senator ABETZ —I think people in forestry and a few other areas would not necessarily have that view of the world.
Mr Whelan —That would be unfortunate, Senator, because in fact we have maintained our research effort in forestry as a result of the consolidation programs.
Senator ABETZ —And in South Australia have you closed any stations?
Mr Whelan —We announced more than two years ago that we were going to close the Mount Gambier field station.
Senator ABETZ —And other stations have been closed in the rural and regional sectors?
Mr Whelan —We indicated—
Senator ABETZ —Areas, I mean.
Mr Whelan —We indicated in evidence the last time we were here that we had consolidated a number of laboratories, not all of them in rural areas. Some of them were in urban areas as well.
Senator ABETZ —I understand the terminology but can I say that, in general terms, usually closure of facilities and the loss of 85 to 100 personnel must dilute the research capacity of CSIRO. Otherwise, those 85 to 100 people were sitting around twiddling their thumbs not doing anything—and, knowing CSIRO as I do, I am sure that was not the case.
Mr Whelan —A significant proportion of them would have been involved in management and support roles. We have sought to minimise the impact on research personnel and research programs as a result of the reduction.
Senator ABETZ —And the number of research personnel has decreased?
Mr Whelan —It has increased in CSIRO over the last five years.
Senator ABETZ —Over the last five years?
Mr Whelan —And, to the best of my knowledge there has been no reduction in research personnel this year. I am happy to clarify that but to the best of my knowledge there has been no reduction.
Senator ABETZ —If you would take that on notice, that would be most helpful. I asked, I think it was last time, whether CSIRO had undertaken an assessment of reduction in income from outside sources as it relates to the Commercial Ready program being cut, axed, whatever term we want to use. I think we have agreed and established in the past that CSIRO was the beneficiary of collaborative type arrangements with projects that had been in receipt of Commercial Ready program funding and, when it drew up its budget for the May budget last year, it was not aware of the government’s decision to axe the Commercial Ready program. And, if I recall Dr Garrett’s evidence at the time, that was not factored into the budget considerations in relation to income from external sources. Are you able now to give us some idea as to the impact of that on the CSIRO’s budget?
Mr Whelan —Senator, yes, you did ask me questions on that and you asked me some questions on notice. At the time we were not able to identify the impact. We are still unable to do that. There are a range of factors that impact our research and services revenue. On the face of it, we look likely to achieve our research and services budget this year. At the end of January we had secured more than 93 per cent of that research target through contracts. At this point in time it does not look like it has had any impact, but I cannot precisely quantify that other than to say that, at this point in time, we appear on track to achieve our external revenue budget for this year.
Senator ABETZ —Right, but would you agree with this proposition: if the Commercial Ready program had not been axed, CSIRO’s income from external sources would be greater than it otherwise is?
Mr Whelan —I can not speculate on that, Senator. I do not know.
Senator ABETZ —Mr Whelan, can you please take on notice how many projects the CSIRO has collaborated with and obtained income from projects that have been at least partially funded by the Commercial Ready program over the last three years?
Mr Whelan —We would certainly apply our best efforts.
Senator ABETZ —Right, thank you.
Mr Whelan —If I could just clarify, we may not be able to provide all of the data you are seeking because we are not necessarily going to be aware that our partners have received money from Commercial Ready, but where we are aware, I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator ABETZ —If need be, I will ask the partners and we will find out. I would have thought, Mr Whelan, it was not a surprising proposition to put to you that having had a long history of collaborating with enterprises that have been the beneficiaries of Commercial Ready program funding that its axing must necessitate less income than you otherwise would have received. I would have thought that would stand to reason, with great respect.
Dr Clark —Senator, as Mr Whelan has outlined, we are not seeing a commensurate drop in our external revenue. With our budgeted external revenue of around $373 million we are, even in these volatile times, expecting to come in very close to that.
Senator ABETZ —You are saying that even in those circumstances, you would not have been over budget in your income?
Dr Clark —No, we have been obviously—
Senator ABETZ —That is the point, is it not? That is the point I am trying to make. That you have been able to make up the money from other sources, can I say, is a great credit to you, Dr Clark, and all the staff at the CSIRO. I commend you for it, but I would have thought any organisation involved in scientific research and trying to commercialise innovation would acknowledge the importance of the Commercial Ready program and the extra funding that in the past it had provided to CSIRO by way of collaboration.
Senator CAMERON —Is there a question coming or is this another dissertation?
