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ECONOMICS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
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ECONOMICS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Dr A Johnson
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ECONOMICS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(Senate-Wednesday, 21 October 2009)
INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
CHAIR (Senator Hurley)
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Dr A Johnson
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Australian Research Council
Office of the Chief Scientist
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
Senator BOB BROWN
Mr M Paterson
- Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
RESOURCES, ENERGY AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO
Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism
- Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism
Department of the Treasury
Australian Securities and Investments Commission
- Department of the Treasury
- INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Content WindowECONOMICS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 21/10/2009 - INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO - Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
CHAIR —Welcome, Dr Clark. Would you like to make an opening statement?
Dr Clark —I have a short opening statement but I would prefer to table it. Also, this year we are making available to the committee an adjunct to our annual report which is a showcase of our annual science this year. We will make that available to members today.
CHAIR —Thank you. We will circulate that report to the committee. We will move to questions.
Senator PRATT —I would like to ask some questions about the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder project. Specifically, I believe there have been some announcements recently regarding a new facility in Geraldton. What is the role of that facility and what opportunities will there be within Geraldton and the region related to that new facility that has just been announced?
Dr Clark —Today I am joined by Dr Alex Zelinsky, who covers the area of ASKAP. I will ask him to come to the table.
Dr Zelinsky —As part of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder project we were originally planning to have a small computer located in Geraldton. But with the announcement of connectivity of fibre between Geraldton and Perth an opportunity presented itself to have the facility located in Perth. With the recent Pawsey High-Performance Computing Centre announcement of the high-performance computer in Perth, we have looked to consolidate the super computing facilities in Perth. However, Geraldton is actually an important technical facilities access point and we are providing a portal there for access to the super computing facility, which will be available to the local community—there will be guaranteed access to that facility. Prior to this announcement, a small supercomputer was to be located there but there was no access to that machine for other problems. But with the construction of the larger machine that has actually allowed access for the local community.
Senator PRATT —What kinds of uses will that small supercomputer have?
Dr Zelinsky —The original supercomputer was just to be used for correlations of radio signals for the imaging of the skies. It was purely a scientific machine. The supercomputer which will be built at the Pawsey centre will be primarily for SKA science but it will also actually support other forms of super computing, such as geothermal applications in the mining area, et cetera.
Senator Carr —It has a much wider usage in mining, chemistry and water. The facility will have a much broader scope. I recently had a meeting with the Mayor of the City of Geraldton, Councillor Ian Carpenter, where we outlined the proposals for a $4 million facility to be developed at Geraldton which will provide the people of Geraldton with access to additional computer facilities that would otherwise not be the case. On top of that the decision of the government to put as a priority the broadband link between Perth and Geraldton will have considerable advantage for the Geraldton region. So there is an opportunity here in terms of the provision of the new facility for CSIRO in Geraldton—access to that facility at the university precinct in Geraldton to provide additional job opportunities in the Geraldton region.
Senator PRATT —Thank you.
Senator EGGLESTON —On the same subject of supercomputers, a couple of years ago I was approached by a professor from Curtin University who had been seconded from Edinburgh University about using grid technology based on a supercomputer for communications links to the countries to our north. Has CSIRO had any involvement in the possibility of using Perth as an access point for communications to the East Asian countries based on the use of the supercomputer in Perth?
Dr Clark —Our grid computing activities comes under the area of Dr Zelinsky. He can give you an overview of what we currently do in grid computing and also address the issue internationally.
Dr Zelinsky —Yes, Senator, we do have some activities in grid science research which is essentially when you network computers together to form a supercomputer or a high-powered computer by multiple computers working together. We do have the technology under development and a lot of that work has been done out of our exploration and mining division in Perth. That is where the group has been centred. They have developed some of those programs as part of the NCRIS programs. However, I am unaware of their role in any provision of computing facilities offshore into the Asia-Pacific area. I would have to take that part of your question on notice.
Senator EGGLESTON —I understand that CSIRO has a carbon capture model, according to an article in the Canberra Times of 21 August. Would you like to tell us a little about that?
