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Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

CHAIR —Welcome to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Dr Clark, do you have an opening statement you would like to make?

Dr Clark —Thank you, Chair, I think in the interests of time we will table the opening statement.

CHAIR —Thank you; we will make a start. Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you, Chair, and if we could have a copy of that opening statement circulated, please, via the secretariat, in case there is anything that arises from it. Previously, Chair, Dr Clark and I had a brief discussion and it was agreed that the first issue we should canvass was the cricket ball. In fact, I might be verballing Dr Clark on that, but she did predict I would be asking about it, and I am. How are we going with the Australian Cricket Board and the development of a day-night test ball?

Dr Clark —Thank you for the question, Senator. I am delighted to tell you that CSIRO, together with the Australian Institute of Sport, submitted a proposal to Cricket Australia in February. We really do aim to improve the quality of the cricket ball—both the durability and the visibility—to be able to be used in day-night games.

Senator ABETZ —A proposal has been put to Cricket Australia, and so can I ask when do you anticipate a response?

Dr Clark —If the proposal is approved, it should take us about 15 months to complete all the testing and promote—

Senator ABETZ —I look forward to future updates. To matters more mundane, I take you to page 210 of the portfolio budget statement. At the very bottom of that page there is a figure in dark type in parenthesis: $27,500,000. How do I interpret that figure? Does that tell me that we are, in fact, budgeting for a loss this year?

Mr Whelan —Yes, that is correct, Senator. We expect to run a deficit this year of approximately $27,500,000.

Senator ABETZ —Can you briefly outline the reason for that?

Mr Whelan —Yes. Three major factors, Senator. As required by the accounting standards, we valued our property folio at the end of 2007-08. That led to an increase in the valuation of a number of properties, which meant that our depreciation expense went up, the impact of which was about $10 million per annum. We had discussions with the Department of Finance and Deregulation about whether or not they would provide supplementation for that, and in the current year they indicated not, but they indicated they would allow us to operate a deficit. Coincidentally, they provided that $10 million in 2009-10 to cover that cost.

The other factor, Senator, was that with the reduction in interest rates, the present value of employee leave entitlements—recreation leave and long service leave—goes up as the discount factor falls. The impact of that is of the order of $21 million. Then there was a third factor, Senator, which relates to the impairment of some assets. We have some financial investments that have reduced in value as a result of changes in the stock market and the global financial conditions, and the impact of that is approximately $6.7 million. If you take those together, Senator, the impact of those extraordinary items is of the order of $37 million. We have identified other savings to offset that and therefore we have sought permission to run a deficit of $27½ million.

Senator ABETZ —Which obviates the next question, so thank you for that. The efficiency dividend did not have any impact on your bottom line deficit?

Mr Whelan —Not directly, Senator. Its impact across the forward estimates was something we factored into our plans earlier in the year. We have set about reducing a range of support and overhead costs, and those changes are on track.

Senator ABETZ —I will just put on record that the chances are that your difficulties would have been lessened without the efficiency dividend, but I will not canvass that any further. Are you expecting any income from asset sales in the forward estimates?

Mr Whelan —We have not factored that into our forward estimates, Senator, because of the uncertainty around the timing of that. We are expecting money to flow to CSIRO from asset sales in the forward estimates. In terms of the profit and loss statement, which you see before you on page 210, we have not assumed many profits from those sales in our income; however, we will be receiving cash for those. On page 213, Senator, which is the statement of cash flows, part way down the page under ‘Investing activities’ there is an entry called ‘Cash received, proceeds from sales of property, plant and equipment’. Across the forward estimates are the figures starting in 2009-10 of $40.575 and in 2012-13 of $25.050, but we have not anticipated in our forward estimates to make a profit on those sales, and therefore there is no income in an accounting sense.

Senator ABETZ —I think that answers that. You do have some assets that you are specifically hoping to sell?

Mr Whelan —Yes, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Can you confirm that Cannon Hill and Heath Road, Alice Springs, have been sold?