Senator ABETZ —It is a discussion with a witness. I know Senator Cameron finds it difficult whenever the government might be slightly criticised, but what I am asking Dr Clark is are special efforts being made to raise more money from outside sources this year?
Dr Clark —Senator, as Mr Whelan said, we will take your specific question on notice and provide as much detail as we possibly can.
Senator ABETZ —Yes, but I have not asked that question before.
Mr Whelan —I am happy to provide an answer to your question. CSIRO works very hard to try and attract revenue for its research programs. We have been reasonably successful in that regard; about 37 per cent of the funding of the organisation comes from outside, from indirect sources and we would envisage that would continue into the future.
Senator ABETZ —But you have had to work a bit harder to try to get the money.
Mr Whelan —Officers in CSIRO always work very hard, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —I thought you might say that, Mr Whelan, and touche, well done. Can I ask possibly you, Mr Whelan, in relation to the travel bill incurred by CSIRO. You may need to take these on notice; if so, just let me know. What is the CSIRO’s travel bill for 2008 and can we split it up between domestic and international?
Mr Whelan —We certainly could do that, Senator, but I would have to take that on notice.
Senator ABETZ —Alright, what measures are in place to control this expenditure?
Mr Whelan —Substantial measures, Senator. The organisation has rolled out an increase in its video conferencing footprint over the last two years in an attempt to curb its travel expenditure. We are currently rolling out around 1,000 desktop video cameras to enable more of our staff to video conference to try and limit travel. This year we have reduced the number of times that the executive management council of the organisation comes together from six to three. Senior officers in the organisation, although entitled under their contracts to travel business class, have been travelling economy for the last two years. So, a range of arrangements are already in place across CSIRO to try and limit travel.
Senator ABETZ —All right, and that will undoubtedly show up if you could please provide me with a comparison. You work on a financial year I suppose? So 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 for this year, if you could provide me with that comparison of domestic and international travel?
Mr Whelan —Happy to do that, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —That would be very helpful. How many of the CSIRO staff were platinum frequent flyers, do you know that?
Mr Whelan —I imagine there would be quite a few, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —How many of the CSIRO executive team are based outside of Canberra?
Mr Whelan —I will just do the maths on that, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —Take it on notice; I do not need a specific answer now. What support by way of airfares, accommodation and living away from home allowance does CSIRO provide to these senior executives?
Mr Whelan —Senator, as a general rule CSIRO does not provide any allowances to officers when they are travelling overnight. We cover actual expenses, but I am happy to look at the costs associated with that travel.
Senator ABETZ —Let us say if I am home based in Hobart and I travel to Canberra for work during the week, am I paid a living away from home allowance or not?
Mr Whelan —As a general rule, no, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —If I stay in a hotel, my hotel bill is then reimbursed?
Mr Whelan —That is correct, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —All right, so instead of using the term living away from home allowance, what term should I be using?
Mr Whelan —Expenses, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —Expenses, if you can provide that to me on notice.
Mr Whelan —I will do that.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you for clarifying that for me. Has CSIRO sold or is it planning to sell assets such as real estate?
Mr Whelan —Yes, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —Can we list them, name them, any spring to mind?
Mr Whelan —Senator, it is a question that we have been asked previously and we have provided on notice a program of sales.
Senator ABETZ —Sorry, that is a fair comment. I did not want the whole history of asset sales of CSIRO. Since the last budget, which ones have been sold, are being planned or being made ready for selling?
Mr Whelan —Since the May budget, Senator, CSIRO I think has sold its Cannon Hill facility.
Senator ABETZ —Is that the Western Australian one?
Mr Whelan —No, Senator, that is in Brisbane.
Senator ABETZ —Right, so the Western Australian one is on the market or was?
Mr Whelan —Bakers Hill has been identified for sale, Senator, but to my knowledge we have not sold that as yet.
Senator ABETZ —Yes, but it is on the market?
Mr Whelan —I do not know if it is on the market yet. We have certainly stated our intention to sell.
Senator ABETZ —For those that you have stated an intention to sell, if you could provide me on notice the properties, identifying whereabouts and whether they have been sold, are being readied for sale or whether they are actually on the market to be sold.
Mr Whelan —Happy to do so, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —That would be very helpful. It is amazing how many emails and other messages you get as shadow minister on all these various things, and of course we always have to be very cautious to ensure that the information we are being given is correct. I do not make any assertions; I simply ask the questions and look at the answers. Can you be a scientist in the CSIRO that challenges the accepted norms of scientific views, Dr Clark?