Dr Clark —Are you referring to our carbon capture technology or our modelling of carbon capture?
Senator EGGLESTON —I think I am talking about your technology—or perhaps both. My note here says ‘your carbon capture model’—and what impact that would have if no emissions trading scheme or CPRS was adopted. The article suggested that planting trees to store carbon and create a wildlife habitat, restoring overgrazed agricultural land, reducing land clearing and better protecting native forests would cut emissions by 953 million tonnes a year over a 40-year period.
Dr Clark —You are referring there to our modelling work. Dr Keating can cover that area.
Dr Keating —The article you are referring to was referring to a report from CSIRO that was commissioned by the Queensland government. It looked at the potential for land based sequestration of greenhouse gases both in soils and forests. That large number you referred to was a technical potential. It indicates the size of the carbon sink that is possible through forests or soil sequestration. Of course, what is possible in practice would depend on a large number of other factors coming into play—in terms of whether that is practically feasible.
Senator EGGLESTON —It did suggest, however, that carbon capture through forests would have a much greater impact on cutting our emissions than a proposed ETS would—according to the article.
Dr Keating —I cannot speak for exactly what is in the press article. The report itself has been released and is available on the web. As I said, that report highlights the significant potential of biosequestration, the storage of carbon in forests and soils, in the overall mix of carbon abatement options. It highlights the uncertainties and the various trade-off issues that exist in the multiple activities that happen in our landscape—food production, water, biodiversity as well as carbon storage.
Senator EGGLESTON —It is a very interesting issue, though. There was another article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 August in which it was said that the CSIRO were concerned that a carbon price cap would hit the national power supply, reducing the supply of new electricity generation capacity below what is required to reliably deliver power to customers or delivering less risky but most likely higher emission technologies. In particular, the article says it:
... may stifle investment in renewable technologies and threaten Australia’s power supply.
This was in a submission to the government’s energy review. Would you like to provide to the committee a little more detail of the CSIRO’s views on this?
Dr Keating —That is from another area of the CSIRO. I will seek some guidance on that.
Dr Clark —Dr Bev Ronalds from our energy group can comment on that particular area and on our activities in the renewables space.
Dr Ronalds —Senator, could you please repeat your question?
Senator EGGLESTON —The question was relating to a submission the CSIRO made, according to the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 August this year, to the government energy review in which the CSIRO researchers write that price caps in a carbon market may cause Australia to increase its reliance on high emissions energy, such as coal, as demand for electricity increases and reduce investment in renewable energy technologies. I thought that was a very interesting and somewhat provocative submission so I ask you to comment on it.
Dr Ronalds —I can possibly make a couple of comments here. I recall that our submission noted that the inclusion of lower emissions in our energy mix is likely to increase the prices. For example, to put carbon capture and storage onto a fossil energy generation plant will increase the cost. So there is that factor to be dealt with, which can influence the future energy mix. In addition, because currently most renewable energies are more expensive than the energy generation we use to date, in order for them to be freely available in the market we believe that there would need to be some form of subsidy or some accounting of additional costs. It was comments around those factors which I believe were mentioned in the report.
Senator EGGLESTON —It suggests that the imposition of carbon price caps might well increase the price of electricity to consumers. Would you agree with that?
Dr Clark —Senator, we do not comment on aspects of policy. I think Dr Ronalds—
Senator EGGLESTON —This is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald which comments on your submission, with respect, Dr Clark. Since it is in your submission I think it is a valid question to ask in this arena.
Senator Carr —What was the question again, Senator?
Senator EGGLESTON —There is a suggestion here that carbon price caps, according to the CSIRO submission, may result in higher prices for electricity to Australian consumers.
Dr Clark —Dr Ronalds has answered that question.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you. We simply note that.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you, chair. It would not be CSIRO without an update on the cricket ball. Can you tell me that it is coming along well?
Dr Clark —Certainly with Cricket Australia, together with the Institute of Sport, we have now submitted a proposal. We understand that Cricket Australia board have approved that in principle and are now looking for funding and partners for that. We are awaiting the response from that.