Mr Whelan —No, Cannon Hill I can confirm, Senator, and I will just check Alice Springs.

Senator ABETZ —So this is not a memory test, I am referring to AI61, a question on notice from the Hansard of the estimates of 26 February 2009, pages 122 and 123, and you people kindly provided an answer, so if we just go through that. Cannon Hill and Heath Road, Alice Springs—

Dr Clark —I can answer that, Senator. In 2008-09 Cannon Hill and Heath Road, Alice Springs assets were sold.

Senator ABETZ —Now that they have been sold, can we be told how much they realised? If you do not have that handy just—

Mr Whelan —I would be happy to take that on notice, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Fine, but we do currently have an asset on the market, which is Indooroopilly.

Mr Whelan —That is correct, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —I will not ask you what you are anticipating in relation to that because that might spoil your capacity to market that property. You are still anticipating that you will sell that property ASAP?

Dr Clark —Not ASAP in terms of making sure that we meet the timetable, but given the current market, we are looking to do that in an appropriate manner during the next year.

Senator ABETZ —You are continuing to prepare those other properties for market that you outlined, of which I think there are 10 or more?

Dr Clark —That is right.

Senator ABETZ —Have any of those sold by way of somebody coming forward saying, ‘We specifically want that property’ or any property taken off the market?

Dr Clark —We are in active discussions with stakeholders, not just for sale but how to best use some of those assets, and to make sure we provide ongoing services with some of the assets.

Senator ABETZ —I have been told that this whole list is being prepared for market during 2009-13—

Dr Clark —That is right.

Senator ABETZ —and that is still projected for all of them?

Dr Clark —That is right.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you. I take you to page 214 of the portfolio budget statements to an item called ‘Other’ under ‘Financing activities cash received’. What do $12 million, then $50 million, then $46 million then $12 million refer to in the forward estimates?

Mr Whelan —Senator, that refers to income we expect to receive to support the construction of a replacement for the marine national research facility.

Senator ABETZ —That you expect to receive, and that would be from government?

Mr Whelan —That is correct, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —That has all been budgeted for?

Mr Whelan —We have factored it into the forward estimates.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you. Then on page 210 we also have, about halfway down the page under ‘less: own source’, the item ‘other revenue’ of $270,113,000.’ Who can explain to me what that is?

Dr Clark —I can cover that. That includes some of the prices from our wireless LAN litigation as well as the sale prices from Cannon Hill.

Senator ABETZ —They are the two items that make up—

Dr Clark —There are some other items in there as well.

Senator ABETZ —Which are? Are they of any monetary significance?

Mr Whelan —No, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Then I just ask that question on notice and if you can provide me with a split up, because that will undoubtedly tell me what you got for Cannon Hill, what the other items are and how much you got by way of settlement with your wireless litigation; is that right?

Dr Clark —Yes, Senator. Are you asking for the settlement—

Senator ABETZ —I will get into that as a separate area later on. I am just trying to get a handle on the PBS at the moment. Once again, as I understand it, on the same page 210 total expenses and total income appear to be about $200 million higher this year than in future years, and is that largely because of this settlement of the legal actions?

Dr Clark —It does include the legal actions and the sale of Cannon Hill, so it is both of those items, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —It would be helpful if you could, in fact, tell me how much you got for Cannon Hill, so I can get a handle on how much you got from the litigation. You could take it on notice but just round figures at the moment.

Mr Whelan —It was approximately $17.5 million from the proceeds from Cannon Hill, Senator. I clarify that they are not in ‘other revenue’; they were included two lines down under ‘gains: sale of assets’. There is a figure of $20.635 million. Approximately $17.5 million of that related to Cannon Hill.

Senator ABETZ —Then is the $270 million all from the litigation?

Mr Whelan —No, it is not, Senator. There are a range of other sources of revenue in there, but I am happy to provide you with the breakdown on notice.

Senator ABETZ —Roughly, so that I can get a handle on it.

Mr Whelan —The vast majority, Senator—

Senator ABETZ —The $113,000 and the $270 million are from the litigation. Is that a fair call or not?