Dr Clark —Can you repeat your question, Senator?
Senator ABETZ —Can you be a scientist at the CSIRO that challenges accepted norms?
Dr Clark —Absolutely, as we—
Senator ABETZ —Absolutely, good.
Dr Clark —As we covered in the charter, we encourage our staff to speak about their science, to speak about the facts and the data and to make sure that our scientific data is available.
Senator ABETZ —So, you can be a scientist employed by CSIRO that might have questions about the accepted norms in relation to anthropogenic climate change?
Dr Clark —Certainly the factual basis and the communication of the research and the data on that research is encouraged.
Senator ABETZ —But if a scientist—
Senator Carr —We do not try to suppress research like you did.
Senator ABETZ —Senator—
Senator Carr —There was a long, long debate about this or have you forgotten?
Senator ABETZ —Senator Carr!
Senator Carr —Have you forgotten so quickly? What a tragedy!
Senator ABETZ —I know you used to make those assertion,s but it sort of came to nought. I am not making these assertions about CSIRO today because, with great respect, I do not follow in your footsteps. As the shadow minister, I take a completely different approach.
Senator Carr —I can tell.
Senator ABETZ —Can I tell you that many people have complimented me on it and said what a refreshing approach it is to have somebody who has in fact some degree of pleasantness about them, Senator Carr.
Senator CAMERON —Refreshing!
Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that. Can I ask you about SAP, that is an acronym for some computer program or something, is it?
Mr Whelan —Yes, it is.
Senator ABETZ —What is the current status of it?
Mr Whelan —CSIRO implemented the SAP enterprise systems on 1 July or thereabouts last year. We are currently producing our financial reports from it, paying people’s salaries and processing invoices.
Senator ABETZ —And does it work as originally promised?
Mr Whelan —Yes, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —What was the budget for this new system? If you do not have it readily available—
Mr Whelan —I have it available.
Senator ABETZ —Readily available?
Mr Whelan —The total operating budget for the project was estimated as $97.9 million.
Senator ABETZ —And then what was the actual cost? I am sure that is right underneath.
Mr Whelan —Indeed. That budget was for its full life including depreciation, and to date we have spent $69.3 million. That compares to the budget to this point of $70 million, so we are just under budget for the project.
Senator ABETZ —I congratulate those involved. That is good to see. And the actual total cost includes implementation costs?
Mr Whelan —Indeed.
Senator ABETZ —How many consultancies did CSIRO let in 2007-08? Is that a huge list?
Mr Whelan —No, it is very small. It is in our annual report.
Senator ABETZ —Out of those, how many were let to former employees of CSIRO?
Mr Whelan —I would be able to do that by examining the table. Would you like me take that on notice?
Senator ABETZ —Thank you very much.
Mr Whelan —The table is provided at page 216 of our annual report. Based on the information in the annual report—and there is some risk that I may not know the name of every former CSIRO employee—on the face of it, it does not look like there are any.
Senator ABETZ —Reading the report and the appendix, I was not readily able to identify if they were or were not former CSIRO employees.
Mr Whelan —An officer has just pointed out to me there were two consultancies let to former CSIRO employees.
Senator ABETZ —Would it breach any confidentialities if you were to disclose to us which ones they were?
Mr Whelan —No, I do not believe so. They appear at the last entry on page 218 and the first entry on 219. They are registration Nos 2008/05/01 and 2008/05/02.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you for doing that so discreetly with the registration numbers, because I do not believe in dragging people’s names through Hansard gratuitously, so that is very good of you. Coming back to the question on scientists who do not necessarily accept the norm, is CSIRO able to identify, without names, how many scientists are employed by CSIRO that are challenging some of the climate change science norms?
Mr Whelan —It depends on what you describe as climate change norms. There is a wide range of research scientists in CSIRO working on issues associated with climate change and there is a wide range of science that underpins that. It would be very difficult to characterise whether there is a diversion from a norm. There are a range of research projects and a range of research opinions that we pull together into our reports.
Senator ABETZ —That is a very, very good answer, but I daresay it would range from those that are complete sceptics through to some that might be of the view that climate change is upon us while questioning the anthropogenic impact on climate change.
Senator PRATT —Climate change deniers—
Senator ABETZ —I hope CSIRO does not use terminology such as ‘climate change deniers’ to those scientists who have a scientific basis for their particular views, whether we happen to agree with them or not. It is that sort of mentality that has been put to me that some people are concerned about. I just want an assurance that that is not the case in the CSIRO.