Senator ABETZ —So the scientists have not set to work yet.
Dr Clark —No.
Senator ABETZ —We will wait and see next time how far we have progressed it. On a more serious matter, CSIRO was able to settle a substantial issue in the ICT sector—can I call it that?—
Dr Clark —That is right.
Senator ABETZ —with a number of producers or manufacturers, but Sony was not part of the settlement, was it?
Dr Clark —That is right.
Senator ABETZ —What are we doing about Sony because, if I might suggest—and I am sure this is not controversial—it is a fairly major player in the marketplace.
Dr Clark —What we can say and we have said publicly is that we have filed infringements now against Sony, Acer and Lenovo.
Senator ABETZ —When were they filed?
Dr Clark —We filed those in September of this year.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that. I wish you well in pursuing that.
Dr Clark —Thank you.
Senator ABETZ —Where you were successful and you got some substantial funds into kitty—and well done on that—that has now in effect become a CSIRO endowment fund—if I can call it that.
Dr Clark —Yes, that is right.
Senator ABETZ —Just so I understand, is CSIRO spending the interest earned on this endowment fund, or are you actually drawing down on its capital as well?
Dr Clark —We will be drawing down on the capital. We have limited that drawdown to no more than $25 million a year.
Senator ABETZ —Which would mean that the endowment fund will only last for about five years?
Dr Clark —We would expect the endowment fund to continue, and we would certainly expect, over the period of time, to look for other opportunities for the board to make decisions to gift into the endowment fund. Certainly we will be seeking other opportunities to attract investment into that fund. You asked a question on interest.
Mr Whelan —The intention of the board in gifting the money to the Science and Industry Endowment Fund is for the capital and any interest earned to be spent over a period of six to 10 years, as Dr Clark has indicated, with a maximum spend in any one year of $25 million.
Senator ABETZ —Fair enough. That is a decision that has been made. I would have thought that with a lump of money like that it may have been worthwhile to actually set it aside as a genuine endowment and just live off the interest, for future generations, rather than absorbing the capital and using it. But that is a management decision and I will not canvass that any further. Mr Whelan, I think last time you told me that the implementation of SAP was going well. Can you quickly remind me what SAP stands for?
Mr Whelan —I do not know what the acronym stands for; it is a German software company. But in the case of CSIRO we have implemented some software provided by the company, SAP, to underpin our financial project management asset and human resource system.
Senator ABETZ —That is the BETR program?
Mr Whelan —That is correct.
Senator ABETZ —You told us that was going well.
Mr Whelan —Yes. It was implemented. We have produced our first—
Senator ABETZ —All right, but until it was implemented there were a lot of hiccups along the way.
Mr Whelan —It was a very challenging project.
Senator ABETZ —Yes. Were we told about that last time?
Mr Whelan —The subject of the implementation of that project has been a fairly consistent issue that this committee has pursued questions about. I am sure that if we went back through the Hansard we would find that its progress, the cost of the project and its status have been regularly questioned in this committee.
Senator ABETZ —This required high-level briefings to the board, didn’t it?
Mr Whelan —We brief the board on all major projects. As Dr Zelinsky was talking about earlier, we briefed the board on ASKAP, a major project, and on the replacement of the marine research vessel. This project, which had a total budget somewhere in excess of $110 million, was certainly something we briefed the board on regularly.
Senator ABETZ —But was it a high-level briefing for the board? It was not amongst all the other board papers. This was a high-level briefing to the board.
Mr Whelan —I could not discriminate as to whether it was any higher or lower than any other briefing. There would have been a specific board paper on this matter, as there would be on other major capital projects.
Senator ABETZ —Why can’t you discriminate in this when I have reason to believe that the board was given a document by Mr Craig Roy on 14 October 2007 headed ‘ Purpose: to provide a high-level briefing to the board’? Can you please take that on notice and then tell us whether that which I am quoting from in fact does exist? I have had experience when these things might not exist in reality other than in somebody’s mind, so let us get that clear on the record. Then, if it does exist and it does use the language ‘high-level briefing’, can you give an explanation as to your reluctance here to acknowledge that it was of such sufficient gravity as to be described internally in the CSIRO as a high-level briefing?