Dr Clark —The revenue from the settlements was around $221 million.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that. That gives us a figure to work with and then the exact figures can be provided on notice. Let us move on to the court case. First of all, well done with the perseverance. That has taken, what, about a decade of pursuit?

Dr Clark —Yes. It has taken even longer if you include the time from the discovery—some 16 years—and four years involved with the commercial terms, so this has been a team effort for a considerable amount of time.

Senator ABETZ —And of course your ongoing legal costs to pursue this case came out of your budget on an annual basis? You were not given any supplementary funding to pursue the case?

Mr Whelan —That is correct, Senator.

Dr Clark —That is correct, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Having taken that risk in relation to the litigation and being required to cover the cost of all that litigation, you are going to be the beneficiaries of all the proceeds of that litigation; is that correct?

Dr Clark —Certainly that is how we have approached the PBS.

Senator ABETZ —Minister, can you confirm that—

Senator Carr —Could I make a couple of points, Senator?

Senator ABETZ —Yes, of course.

Senator Carr —You have been provided with a detailed briefing on these issues.

Senator ABETZ —I have, indeed.

Senator Carr —It was my intention that the opposition be provided with as much information as could be provided within the terms of the legal settlement. There are confidentiality constraints in regard to what can be publicly discussed, which I have no doubt you will respect.

Senator ABETZ —Yes.

Senator Carr —It is my intention to follow that arrangement. As far as the government is concerned, in relation to the estimates of the proceeds, the government’s position is that we have had correspondence with the relevant authorities. I have no reason to challenge the proposition that CSIRO has put to you.

Senator ABETZ —Excellent. What do we intend to do with this money? Are we going to have a big party—a new coat of paint for every building—or are we going to put it in a fund of some description?

Dr Clark —Senator, the board will consider for decision the establishment of an endowment fund to ensure that the money is reinvested for national benefit.

Senator CAMERON —Does that include a party?

Senator ABETZ —I would be absolutely gobsmacked if an informal party has not already taken place and, after all the years of aggravation and uncertainty of litigation, I would be surprised if there were not some sort of celebration. I am sure the party would have come out of general revenue and not out of the funding from the litigation. It was remiss of me not to thank the minister for the briefing that I received, but some of the information we sought at the time we did not get—and that is also fully understood and acceptable, so no criticism. But the questions I now ask are to elicit more information. The first one is that a number of cases, I understand, have been settled in relation to this action. Are there still ongoing cases that have not been settled from which you might anticipate further revenue—without detailing how much?

Dr Clark —We have reached settlement, and we also have ongoing discussions to make sure that provisional settlements with all of the partners are fully committed to licence agreements.

Senator ABETZ —Are there any organisations holding out and trying to resist CSIRO’s claim?

Dr Clark —Settlements were achieved with all of the parties with which we were in litigation to achieve licences.

Senator ABETZ —Is it possible that there are other people out there that you are not aware of as yet who are using your IP without your permission?

Dr Clark —We are certainly aware of groups using our IP, but our litigation covered only a certain portion of areas in the market where this technology is used or could be used.

Senator ABETZ —Are you considering any new actions?

Dr Clark —Certainly we are actively pursuing discussions for ongoing licences. It really is our aim to achieve licence agreements with parties that are actively using CSIRO intellectual property, and achieving that in direct discussions with the groups is our aim.

Senator ABETZ —That will provide you with an ongoing revenue stream, apart from the $220 million?

Dr Clark —In the PBS and in our estimates, really all that we have is some of the forward projections for agreements that we already have in place.

Senator ABETZ —Where do I find them?

Mr Whelan —Those figures are included in the estimates for royalties in the out years; they are not separately identified. Sorry, the label has changed. It is not royalties; I think it is now called—

Dr Clark —Fees and fines.

Mr Whelan —Fees and fines.

Dr Clark —Page 210.

Senator ABETZ —Yes, I see that figure. That figure has virtually doubled from 2008-09 to 2009-10, and is that doubling due to that income stream?

