Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2137

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (16:13): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) and the Cabinet Secretary (Senator Sinodinos) to questions without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wong) and Senator Carr today relating to the timing of the 2016-17 Budget and to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Today the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Mr Pyne, put out a statement celebrating 100 years of the CSIRO and its predecessor. Of course, there is much to be celebrated when we talk about the CSIRO and Australia's history: its extraordinary record of success and, of course, the amazing manner in which the CSIRO has reached into the hearts and minds of Australians to the point where I think it is regarded as not just our premier publicly-funded scientific agency but one of the great national institutions of the Commonwealth. It is one of those entities that enjoys enormous public support.

So it is with some irony that, on the celebration of 100 years of the CSIRO and its predecessor organisation, we are faced with the question of: why is it that this government has cut $115 million from this great organisation, which has led to one of the biggest numbers of job losses in the agency's history? Further, this is a government that has cut $22 million from climate science programs in the Environment portfolio, which of course flows into the CSIRO. It is remarkable that we find that the international reputation of the CSIRO is under such acute examination now. Nearly 3½ thousand of the world's top climate change scientists have signed a letter highlighting their deep concern that this government's policies have led to the CSIRO reducing its climate change capacity by 50 per cent. One hundred of our leading scientists in the climate change area are to be removed. It is said that they are to be replaced by 25 scientists in the same area.

I find it ironic that, in this moment of celebration of 100 years of Australian science, we are looking at a situation where 350 jobs are now going from this great organisation, in particular in the Oceans and Atmosphere, Land and Water, and Manufacturing divisions and in Data61—that is the organisation that was forced to be created because this government withdrew funding from NICTA, our premier ICT research organisation in the country. These business units, as the government now prefers to call them, are now responding to these budget cuts and, as a consequence, we are losing the capacity for this nation to be able to speak on the international stage on matters of significance, particularly on matters around climate change. We saw Mary Robinson, former UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Climate Change, highlighting this point of criticism.

What has struck me in the various proceedings that I have been able to participate in is just how many incredibly experienced, world-respected scientists have come out to protest what is happening within the CSIRO. There are people there who have had 30 years experience—former heads of division, people of enormous international repute—complaining bitterly about what is going on within the CSIRO. The failure of the CSIRO executive to be able to deal satisfactorily with this criticism is truly astounding.

I am particularly concerned about the proposition that the way in which the management of the CSIRO operates is to try to communicate with one another in private, through a private email system. We know, from the evidence that has been presented, that officers down to the research director level have been instructed—instructed!—to communicate with private emails. I say this is a prima facie breach of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act and the Archives Act and that the government has a responsibility to deal with breaches of the law. But it is not sufficient for us to say the CSIRO is entirely responsible for the circumstances where we are seeing such massive assaults on the capabilities of this nation, because the CSIRO is obliged to follow government budgetary policy, and this has come about as a result of these budget cuts.