Dr Clark —Senator, the terminology ‘high-level briefing’ I think was simply the matter of the overview rather than any level of priority. We simply provide updates to the board. The process has been—
Senator ABETZ —With great respect, Dr Clark, is everything that is provided to the board described as a high-level briefing to the board?
Dr Clark —It is not an indication of its priority. It is simply whether it was an overview, and we have been giving the board—
Senator ABETZ —Excuse me, Dr Clark—just so we can get this terminology right: say, if a one-cent discrepancy in petty cash went to the board, might that be a high-level briefing as well?
Mr Whelan —No, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —No. High-level briefing has a particular meaning. This was a big project. It had a lot of problems and it made good sense that a high-level briefing went to the board. There is no argument with any of that. I just wonder why CSIRO is reluctant to acknowledge that it did get to the stage of high-level briefings to the board.
Mr Whelan —There is no reluctance from CSIRO indicating to you or anybody else that the board maintained an active interest in this project and received regular briefings on it. I am more than happy to check the document that you have to see whether it was titled in the way that you suggested it was, and, if it was, we will confirm that. Could I just reiterate that we would provide—
Senator ABETZ —To assist you, it was attachment 3B.
Mr Whelan —We would provide reports on major capital projects to the board on a regular basis, and often those reports are ‘high-level’ in the sense that they have been through management steering committee processes before getting to the board. Certainly in our hierarchy the board is a higher level than management.
Senator ABETZ —This implementation did cause a lot of dislocation amongst the staff, did it not?
Mr Whelan —Sorry, Senator, I missed the question.
Senator ABETZ —It caused a lot of dislocation in the operations within CSIRO.
Mr Whelan —The implementation of changing all of CSIRO’s business systems was a nontrivial project and it impacted every single staff member in CSIRO.
Senator ABETZ —And negatively impacted.
Mr Whelan —Not entirely, no, Senator. It certainly required changes to people’s work practices, but for a significant number of staff it actually led to improvements in their processes.
Senator ABETZ —At the end of the day it did, but whilst the transition was taking place—
Mr Whelan —It was a very challenging transition, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —It did cause problems that are not substantial problems.
Mr Whelan —I would not describe them as substantial problems, but the implementation of an SAP system in any environment is not a trivial exercise. It was a complex and challenging project for CSIRO.
Senator ABETZ —Did any loss of productivity occur?
Mr Whelan —There would have been periods during the implementation when people would have been less productive than they would otherwise have been.
Senator ABETZ —Right; thank you very much. I think we can be agreed. Who was responsible within CSIRO for this very difficult implementation? Was it CSIRO or was it the company that was contracted? What have been the consequences? If it was the officials’ problem or of it was the company’s problem, how has it been resolved?
Mr Whelan —Perhaps I could just step back. The system has been successfully implemented; it has been operating for—
Senator ABETZ —Now it has. I accept that.
Mr Whelan —I will just clarify. I will come to your question. The system has been successfully implemented. It has been in operation for more than 12 months.
Senator ABETZ —That is right.
Mr Whelan —We have produced our first set of financial statements and year-end close on that system.
Senator ABETZ —That is right. Time is short, I am sorry, so if you could answer the specifics, that would be helpful.
Mr Whelan —I just want to clarify. I am not sure I would characterise its implementation and the output of it as a problem. That is the point I want to make. With respect to who is responsible, a member of the executive team was responsible for its implementation and CSIRO partnered with another organisation, Fujitsu, to implement the system.
Senator ABETZ —So some loss of productivity is not a matter of concern to you during its implementation phase?
Mr Whelan —Certainly any impact on productivity is something we have to carefully manage. But we did anticipate that there would be some impact as a result of its implementation. We rescheduled other changes in the organisation to accommodate it so we were not overloading staff with too much change in that period of time. I have lived through four SAP implementations and this particular one was certainly no more impactful than any of those others.