Dr Clark —The wireless LAN, as we previously mentioned, is under the ‘Other revenue’, and then forward estimates sit in the ‘Fees and fines’.

Mr Whelan —And, Senator, there are other components in that estimate other than the proceeds from wireless LAN.

Dr Clark —That is right. We currently have around 160 active licences for our intellectual property. The agreements that we have in place, the recent ones in the wireless LAN case are only 14, so we have a lot of active licences out there.

Senator ABETZ —Can you then disaggregate for me so those 14 that relate to the wireless issue, that is unless there are some commercial-in-confidence issues, and if there are, I would assume the total sum of the 14 aggregated should not provide any commercial-in-confidence issues.

Dr Clark —That is right. I have just provided that number for you in the $221 million recognised in 2009-10. The forward estimates involve individual settlements, and at the moment details of the individual settlements are confidential under US law, so I would be comfortable, if you are comfortable just with the bulk number.

Senator ABETZ —Yes, I accept that. What are the total legal costs thus far?

Dr Clark —Our legal costs for all of our commercial activities are aggregated, not separated out, and, as you can imagine, we still have ongoing discussions with many of the parties, and so detailed discussion of the individual legal costs is commercially sensitive.

Senator ABETZ —In relation to the settlements with the various companies, can I ask whether or not, without specifying, they included legal costs?

Dr Clark —The proceeds have exceeded our legal costs substantially.

Senator ABETZ —Even as a lawyer I would have anticipated that, Dr Clark. All I want to know in rough terms is whether the legal costs represented five per cent, 10 per cent, 20 per cent of the pursuit of that figure of about $220 million? I could imagine it was in the millions, indeed tens of millions of dollars, but I would be interested to know that figure.

Dr Clark —Senator, I am sure that you can appreciate we are in discussion for licence agreements directly with the parties. It is really commercially sensitive to discuss the legal costs while we are still in discussions with licence agreements with other parties with whom we have not undertaken litigation.

Senator ABETZ —Let us go back to basics, then. Is the $220 million in rough terms the net or gross figure from these litigation and other legal activities.

Mr Whelan —It is the gross figure, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —That is the gross figure?

Mr Whelan —In 2008-09, that is correct, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Where do I find the legal costs again?

Mr Whelan —That would be included in the estimate of supplier costs, Senator, the second line from the top of the page under ‘Expenses’ on page 210. They are not separately disclosed.

Senator ABETZ —If we could have a breakdown, please, of what the total legal costs were, accepting that the total legal costs will not at this stage identify the wireless issue; is that correct?

Mr Whelan —Senator, it would be very difficult for us to do so. If we were to provide you with total legal costs for the organisation, a very substantial proportion would be associated with the wireless LAN litigation, and given, as Dr Clark has indicated, we have a number of discussions underway with other potential licensees, the value and the investment we make in legal costs is a major commercial strategy issue, and we would very much prefer not to disclose that figure at this point in time.

Senator ABETZ —I would not have thought for those issues or for those matters that have been settled and licence agreements are in place, without specifying which ones but saying, ‘Look, we have settled 10 cases and everything has been put to bed, and for those 10 cases in aggregate the legal costs were...’ would jeopardise any of your ongoing matters, given the commercial confidence that attracts around the amount paid.

Senator Carr —Senator, these matters are, and it has been indicated now on several occasions, highly sensitive. As a lawyer, you understand the sensitivity of lawyers’ fees, and in the United States I would have thought that would be even more a question. The officers cannot answer any further questions on this matter given the answers they have already given.

Senator ABETZ —Please, Minister, I thought we had been getting along quite well up until now. For you to say that they cannot answer any more questions on this issue when you do not even know what the questions might be is, I think, out of keeping with the pleasantness of the morning, let me put it that way.

Senator Carr —Senator Abetz, far be it for me to want change the tone, but I indicate to you that the officers have said to you now on numerous occasions that these issues about the legal fees, because there is ongoing action, are sensitive. I do not know how many ways they can say it, but they have indicated to you on several occasions. It is not possible to pursue this matter of legal fees any further. If you have other questions, I am sure every effort will be made to answer them.