Dr Clark —The integrity of the excellence of our science is the foundation of CSIRO and why it is such a trusted advisor. It is very important that that integrity is really based on fact. It is based on the data, the experimental results, the observations that we are making in the Deep Southern Ocean and the observations that we are making in our air. Our scientists stand on that data. Whether it fits norms or not, that is not for scientists. The role that we have is to make sure that that data is accurately collected and that there is integrity in how it is collected, treated and communicated to the public.
Senator ABETZ —And thank you to the CSIRO staff in Hobart that gave Dr Brendan Nelson and me a very good briefing in relation to the work that CSIRO had done. I availed myself, with Dr Nelson, of a briefing on that very issue. It is just unfortunate that, if you ask questions, you get some people who start talking about ‘denying’ et cetera. I just wanted to make sure that there is culture of scientific integrity, and I think you have assured me of that tonight, so thank you for that. Is CSIRO currently working on the issue of mulesing at all?
Mr Whelan —I think we are doing some research in that area. There may be an officer here who can give you some more details on that, or would you like me to take a question on notice? How do you want to handle it?
Senator ABETZ —Could you please take on notice where we are at with it, because it is becoming an international issue for the marketing of Australian wool. When I say research on mulesing, I should say alternatives to mulesing. I want to know how progress is going. A page maximum—I do not need all the research papers on it—just so I can get a handle on how that is going. What about bee health?
Mr Whelan —We are doing research on that issue.
Senator ABETZ —Any research on the possibility of importing queen bees into Australia?
Dr Daly —We certainly do work on bee health. I am not aware of research about importation of queen bees. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator ABETZ —If you could, and if you could give me a summary as to the sort of work that is being done in that area. Who looks after the now consolidated forestry area?
Mr Whelan —There are three parts of the organisation who provide—
Senator ABETZ —Sorry, the research aspect of it.
Mr Whelan —In fact there are many parts of the organisation that provide research to the forest sector.
Senator ABETZ —You are saying to me that the forest research capacity has not been diminished in any way with the ‘consolidation’, which I think was the nice term used in recent times—
Mr Whelan —Into three main divisions: our materials division, our plant industry division and our sustainable ecosystems division.
Senator ABETZ —I printed off a CSIRO release on 11 December 2008 which tells me:
Scientists from the former ENSIS and CSIRO Forest Biosciences have joined CSIRO Plant Industry to create a hub of expertise in plant and forest research.
When did that happen?
Dr Daly —Could you repeat that statement please?
Senator ABETZ —I have got a press release from CSIRO that was printed off your website on 11 December 2008 but does not have an identifying date on it. It says:
Scientists from the former ENSIS and CSIRO Forest Biosciences have joined CSIRO Plant Industry to create a hub of expertise in plant and forest research.
Dr Daly —That is actually referring to plant genetics works. The group out at ENSIS, who are the plant geneticists, joined the plant industry division in that area.
Senator ABETZ —And that brought about 45 people together?
Dr Daly —That is right.
Senator ABETZ —So you are telling me that forest genomics and biotechnology are all continuing as before and have not been diminished in any way?
Dr Daly —That is right. In fact we believe it will be enhanced because it brings the forest genomics people together with the other plant genomics people.
Senator ABETZ —I always love it when separate departments are consolidated and it is sold on the basis of enhancement. CSIRO is not the only one that says that. I remain to be convinced and, of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I might ask questions about that in the future. Can I ask about the Gunns pulp mill. Has the CSIRO been involved in that to assist the independent expert group?
Dr Clark —Senator, we have Dr Andrew Johnson with us, who can answer that question.
Senator ABETZ —In fact, he was one of the kind gentlemen who assisted Dr Nelson and me in Hobart. Dr Johnson, unfortunately, might I say, incurred one of those flights I was talking about to meet with Dr Nelson and me. I had better do a mea culpa on that one.
Dr Johnson —That is all right. You are welcome.
Senator ABETZ —Dr Johnson, what can you tell us?
Dr Johnson —As you correctly point out, Senator, CSIRO has been engaged and three of our staff are members of the independent expert group that has been working with officers in the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
Senator ABETZ —Are those officers publicly named or known?
Dr Johnson —Yes, they are.
Senator ABETZ —If they are—and only on that basis—are you able to name them for me?
Dr Johnson —Yes. Those scientists are Dr Graeme Batley, Dr John Parslow and Dr Mike Herzfeld, who were part of the original group. Now Dr Mike Herzfeld, Dr Graeme Batley and Dr David Westcott are part of the independent expert group.