Senator ABETZ —No more?
Mr Whelan —I would have thought that, on balance, in the scheme of things, it was a pretty good implementation.
Senator ABETZ —Although there was loss of productivity and there was a request that all line managers appropriately acknowledge the dedication and performance and explore opportunities to assist the most impacted staff through this period of high activity.
Mr Whelan —Indeed, as I indicated to you, we took a very measured approach to its implementation; we were quite conscious of its impact and we sought to support staff through that process.
Senator ABETZ —How many credit cards are alive and well in CSIRO? I understand it might be 9,800.
Mr Whelan —I think you asked a question on notice at the last hearing on that. Do you have the question number there, just to assist me?
Senator ABETZ —Yes, I do. It is not a memory test. It is BI20. I was told that that there were 5,100 Visa credit cards and 4,700 Diners credit cards. Am I at liberty—I have not done anything with this, but I wanted to make sure—to add those two figures together to indicate that CSIRO has 9,800 credit cards?
Mr Whelan —Yes, you can, Senator.
Senator ABETZ —How many staff does CSIRO have?
Mr Whelan —It has approximately 6,500 staff.
Senator ABETZ —It has 6,500 staff with 9,800 credit cards. When is the next job vacancy in CSIRO? I would like to have two credit cards. Tell me why are there so many credit cards?
Senator CAMERON —You could buy Godwin some lunch.
Senator ABETZ —Yes, I could indeed.
CHAIR —As Senator Abetz pointed out, we are short on time—so if you could continue Senator Abetz.
Mr Whelan —When CSIRO introduced the use of credit cards in 1995 it did so to replace the issuing of travel allowances. When it did that it looked to provide a credit card that met that purpose. CSIRO implemented a Diners card to support that process. As the organisation looked at the operational efficiencies that accrued from using credit cards for that purpose we then expanded the application of the credit card program to other purchasers. The Diners card, while widely accepted for travel purposes, is not always accepted for procurement purposes. CSIRO added a second card to its card regime—the Visa card, which is more widely accepted. So there are some officers in CSIRO who carry both cards.
Senator ABETZ —You would be one of them, no doubt.
Mr Whelan —I do, but in my case I do not do a lot of procurement, so I think my Visa card collects dust. But I do travel a bit and therefore my Diners card gets a bit of use.
Senator ABETZ —What happens to the frequent flyer and other points that credit cards often attract as bonuses?
Mr Whelan —I am reasonably certain that CSIRO’s credit card arrangements were changed, such that we took a cash payment for the points that were accumulated and they do not transfer to individuals.
Senator ABETZ —Very good. How much is that earning you?
Mr Whelan —I would have to take that on notice.
Senator ABETZ —Take that on notice. Time is short. In the modelling that the CSIRO has done in relation to climate change, is there a disclaimer at the end of each of those modelling exercises? If so, what is it?
Dr Clark —Our modelling in the carbon area is covered by Dr Andrew Johnson, who joins us today.
Dr A Johnson —What is your question, Senator, specifically?
Senator ABETZ —Does the modelling and information that CSIRO puts out on climate change have a disclaimer attached to it? If so, what is it?
Dr A Johnson —The modelling that we undertake, like any scientific endeavour, always contains assumptions and caveats with respect to uncertainties and risks. As you know, as part of the rigorous process we go through and the peer review that we undertake, those uncertainties and risks are always made explicit. Without knowing the specific study or the specific modelling exercise you refer to, as a general principle it is a matter of course that we would do that.
Senator ABETZ —But there is the one disclaimer, isn’t there, that is attached to all your modelling exercises? Or do you have specific ones for climate change as opposed to other modelling exercises?
Dr A Johnson —I am not aware of a universal disclaimer, if that is what you are referring to. But, as I have indicated, as a matter of principle we would indicate in all our scientific work where there are assumptions or caveats to the work that we have done and make that explicit to the reader.