Senator ABETZ —What I am trying to understand is why sensitivity in relation to that raft of actions and licence agreements that have been settled, put to bed, set aside, if we are given an aggregate figure for that—

Senator Carr —It is not resolved, Senator, that is the point.

Dr Clark —Let me explain, Senator, why it is sensitive. We would certainly like to undertake further discussions for commercial licences with parties directly and not have to go through the route of litigation to be successful in those licence agreements. Of course, the parties that we are speaking to have the option of saying, ‘We will enter into a licence agreement with you in commercial terms’ or ‘No, you can take us to court to achieve that licence.’ We would much prefer to achieve those licence agreements without having to go through four years of commercial and legal activity, and in terms of not jeopardising us to be able to do that in the cheapest and most expedient way directly and commercially with those parties, I am sure you can understand why it is particularly sensitive, because they do actually have a choice.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you very much for that. That does assist me considerably because I was under the misapprehension that for some cases the litigation had now ended with settlements agreed. I would have thought that if litigation had ended and settlements agreed—

Dr Clark —Yes, Senator, recently we have had settlements agreed with 14 of the players, representing around half of the market for the particular segment we were going to, and it does not include other devices such as telephony that use this form of technology. We would want to consider entering into licence agreements for the use of CSIRO intellectual property.

Senator ABETZ —With those 14 parties?

Dr Clark —No, with other parties, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —That is where I do not understand; if we have ended litigation and we have settled, for those that we have ended litigation and settled in aggregate, not individually, because that might give the game away for others who might see themselves in a comparable situation—

Dr Clark —Yes, it could.

Senator ABETZ —But if you have an aggregate of 14, I would have thought that would be fairly difficult then for—take it on notice and see what you can provide to me. Because, I must say on the face of it, I cannot see any commercial sensitivity given that you tell us it has ended. I do not want to prejudice anything with the CSIRO, and the more you can get from those miscreant companies, the better; all the best with that. Can I ask in relation to the proposed, did you call it an endowment fund, Dr Clark?

Dr Clark —Yes, I did.

Senator ABETZ —When do you think those considerations might be finalised?

Dr Clark —We would be looking to take a proposal to the board in June and finalise the arrangements for the fund.

Senator ABETZ —Minister, will you examining that at all? Dr Clark, does the minister or the government need to approve that, or will that be within the complete province of the board of CSIRO?

Mr Whelan —It is the latter, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Good. Can I take you to page 201 of the PBS? The very last line tells me that between 2008-09 and 2009-10 there will be in rough terms 130 fewer staff; is that correct?

Dr Clark —In our PBS numbers, we have conservatively put a reduction in staff numbers, mainly due to being able to derive increased efficiencies and, put in context, our natural attrition is around that number as well.

Senator ABETZ —How many of these do you anticipate will be scientists or scientifically qualified individuals?

Dr Clark —As we have in previous years, we have been looking to increase the number of research scientists in the organisation.

Senator ABETZ —You are looking to increase?

Dr Clark —In our previous years we have consistently increased the number of research scientists.

Senator ABETZ —Yes, I am aware that in previous years the number of scientists has increased, but I am now asking: out of the 130 decrease in personnel that is being budgeted for, albeit conservatively, how many do you anticipate will be scientists or scientifically qualified individuals—or will they all be clerks, for example?

Mr Whelan —We do not conduct the forecast at that level. However, if the trend of the last five to eight years is anything to go by, there will not be any reduction in the number of research scientists in that figure. Those numbers have been increasing; off the top of my head, the number of research scientists employed in CSIRO has gone up by more than 400 over the last five years, and I think over the same period the number of administrative and support staff has fallen by 528. I think the total staffing of the organisation has moved by 28 over that period, and all of those reductions have been in non-research personnel. You would be aware that we have a strategy and a policy of trying to maximise the investment we make in science, in the number of research scientists; we have also been increasing the number of students we supervise. What Dr Clark was referring to is an ongoing program of trying to improve efficiency in the organisation.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that but, out of the 130, can I be told how many you anticipate? I know what the trend has been over the previous, say five years but, as I understand it, over those years there have been offsets in the total number of CSIRO staff. Is that correct? Whilst the administrative staff levels have decreased, the scientific level, if I can use that term, has increased?