Senator ABETZ —How far are you able to take me with this? If it gets too technical, please let me know. I understand Dr Herzfeld wrote a paper which has excited some interest in relation to trigger levels et cetera.
Dr Johnson —Correct.
Senator ABETZ —Have either of the other two scientists undertaken similar work?
Dr Johnson —Not to my knowledge.
Senator ABETZ —Are you aware of the trigger levels, and I am testing memory now, in table 26 on page 57 of module L—and undoubtedly they would be well known to you, Dr Johnson—and of whether the CSIRO panel of three were of a like mind or agreed that that was the appropriate standard against which the mill ought to be assessed?
Dr Johnson —I am not in a position to answer that question. I do not know the answer to that.
Senator ABETZ —All right. Could you please take that on notice for me?
Dr Johnson —Sure.
Senator ABETZ —There has been a lot of public discussion in my home state about that. The Herzfeld report is out, but I understand other papers have been produced. Can you confirm to me whether CSIRO has produced other papers?
Dr Johnson —CSIRO has provided advice through the independent experts group. I am not aware of the totality of the other papers provided, but, again, if that was of interest to you we would be happy to provide it on notice.
Senator ABETZ —Yes, that would be very helpful. And any work that Dr Batley and—
Dr Johnson —Dr Westcott.
Senator ABETZ —yes—Dr Westcott have done? I understand there was an FOI request in relation to the Herzfeld report?
Dr Johnson —Correct.
Senator ABETZ —Could I be advised whether I can get a copy of any of the reports that the other—is it gentlemen?
Dr Johnson —Yes.
Senator ABETZ —gentlemen have done?
Dr Johnson —Just to be clear, the input that CSIRO has had in this process has been through the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. In answering your request for information, I think it is best that you do it through that portfolio and not through CSIRO. We have delivered those reports to them and they are the client for the work.
Senator ABETZ —Dr Johnson, I am very disappointed because you have foiled me. I was hoping I could get that which I sought at Environment through you.
Dr Johnson —No.
Senator ABETZ —I am going to be foiled now here as well.
Dr Johnson —As I say, the—
Senator ABETZ —But as much information as you are at liberty to disclose to me I would appreciate. If officers of the department of environment read this section of the Hansard, I would like to know from it or from CSIRO whether we can get any other reports or documentation such as the Herzfeld report. I have a funny feeling that there might be other documents around. If need be, we will use FOI. But thank you for that. I nearly forgot. At one stage CSIRO was going to have a nanotechnology flagship, Mr Whelan. Is that right?
Dr Clark —I can answer that.
Senator ABETZ —Or Dr Clark.
Dr Clark —Our flagship is actually in future manufacturing, just to clarify.
Senator ABETZ —Sorry. It is in?
Dr Clark —Our flagship is in future manufacturing.
Senator ABETZ —Yes, now. But was there a proposal at least for CSIRO to have a nanotechnology—
Dr Clark —No, that is not right.
Mr Whelan —Just to clarify that answer: the Niche Manufacturing Flagship—which has now been renamed the Future Manufacturing Flagship—did have a large proportion of nano material based research. Some people might have described it as a nanotechnology flagship, but it was called the Niche Manufacturing Flagship and has been renamed Future Manufacturing.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you very much. A bit has been revealed here. Did that actually ever get started?
Mr Whelan —It is up and running. It has a director and it has people working in it.
Senator ABETZ —When did it get started?
Mr Whelan —Funding was provided I think about two years ago. We have had research programs in our operational plan.
Senator ABETZ —Why was it that I was under the apprehension, or misapprehension, that the funding for it had been cut by the incoming government?
Mr Whelan —I am not sure, but there have been no reductions in funding as a result of any budget cuts.
Senator ABETZ —There is a very good question that Senator Bushby has given me. Is nanotechnology still a major part of this new—
Dr Clark —Yes, it is.
Senator ABETZ —And what do we call ‘major part’? Is it 50 per cent of the budget?
Dr Clark —I met with over 200 of our scientists involved in that area, and we cover all aspects of nanotechnology in that. New materials, our advanced materials work, our advanced coatings work and our polymer work are all involved in that flagship.
Senator ABETZ —But you do work in it on matters other than those related to nanotechnology?
Dr Clark —We do, but a large proportion of what we do involves new materials and advanced materials.
Mr Whelan —Three out of the five research programs have ‘nano’ in their name.