Senator ABETZ —If it does not occasion too much work, could you provide us with a list of the various disclaimers that the CSIRO does use and whether, in relation to climate change, you use this disclaimer? For what it is worth, allegedly in 2003 the CSIRO predicted that Mount Hotham and Mount Buller would lose 25 per cent of their snow cover by 2020. First of all, let us establish that there was such a report and, if so, whether CSIRO produced it and then whether they added this disclaimer:
The projections in this report are based on results from computer models that involve simplifications of real physical processes that are not fully understood. Accordingly, no responsibility will be accepted by CSIRO for the accuracy of the projections inferred from this report or for any person’s interpretations, conclusions or actions based on this information.
Could check up for me whether that disclaimer was used in 2003 and whether it is continuing to be used in relation to climate change modelling?
Senator Carr —Do you have the name of the report that you are quoting from?
Senator ABETZ —No, I do not, but I do have for you that it was, allegedly, a report from CSIRO in 2003.
Senator Carr —Do you have the author’s name?
Senator ABETZ —I do not at this stage.
Senator Carr —Do you have a page number from the report?
Senator ABETZ —I have given the information. If you want to change places, Minister, I am always happy to do so.
Senator Carr —I am just trying to help find the information.
Senator ABETZ —In relation to CO2 issues, has the CSIRO done any study on the carbon footprint of wholly electric cars—not hybrids but plug-in electric vehicles? If those electric vehicles had to be fuelled, or refuelled, from the electricity grid, which uses brown coal, would the CO2 footprint of those battery powered vehicles be worse, courtesy of the brown coal that is being burned, than if they were using petrol?
Dr Clark —With any electric vehicle that connects to the grid, how the grid is powered and managed of course are completely connected.
Senator ABETZ —Absolutely, and that is why I am asking the question. Have you done any studies? I assume the answer is either yes or no as to whether you have looked at that.
Dr Clark —In terms of the detail of our modelling on electric cars, Dr Bev Ronalds covers that area. We continue to do modelling and will continue to do further modelling in the future in these particular areas of trade-off and interactions.
CHAIR —Senator Abetz, we also have questions from Senator Joyce, Senator Macdonald and possibly Senator Heffernan.
Senator ABETZ —In that case, I will quickly put some other questions on notice. But can we just have this cleared up: is there a specific study in relation to the CO2 footprint of the refuelling of electric powered vehicles if their power source is from brown coal?
Dr Ronalds —As part of our modelling, and particularly the Future Fuels Forum work that we undertook a couple of years ago, we looked at a range of options for hybrid vehicles and plug-in vehicles compared to a range of fuels. The particular question you are asking may or may not have been one of those permutations, and we could take that on notice and investigate.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you. CSIRO does a bit of work in the nanotechnology area, do you?
Dr Clark —We do.
Senator ABETZ —I should withdraw that—I dare say you do a lot of work, not a little. But what amount of research are you doing in relation to the risk element—risk minimisation—in the nanotechnology area?
Dr Clark —One of our four areas of focus in our manufacturing is the safety aspects of nanotechnology. Steve Morton is with us today; his group covers that area. So it is one of our four key focus areas, and Steve could give you quite a lot of detail.
Senator ABETZ —Given the time, unfortunately, not as much detail as I would like, but he could assist us as to the CSIRO’s considered opinion—and when I say ‘opinion’, I mean scientific opinion—as to whether not nanomaterials possibly should go through a similar process to that for new chemicals before they are allowed to be used within the community, through some sort of a registration system.
Dr Morton —The regulatory responsibility for clearing the use of new materials clearly lies with other parts of government, and the question as to what the process ought to be should be directed to them. But, obviously, CSIRO takes that responsibility very seriously.
Senator ABETZ —Is there a good scientific reason or rationale for that to occur in a risk-management environment, given what we know about nanomaterials?
Dr Morton —There is every reason to look very carefully at potential health and safety and environmental issues, yes.
Senator ABETZ —I am not sure that there is actually a nano registration board, for want of a better term, at this stage—Dr Morton?
Senator Carr —That is a matter of policy development.