Mr Whelan —That is correct.

Senator ABETZ —Now we have a figure suggesting a total decrease by about 130 and, if you have some figures there for me, that would be very helpful.

Mr Whelan —As I indicated, we do not prepare the forward estimate of staff numbers at the level of detail you are talking about. However, if I can use last year as a comparison, using the same methodology we forecast a reduction in staffing of 85. As it has turned out, we have grown over that period of time and we have grown the number of research staff further in the last 12 months, and there has been also a slight increase in the number of support staff over the same period. So, over the last 12 months, we have grown the number of research scientists by 60 and of other staff by 11. I cannot answer precisely what the breakdown in the period ahead will be, because we have not conducted the estimates at that level. However, based on the current year’s data and previous history, the vast majority of that will be other staff; they will not be research science staff. It could be that there will be no research science staff. But given that I have not conducted—

Senator ABETZ —Let us hope so. Could you could take that on notice and let us know. Today is 1 June; you operate on a financial year basis, so would it be possible for us to get the figure for this current financial year?

Mr Whelan —Yes, Senator, I just gave you the figure for this financial year to date.

Senator ABETZ —Sorry, of course. I have confused myself. This is for the future year. That figure must be based on some assessments, and if you could indicate to me—

Mr Whelan —The basis of the assessment?

Senator ABETZ —Yes.

Mr Whelan —I would be happy to do so.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you. Can I take you to page 194 of the PBS? At the bottom of that page, it states:

A key challenge that will affect CSIRO’s ability to achieve its results both now and into the future is the current global financial crisis, although at the time of writing this PBS the full impact of the recession on CSIRO science investment envelope is not clear. Reduced revenue from CSIRO’s spin-off companies, commercialised products and external research and contracts are expected to affect some areas of the organisation.

Are we able to have an assessment as to what the axing of commercial-ready support may have caused to the CSIRO? In the past we have not been able to identify that figure with any accuracy. I accept some, if not most, of the reasoning for that. I am just wondering whether now, with a longer period behind us of a good 12 months since the axing, if we can have some indication.

Dr Clark —Sure. In terms of CSIRO over that period from 2005 to 2007-08, we had 11 commercial partners that obtained commercial-ready, although we would note that there may be other commercial partners that had commercial-ready support that we were not aware of. We are aware of 11.

Senator ABETZ —So you are definitely aware of 11.

Dr Clark —That is right.

Mr Whelan —That is, 11 companies we have dealt with in the past.

Senator ABETZ —In the period from 2005 to 2007?

Dr Clark —Exactly. From 2005-06 to 2007-08.

Mr Whelan —It is approximately three a year.

Senator ABETZ —We are unable to indicate which companies they were?

Mr Whelan —No, we are not.

Senator ABETZ —Is that because of commercial-in-confidence considerations?

Mr Whelan —That is correct.

Senator Carr —None of those companies lost money as a result of the government’s decision. The government’s decision was that all contracts would be paid out. So it is not possible for CSIRO to provide you with advice on which companies might have been affected because it is a hypothetical.

Senator ABETZ —But it stands to reason that if there has been a trend of, let us say, three companies per year being the beneficiaries of commercial-ready, which then partner with the CSIRO and provide an income stream for the CSIRO, that is the figure that I am trying to get hold of. Your officials have been very helpful in telling us that there have been 11.

Senator Carr —They have, and they have provided you with advice about the numbers of companies in the previous arrangements that had received support under that program.

Senator ABETZ —That is right.

Senator Carr —All of those companies continued to receive support and the contracts would have been fully paid through. There are new initiatives in this budget in regard to the CSIRO’s funding base. There has been an increase of 6.4 per cent, if I recall, for the CSIRO’s budget this year.