Senator ABETZ —I reckon that qualifies, doesn’t it, as a large part—
Dr Clark —It does, indeed.
Senator ABETZ —Is it 60 per cent? Can you provide me with the detail of that? So I do not get conned just by the names of the projects, what about the monetary allocation to those three out of the five? Does that represent 60 per cent of the budget or—
Mr Whelan —No, it does not, but I am happy to provide those details on notice.
Senator ABETZ —What percentage of the budget does it represent? I might be on to something here, that it is only 20 per cent of the budget.
Mr Whelan —It is a substantial, proportion. I have not done the maths.
Senator ABETZ —I just thought I would take you up, Senator Cameron.
Senator CAMERON —He is very excited.
Senator ABETZ —Small things amuse small minds, so forgive me, Senator Cameron.
Dr Clark —Senator, I am not sure that—
Senator CAMERON —That’s what I’m watching happening with you!
Senator ABETZ —If you could provide that to me on notice, that would be helpful. That ends my questioning on CSIRO, and I thank officers. It is much appreciated.
Senator EGGLESTON —I would just like to ask a few questions about sustainable development in the north. I believe the CSIRO, in fact, does have some programs in the north, and I would like to ask you about them.
Dr Clark —Yes, we are happy to answer that. CSIRO is investigating agricultural development in Northern Australia, particularly given the drying of the Murray-Darling Basin. We have around 260, or four per cent of our staff, based in research locations in Northern Australia. As you can imagine, our investment in R&D areas is quite expansive: sustainable development, the agricultural area, the marine area and the minerals, energy and tourism industries.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you very much. Do you have an agency as such in the north or have you just got programs?
Dr Clark —It is not so much an agency, as we run those under our flagship and research programs in the way that we are structured.
Senator EGGLESTON —Did you say you have 260 staff?
Dr Clark —Yes, I did.
Senator EGGLESTON —That is quite a lot of staff. Do you have a particular budget for the north?
Dr Clark —I do. Mr Whelan, do you have the budget numbers there?
Mr Whelan —Dr Johnson might be better to comment on this.
Dr Clark —Dr Johnson?
Dr Johnson —Thank you. Senator Eggleston, just building on Dr Clark’s comments: I cannot give you a full budget figure because, in addition to the 260 staff that Dr Clark referred to, there would be a significantly large number of other CSIRO staff who are not physically based in Northern Australia but who deliver science and knowledge services to the benefit of our tropical industries and the environment. These would be staff based in Perth, Canberra, Brisbane and so on. So it is a number significantly larger than 260 but, again, I would be happy to provide that if you are interested.
Senator EGGLESTON —So this is the whole sort of background coterie who are working on northern issues. Are these people largely university based—for example, in the school of agriculture at UWA—or something like that?
Dr Johnson —The CSIRO has a number of laboratories physically based in northern Australia—in Rockhampton, Townsville, Atherton, Cairns, Darwin and Alice Springs. On a number of those sites we are co-located with universities, for example, in Townsville with James Cook University, in the Australian Tropical Science and Innovation Precinct. We are co-located with James Cook University in Cairns, and we have strong relationships with the universities, Charles Darwin University in Darwin and in Alice Springs, and with universities based in Brisbane and Canberra, such as Queensland University and the Australian National University, which also deliver, in partnership with us, knowledge to benefit industries and the community in the north.
Senator EGGLESTON —What about in Western Australia? Do you have any relationships with any of the five universities there?
Dr Johnson —We have a very strong relationship with the University of Western Australia, Curtin University and Murdoch University, across all the sectoral domains that Dr Clark mentioned.
Senator EGGLESTON —With UWA it is agriculture, I presume?
Dr Johnson —We have a broad engagement with the University of WA. Of course, agriculture is perhaps our deepest and longest engagement, but we have a very strong relationship with it in the areas of marine science and climate science. In the energy sector we have a close relationship with that university—in engineering and so forth—and it is a relationship that we value.
Senator EGGLESTON —With mining, with UWA and Curtin and at the School of Mines?
Dr Johnson —I cannot comment specifically on that. My colleague Dr Ronalds would be able to confirm that, but I believe we do have a relationship there with them. She says we do.
Senator EGGLESTON —That is excellent. What sort of budget do you have for this northern program? Is there a single budget or is it just across a whole lot of programs?
Dr Johnson —It is across a whole lot of programs. There is no single line budget, but, again, if you extrapolate from 260 full-time equivalents and probably as many as that again who are not physically based in the north, it is a substantial proportion of CSIRO’s budget in recognition of the importance of northern Australian issues to the country.