Senator ABETZ —So in which portfolio, Minister, should I be asking that question?
Senator Carr —You should ask it under innovation.
Senator ABETZ —So it is within this department?
Senator Carr —It is with this department—that is, the development of the National Enabling Technologies Strategy within this department. In terms of registration there will be other agencies of government as well, but that is the appropriate point at which to discuss the development of that strategy.
Senator ABETZ —What other areas of government, Minister?
Senator Carr —The regulations in terms of the introduction of new chemicals are—
Senator ABETZ —Are we going to go to NICNAS or the APVMA? There is a host of potential bodies that we could be going to.
Senator Carr —I suggest you deal with that under the Innovation Division’s questions.
Senator ABETZ —Perhaps at the beginning of that session an official who has been listening in might be able to answer that for us. Given time constraints, I will hand over but, if there is time left, I do have other questions.
CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Abetz.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I just wanted to briefly touch on the CSIRO report on the northern Australian water yield released recently. Again, congratulations to CSIRO on the good work they do right across the board, particularly in the north. The summary of the report talks about development opportunities and constraints. It is pretty limited on the opportunities front. In fact, it makes no reference to water in the north of Queensland as opposed to the Northern Territory. Is there some reason for that?
Dr A Johnson —You are correct in your assessment. It makes no commentary about the water resources in north-east Queensland for two reasons. Firstly, the study was commissioned by COAG, so CSIRO responded to not only the terms of reference that COAG set but also the geographic boundaries that we were asked to do. Your neck of the woods, everywhere south of the Daintree River, including Burdekin and other rivers, were not part of the study. Indeed, as you would know, a significant amount is already known about rivers such as the Burdekin and Fitzroy, which are major drainages in north-east Queensland.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Sure. I take your point in relation to coastal or eastern flowing rivers. All of your data, though, relates to the Flinders River. There is a lot of talk about and work being done on irrigation on the Gilbert River. That does not seem to have rated a mention anywhere. Dr Johnson, I know that you are aware that there are proposals along the Flinders for wet season storage not year-round storage. They do not seem to have rated a mention either.
Dr A Johnson —Just to be clear, the terms of reference for the study were not to make commentary about the utilisation of those available water resources, the various uses of which there are potentially many. It simply sought to quantify for the first time in a rigorous way the amount of potentially available ground and surface water resources in the north and, importantly, made sure that information was available as critical input into other mechanisms such as the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce. These sorts of issues are referred to within their terms of reference.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I appreciate that it was simply a desktop study. There was no new research done.
Dr A Johnson —That is not correct. There was certainly no new data collected but I would argue pretty strongly that the integration of the massive amount of data that sits across the north into a single place, modelling of the future land use and climate scenarios and then the interpretation of those results was a major scientific achievement and required significant innovation to undertake. No, there was no new data collected but, yes, there was significant new science done.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I will have to catch up with you some day and you will have to explain that to me in a little more detail. I appreciate that time is constrained here. Just as a general comment, the media release of this report had some magnificently new information like that it does not rain 365 days a year and that there is a wet and a dry season! We did not need CSIRO to tell us that. It also says that there is little or no rain for three to six months a year. I do not know about the six months. We did not need CSIRO wasting their time to tell us that. It also says that Northern Australia experiences very high rainfall during the wet season. Well, hello! I appreciate the media release on the report is not the report; it is some politician’s view of the report, so I do not criticise CSIRO for that. By comparison, you have done work in the Murray-Darling and elsewhere in Australia, and this is part of an overall scheme. What is your broad assessment of water availability across the north compared to what you have learned from the Murray-Darling survey and others?
Dr A Johnson —It is important to recognise that you are dealing with two very different systems.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Of course.
Dr A Johnson —As you referred to in your opening comments, the dynamics of water in the northern rivers systems is fundamentally different to what we see in the Murray-Darling Basin. I perhaps see where you are heading, and I will attempt to answer you if I can. It is clear from the work that we have done that for the first time we have been able to quantify the quantity of water that is available and wherever possible quantify the interannual variability.
