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Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Page: 10643

Mr Forrest asked the Prime Minister, in writing, on 25 September 2008:

(1)   Does he realise that the impending closure of the CSIRO Horticultural Research facility in Merbein, in the electorate of Mallee, has occurred as a result of substantial Federal Government cuts to the CSIRO research budget, and that this decision is expected to result in the loss of 30 local jobs for agricultural scientists.

(2)   Can he explain how the closure of this facility will assist horticulturalists given the enormous challenges of climate change.

(3)   Would the Government consider funding options to ensure this facility remains open in its current location.

Mr Rudd (Prime Minister) —I am advised that the answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   The decision to close the Merbein facility was made by CSIRO in light of its science investment process, broad direction setting, and in view of its overall budget, which is made up of both Australian Government appropriation and industry funding for specific projects. While the site is being closed, most staff are being offered transfers to Adelaide where they will continue work on issues relating to wine grapes. The process of closure will be staged over approximately 30 months to allow for the completion of existing projects.

(2)   Although the Merbein site is to close, CSIRO will retain activities in the Sunraysia district through continued use of a leased site at Koorlong. At that site CSIRO will continue work on wine grapes as well as completing existing projects on dried and table grapes. Horticulturists in the area will also benefit from other research conducted by CSIRO, particularly in relation to improving soil and agricultural productivity. CSIRO is assisting horticulturists meet the challenges of climate change through two major initiatives: the Climate Adaptation Flagship and the Agricultural Sustainability Initiative (ASI). The Climate Adaptation Flagship aims to deliver the best available scientific information and expertise to support Australia’s efforts to adapt to climate change today in a practical and effective way. The Flagship’s research is led by some of Australia’s pre-eminent climate scientists, and will add significant value to how we adapt. ASI will help horticulturalists by seeking to increase the economic value to Australia from agricultural landscapes, reduce the ecological footprint of Australian agriculture and increase the resilience of Australian rural and regional communities.

(3)   Since CSIRO’s intention to close Merbein was announced in May 2008, senior staff in CSIRO have held several meetings with industry representatives to discuss the future of the site and related research matters. In early August CSIRO agreed to receive and review any proposition provided by the industry and/or the local community on the understanding that any such proposition would need to be received by late September 2008 and address directly the funding problem that the Merbein laboratory faces. As at 13 October no proposal had been received by CSIRO.