Mr Whelan —That is correct.

Senator Carr —There will be new initiatives that the government is taking in regard to its super science packages and other research packages. We have the largest single increase in support for innovation in 30 years. If you would like to talk about hypotheticals, I can probably encourage you to look at those matters as well, but if you want to talk about specific companies, then those specific companies will be funded in terms of the contractual arrangements entered into.

Senator ABETZ —I know there is a point of sensitivity here, but all I asked about was the number of companies, and the officials have now given me the answer of 11 companies over that period of time. Because of commercial-in-confidence considerations, you are not able to share with me the names of those companies or the amount that they obtained in commercial-ready funding.

Mr Whelan —That is correct.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you. I now move to the issue of biochar funding. I know this is cross-portfolio, because it came from Minister Burke’s department, as I understand it, but CSIRO were the beneficiaries. I think in these estimates we do not care where the money comes from; we are happy if CSIRO gets it. Was there any discussion with CSIRO prior to this funding announcement?

Dr Clark —We have with us today Dr Brian Keating who is an expert in this area. I would ask him to join us to address these questions.

Senator ABETZ —Just before we go there, can I quickly press the rewind button. In relation to the 11 contracts, you must be able to tell us, without breaching any commercial-in-confidence, the value of those contracts with the CSIRO. I fully accept, of course, that the total value of the contracts will not be necessarily related to the funding that they got under commercial-ready, but could you give the total?

Dr Clark —I do not have that number with me.

Senator ABETZ —You can take it on notice.

Dr Clark —The department does publish each of their grant allocations to individual companies, so we can provide that information.

Senator ABETZ —Sorry, you can provide that?

Dr Clark —We do not have it right here today.

Senator ABETZ —Yes, but you will on notice?

Dr Clark —It is public information.

Senator ABETZ —But will I necessarily know as to which company was a commercial-ready beneficiary that then moved on to partner with the CSIRO, because the number of partnerships you had with companies would be above and beyond those that have commercial-ready funding?

Dr Clark —We can certainly provide it on notice.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that. Fast forward again to biochar: were discussions had between CSIRO and Minister Burke’s office in relation to this undoubtedly welcome funding of $1.4 million?

Dr Keating —To my knowledge, no direct discussions were had there. This particular biochar project came about through an open call on funding proposals that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry put out in the second half of 2008. This is a program called Australia’s Farming Future, a roughly $43 million research program covering a number of areas. CSIRO put in a proposal at that time on biochar. That was held over. There was not an initial response to that. It was held over because there was a review going on in this area of research. That international review has been published, and after that was published, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry came back and indicated they were interested in pursuing that proposal. They asked CSIRO to broaden the partnership to some other research providers as well.

Senator ABETZ —But you were asked, were you not, to have a look at the research gaps in this area prior to the funding announcement being made?

Dr Keating —We certainly had an interest in looking at the research gaps and the international review that we were party to and that is now published does address the research gaps. I am not aware that there was a direct request from DAFF to look at the research gaps. That was something we were doing anyway.

Senator ABETZ —This is not a trick question—I just want to understand what happened on 21 May 2009. Minister Burke made an announcement, part of which said:

The independent Climate Change Expert Panel recommended no decision be made on the proposal until the CSIRO had completed a review to identify major biochar research gaps.

Dr Keating —That is correct. That is a review that we were doing. I am not sure that that was a direct request from the department to do that review.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you, I think I understand that now. Are you aware in which department the Climate Change Expert Panel is located? Is it Senator Wong’s department?

Dr Keating —No, this is the mechanism that DAFF is using to direct the Australia’s Farming Future R&D program which comes under a climate change program of DAFF.

Senator ABETZ —Undoubtedly part of CSIRO’s considerations in this was that this is a worthwhile area to pursue and to sink some public money into?

Dr Keating —Yes, we welcome research in this area.

Senator ABETZ —When were you first asked by DAFF to be involved in this?