So the general comments you referred to were in the press release that was issued by the parliamentary secretary and the department. The report goes into some significant detail and teases out for the first time just what some of those water dynamics are on a catchment-by-catchment basis for 64 basins across the north. I think some of that information provides—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —But that is not my question. Part of it says, ‘Historical climate records indicate a slight increase in rainfall intensity,’ and it goes on to say that it has been wetter than in the previous 66 years. I am really asking for a general comment about there being more rainfall or it being wetter. How does that compare with the rest of Australia?
Dr A Johnson —I apologise—I misinterpreted your question. Certainly compared with the projections for southern Australia, where the science is projecting a significant drying influence, the projections for the north are most likely for a neutral to possibly a slight drying influence.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —A slight drying?
Dr A Johnson —Possibly. As you see in the report, there is a significant degree of variability across the region. So when you are looking at the region from Broome to the eastern side of Cape York, that is over 3,000 kilometres east-west. So there is significant variability depending on where across that region you are, and the report goes into some detail around that.
The other point that needs to be taken into account is not just the annual rainfall but the variation in that rainfall between years, the timing of the rainfall within a year and, more importantly, particularly from an agricultural point of view, the evapotranspiration—the increase or decrease in evaporation. The projections for the future are that, across the north, the amount of evapotranspiration will increase. So in terms of net available water for use—for agriculture, for example—I would say we are certainly not trending into a wetter scenario. It is neutral or, if anything, slightly drier.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Again, my question was about a comparison with the south of Australia. Let me put it another way: is it likely that there will be more water available in the north than in the south in the future?
Dr A Johnson —Yes. Certainly the quantity of water discharged from the northern catchments will likely be greater than what occurs in the south, yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Dr Johnson, perhaps I could catch up with you some other time. I have a lot of questions about this and I am not going to get the opportunity to ask them here.
Dr A Johnson —Yes, I am happy to provide a briefing.
Senator JOYCE —Will the Australian ETS change the temperature of the globe?
Dr A Johnson —That is a matter for policy. I think you should really be directing that to the government.
Senator ABETZ —It is a science question.
Senator JOYCE —It is a science question. Will the change to carbon emissions as brought about by the ETS change the temperature of the globe? That is a science question. You must know the answer to it.
CHAIR —Senator Joyce, you are talking about legislation that has not yet gone through the parliament. I think it is hard for a scientist to give—
Senator JOYCE —Will a five per cent reduction in carbon emissions from Australia change the temperature of the globe?
Senator ABETZ —Just add your disclaimer.
Dr A Johnson —That is a very complex question. It is driven by a range of both global and national factors. I cannot—
Senator JOYCE —No, just the domestic process.
Dr A Johnson —The short answer is that which I have just given you—that there are a range of factors both globally and locally that determine the answer to that question. I cannot give you an answer to that question.
Senator JOYCE —You do not want to give an answer or you cannot?
Dr A Johnson —I cannot give you an answer to that question now. It depends on the specifics of—
Senator JOYCE —I will make it specific: a five per cent reduction of carbon emissions in Australia. Will that have an effect on the temperature of the globe?
Dr A Johnson —It is possible but, again, it would depend on a range of factors which I am not in a position to answer.
Senator JOYCE —You seem very hesitant to go through it.
Senator EGGLESTON —It must be embarrassing for the witness, I think.
Senator Carr —What is going to be embarrassing is when you vote against the legislation.
Senator JOYCE —The next thing I want to go to is something completely different. It is Dominette the cow. You have done the mapping of the gene path of Dominette the cow. Is this going to end up in a commercialised field? Is there going to be access to this technology, or is it going to be copyrighted?
Dr Clark —Joanne Daly heads our agricultural area. It covers all of our genetics in the animal space as well as the plant space. We have a number of activities in animal genetics too.
CHAIR —We will adjourn for a short break and resume with the Australian Research Council. Thank you to Dr Clark and the CSIRO for attending this morning.
Proceedings suspended from 10.30 am to 10.45 am