Senator EGGLESTON —Yes, that is very good to hear because, of course, the north does have great potential but it is not an easy area in which to expect quick results. Some people do expect quick results, but I always say to them that if it was easy to establish agriculture in the north in settlements there the Indonesians would have done it a thousand years ago. It is hard work and there are a lot of issues.
Senator EGGLESTON —Do you have a relationship with the Kimberley Research Station of the Western Australian Department of Agriculture?
Dr Johnson —We have had a long-standing relationship with the Kimberley Research Station. In fact, it was CSIRO that actually established the Kimberley Research Station in the Ord many years ago, and although we no longer have permanent staff based in the Ord, we have a long standing relationship with the Ord community and are continuing to undertake work in the Ord.
Senator EGGLESTON —That research station is now under the Western Australian Department of Agriculture, is it not?
Dr Johnson —Correct.
Senator EGGLESTON —Do you have any specific agencies of your own in the north of Western Australia?
Dr Johnson —No.
Senator EGGLESTON —But I presume in due course we will see some sort of complement of people there. You are involved with the pastoralists, obviously, the horticulturalists and the farmers. What about aquaculture in the north?
Dr Johnson —We do not have a strong involvement with aquaculture in the north. CSIRO does have quite a significant aquaculture program as part of its Food Futures national research flagship. To the best of my knowledge we do not have any direct relationship with aquacultures in the north, but the research that we are doing, when it is successful, will deliver significant benefits to the aquaculture industry in Australia. And I am sure, of course, that includes aquaculture industries in the north as well.
Senator EGGLESTON —It has become quite an important area of economic activity in the north of WA—not only pearling but growing prawns and perhaps barramundi farming and so on. More topically, I suppose, are you involved with Indigenous communities in assisting them to have sustainable communities?
Dr Johnson —The answer is yes. CSIRO has had, I think you could say, a growing engagement with Indigenous communities across northern Australia in recognition of the significant challenges that they face moving forward. This spans areas as broad as biodiversity conservation through to fire management, the utilisation of carbon resources in northern savannahs as sources of income and Indigenous values with respect to water resource management. So, yes, Senator, it has a significant engagement. The CSIRO also has an Indigenous engagement strategy, which again will have, hopefully, significant benefit to Indigenous communities in the north.
Senator EGGLESTON —I understand that work has just begun in the last week or so on stage two of the Ord. Is CSIRO advising the Western Australian government on the development of stage 2 of the Ord?
Dr Johnson —Not at this point in time, although officers of CSIRO are in active discussion with officers of the Australian government and also officers of the Western Australian government to explore opportunities for CSIRO to assist in that process, and we have indicated to both the Australian government and the Western Australian government that we stand ready to support that process as best we can.
Senator EGGLESTON —Very good. Obviously rainfall is a very important issue in Australia, and in the north they do have a lot of rain. I heard a very interesting comment on Radio National a few weeks ago in which it was said that rather than the Pacific weather it was more the weather in the Indian Ocean which influenced the weather in south-eastern Australia and it was, in fact, more directly related to the drought that we have been experiencing in south-eastern Australia. Would you like to comment on that?
Dr Johnson —I can provide a brief comment. In essence, your comment is accurate. Both the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean do influence the weather patterns that we experience in southern Australia. Historically we have invested a lot of effort in understanding the El Nino southern oscillation index in the Pacific, but increasingly we are investing resources in understanding the Indian Ocean dipole, which is an equivalent phenomenon in the Indian Ocean. In partnership with our colleagues in the Bureau of Meteorology and colleagues in Western Australia, the Western Australian government and universities, we are looking very closely at better understanding the dynamics in the Indian Ocean as they affect rainfall, not only in your home state, Senator, but also over here in the east.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you very much. Given all the activity that CSIRO is engaging in in the north, Minister, is there any prospect of the federal government coordinating this into an institute for northern development, or sustainable development in the north, with a budget to match its diverse programs and needs?
Senator Carr —There are no proposals coming forward from the CSIRO to change its structure in regard to its research profile. I am not aware of any proposal within any other part of government.
Senator EGGLESTON —I think that would be a visionary step to think about, Senator Carr. We might hope that one or other of the political parties that might form government might, in fact, come up with something like that. But thank you very much.
