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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1593


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (13:24): I rise to speak about the job cuts to the CSIRO and the impact they will have not only on my home state of Tasmania but also the wider scientific community. At the outset, I want to emphasise just how devastating these cuts will be for climate research and how they will damage Australia's reputation for leading international scientific research. We are talking about 350 jobs being cut over the next two years. To say that the scientific community is in shock over these cuts announced last month is an understatement. They are devastated. No-one saw them coming. Even Australia's Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, only became aware of the cuts when they were announced publicly, and the head of the Bureau of Meteorology was only told about the cuts 24 hours before they were publicly announced.

But while the scientific community is reeling from these cuts, they are also rallying against them. Last week they rallied here at Parliament House—and I understand that more rallies are planned, including in Hobart. Since the announcement, the CSIRO's staff have been left in the dark. They are desperate for details. They received an email from the CEO but since then, as I understand it, there has been no further information forthcoming. So weeks after the announcement was made they still do not know who will be made redundant.

The CSIRO Research Fellow in oceans and atmosphere, Dr John Church, expects about 100 positions will be cut from his division in Hobart. Dr Church, who won a CSIRO medal for research achievement in 2006, said in an ABC radio interview last week that 'the lack of detail and clarity around the cuts was taking a toll on staff'. Dr Church said: 'Clearly staff are stressed, upset about their future. They are dismayed about the performance of the CSIRO executive. Clearly there is not as much consultation as many people would like, and clearly there is a lack of understanding from our leadership on what it is exactly that they are cutting.' The CSIRO Staff Association has lodged a formal dispute in the Fair Work Commission with management over the job losses. The association claims that the CSIRO management breached their enterprise agreement by failing to consult with staff over changes that could impact on their jobs. As Dr Church said, it is hardly surprising that the wait for details on their future is taking a terrible toll on the CSIRO staff.

As well as fearing for the futures of their own research work and job prospects, they also worry for the future of their families, many of whom have relocated to Hobart for work. PhD students are also very concerned about their prospects because of these cuts. They know there will be very stiff competition for any research positions if these cuts proceed. The CSIRO Staff Association Secretary, Sam Popovski, has dismissed suggestions by the Chief Executive, Larry Marshall, that, despite the loss of 350 jobs over the next two years, the CSIRO's overall headcount will not go down. Mr Popovski fears that one in five jobs will be lost and is adamant that climate scientists should be able to continue their research and generate new data.

But the fight against these cuts is not confined to Australia.; the international scientific community has been quick to condemn them. Just five days after the cuts were announced a letter was sent to the Prime Minister, the CSIRO Board members and some members of parliament. This was coordinated by scientists Dr Paul Durack, in the United States, and Dr Anna Pirani, in Italy. More than 2,800 people from nearly 60 countries signed this letter. Nearly 1,000 climate scientists from the United States, nearly 400 from the United Kingdom, 200 from Germany and 159 from France signed the letter. The response was nothing short of overwhelming.

I would like to quote from that very important letter from the international climate community which they are hoping will be the first step in persuading the CSIRO to re-examine its decision to cut climate research. The letter says:

The recent announcement of devastating cuts to the Australian CSIRO's Oceans and Atmosphere research program has alarmed the global climate research community1. The decision to decimate a vibrant and world-leading research program shows a lack of insight, and a misunderstanding of the importance of the depth and significance of Australian contributions to global and regional climate research. The capacity of Australia to assess future risks and plan for climate change adaptation crucially depends on maintaining and augmenting this research capacity.

The letter goes on to explain that CSIRO's climate research is a major part and player in examining pervasive climate change impacts. It says:

Australia is a canary in the climate change coal mine, spanning a large range of different climate zones, from the northern tropics to the cool temperate south. Large and persistent decreases in south-western and south-eastern Australian rainfall has occurred alongside persistent warming over the last four decades. The past year, 2015 was fifth warmest year on record for Australia5, and the warmest on record globally—climate change is truly underway.

The widely respected Climate Council has also released a report which finds that the planned cuts to the CSIRO's climate science division would breach Australia's commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change. The report also found that—as the letter from the world's scientists also pointed out—the job cuts will leave a gaping hole in the world's understanding of climate change in the southern hemisphere.

As my colleagues Mark Butler and Kim Carr have pointed out, last year's Paris Agreement was a commitment by the world to strengthen climate science. Mr Butler and Senator Carr said:

The Turnbull Liberal Government has a responsibility to ensure CSIRO maintains its climate science capability.

CSIRO is a key player in the global effort to measure and monitor climate change, playing a unique role in the Southern Hemisphere.

This capability has taken decades to build and will be very difficult to recover—potentially breaching the Paris Agreement.

Labor understands the importance of investing in science and research. As Labor leader Mr Shorten said in a speech just last night at Science meets Parliament, science and research is critical to our future. It should be a national political issue and economic priority for Australia. That is why Labor has committed to delivering better skills and training for 25,000 current science, technology, engineering and maths teachers and 25,000 scholarships for future teachers.

It seems inconceivable that the Prime Minister does not understand how important science is for our future. As award-winning science journalist Peter Boyer said in The Mercury newspaper recently the CSIRO job cuts are a matter of national importance. Mr Boyer said:

CSIRO's decision calls into play scientific and policy questions that demand attention at the highest levels.

As a backbencher in 2010 Mr Turnbull spoke against his party's prevailing sentiment that climate change was a non-event. When he became PM, many expected the government's climate policies to be strengthened. That expectation is vanishing.

Much of his party remains in denial about the crisis, including backbench MP Dennis Jensen, who tweeted that climate science has been overfunded for decades.

Minister Christopher Pyne has taken the lazy way out, saying the CSIRO decision was an internal matter. In fact it's anything but internal, as the scientists' letter shows.

If it stands, Australia's scientific reputation and the integrity of the CSIRO and Mr Turnbull will be irreparably damaged. Time is running out for the PM to stand up.

Time is indeed running out for the Prime Minister.

Time is also running out for the Tasmanian government and Tasmanian Liberal members and senators to stand up against these devastating cuts. They must do more to save the jobs of our CSIRO scientists. Premier Will Hodgman and his minister Matthew Groom were fobbed off when they raised the cuts with Mr Pyne. Mr Hogdman has a meeting scheduled with Dr Marshall. I have to ask: will he be fobbed off again? I hope not.