Senator CAMERON —Dr Clark, I have just been having a quick look at your website and some of the work that has been done on climate change. I cannot find any scientific documents that challenge global warming. I have in front of me Climate change impacts, risk and the benefits of mitigation by RN Jones and BL Preston. It would seem to me to quite clearly define that the globe is warming, that carbon is a cause for it as an anthropogenic approach. Would that be a sort of balance of the views of CSIRO scientists looking at this issue?
Dr Clark —I think, Senator, that is an opinion. We have a wealth of data in Dr Andrew Johnson’s area which really is informing this debate—our ocean data, our air monitoring data and all the work that we are doing across this. So we are informing this debate, and our role here is to inform it and to provide the data. Dr Johnson can provide a lot of the detail and some more detail on the observations that we are collecting and some factual basis for what we are seeing.
Dr Johnson —I am happy to extend on that, Senator, if you wish, or—
Senator CAMERON —Yes, because I am just interested in the Jones work here. The information all points to global warming and to anthropocentric involvement in that global warming, and that seems to be a very well researched paper.
Dr Johnson —I do not have that paper in front of me, but certainly our scientists have been involved in the global effort in measuring actual temperatures and actual sea rises. These are not modelled outcomes but actual measurements of those two phenomena. As I think I understand your question, those measurements are showing that average global temperatures and global sea levels are rising and that our science does support the opinion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which articulated the view that there is a greater than 90 per cent likelihood that the global warming that we have seen in the second half of the 20th century and the first tenth of this century is due to increases in greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
Senator CAMERON —This paper also outlines the need to act early to deal with it.
Dr Johnson —I am not familiar with that. Really, the issue around courses of action is a matter of policy. As Dr Clark outlined earlier in her comments, our responsibility as the national science agency is to provide this country and the people in this place with the very best possible scientific evidence to enable you to form judgments on policy responses.
Madam Chair, if I could be so bold as to put in a gratuitous plug for CSIRO, on 16 March at Parliament House our minister, Senator Carr, and Senator Wong will be holding a briefing for all members of parliament at which CSIRO will provide an update on the very latest science around climate change. I would welcome all senators present here tonight and your colleagues in the Senate to attend that. Hopefully, Senator Cameron, we can give you a full briefing from three of our leading experts in the climate space as to what the latest science is and is not telling us and what the policy implications of that may be for people such as you who have to deal with these things.
Senator CAMERON —Yes, thanks very much.
Senator PRATT —Is it fair to say that in the research that has been undertaken by the CSIRO that looks at current weather patterns and previous weather patterns you cannot model those weather patterns accurately without including carbon—so you cannot actually create through modelling something that looks like what we are getting in our current weather patterns unless you account for human contribution to carbon emissions?
Dr Johnson —I think I understand your question. The modelling that we have done which projects possible future climate scenarios is based on historical data of climate variables, including concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and we utilise that data to project into the future. The answer to your question, as I understand it, is that we do specifically incorporate not only carbon dioxide but other gases like methane and nitrous oxide and so on that also have greenhouse gas like behaviour into our forward modelling.
Senator PRATT —My question really is: if you did not incorporate that into your modelling you would not really be coming up with weather patterns that look anything like the weather patterns that we are getting even currently, from what I understand.
Dr Johnson —I am still not quite sure what you are asking. My apologies.
Senator PRATT —Someone showed me a graph that pretty much said, ‘If you do all these weather models, this is what the temperature is doing, and if you take out carbon—
Dr Johnson —Yes, I understand what you are saying.
Senator PRATT —then you get a weather pattern that looks like this, and it does not even look like what you are actually getting.’
Dr Johnson —When we see you on the 16th we will be showing a graph which shows that. If you take it out, for example, just global average temperature, the rise that is occurring in temperature cannot be explained by natural factors alone, which is, I think, the question that you are asking.
Senator PRATT —Yes, that is basically the question.
Dr Johnson —The modelling that we do incorporates things like changes in the earth orbit, volcanic eruptions and all of those sorts of things. Yes, if you just assume the CO2 level stayed the same—
Senator PRATT —Thank you for putting it so succinctly.
Senator CAMERON —Sheep in New Zealand?
Senator Carr —Could I ask is it the intention to call the officers from the Australian Research Council and ANSTO, given that we are due to conclude at 11 o’clock tonight?
—I would like to congratulate the CSIRO on what it is doing in the north. I think that is really outstanding.
[—From cricket balls to climate change.
CHAIR —Thank you, Dr Clark and the other officers of the CSIRO. I now call the Australian Research Council.