Dr Keating —As I explained, we submitted a proposal in this area in 2008.

Senator ABETZ —Do you know in what month of 2008?

Dr Keating —I would have to take that on notice. It is on the public record because it was a public call. I just do not have the exact date.

Senator ABETZ —All right, if you could that on notice?

Dr Keating —It would be the second half of 2008.

Senator ABETZ —I remember being the beneficiary of an excellent speech at the National Young Liberals Convention by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull. I was not there in my capacity as being young, just in case Senator Cameron is wondering. But a speech was given in relation to the potential of biochar which was met with some degree of ridicule by certain government ministers. So it is interesting for me to know that CSIRO had put forward some suggestions in this area prior to that speech having been made, but that is more by way of commentary, Dr Keating, rather than for you to traverse into the political arena.

Senator Carr —Senator Abetz, the issue has seen work undertaken by CSIRO for some time. My recollection is, from the briefings I have received, that these are questions that remain unresolved in terms of its efficacy. I take it that, like all interesting ideas, they will be pursued where they are seen to be of significant public benefit that may well flow.

Senator ABETZ —How long, Dr Keating, will this research go for, do you think?

Dr Keating —The recently announced program is a three-year program.

Senator ABETZ —How many scientists will be involved?

Dr Keating —In total, the scale of the effort would be of the order of—I am just doing some mental arithmetic here. Perhaps it would be better if I take that on notice.

Dr Clark —Our investment in that soil area is around $2.8 million.

Senator ABETZ —Your investment—can you just assist me in that? Is that over previous years thus far?

Dr Clark —The research relevant to the soil carbon, our current investment.

Senator ABETZ —So that is this financial year or next financial year?

Dr Clark —That is this financial year.

Senator ABETZ —The one we are in?

Dr Clark —Yes.

Senator ABETZ —You will spend $2.8 million on that?

Dr Clark —That is right.

Senator ABETZ —I assume this $1.4 million coming from agriculture will build on that body of knowledge?

Dr Keating —It certainly does. That is $1.4 million over three years of new money. CSIRO would co-invest with that, of course, so the scale of that effort is bigger than $1.4 million; it will be closer to $3 million.

Senator ABETZ —Excellent. Dr Clark, are you able to take us back further? This current year it is $2.8 million; what about the year before that? When did our interest in biochar first get tickled, if I can use that term?

Dr Clark —I do not have the breakdown for previous years, but we have had a very long history of research into soil organic matter. In the 1990s, we did a lot of work to recognise that soil contained a significant amount of fine charcoal.

Senator ABETZ —If you could take on notice when the research into biochar specifically started, and in rough terms, if you can disaggregate, how much money was spent on that?

Dr Clark —We would be very happy to.

Senator ABETZ —That would be helpful. What other partner organisations, if any, will be part of this exercise?

Dr Clark —I can certainly provide an overview, and I am sure Dr Keating can provide any details. Some of the collaborations involve the University of WA, the GRDC and ourselves. I think Dr Keating probably has further details of our collaborations in this area.

Senator ABETZ —Is the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries involved?

Dr Keating —Yes, it is involved.

Senator ABETZ —I had a note here that it is Australia’s leading expert in the field, but CSIRO might wish to dispute that, so I had better be careful. Would it be accepted that it has a degree of expertise that might be helpful in this area?

Dr Keating —Yes, that is a fair statement.

Senator ABETZ —Without picking who is the better?

Dr Keating —That is a very fair statement.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you very much for that. The issue of biochar as a climate change remediation effort has been around now for some considerable period of time, Dr Clark?

Dr Clark —As I mentioned, the recognition went back to the 1990s that soils contain very fine amounts of charcoal, which is what is referred to as biochar. Whilst it has been known, we still have a lot of research to do to deeply understand that. One of the most important steps forward that CSIRO needed to do was to develop an inexpensive way of actually measuring that. We have now managed to do that, and we have a measurement tool that allows us to assess soil. We are in the very early stages of characterising and understanding this in detail.

Senator ABETZ —Would it be fair to say that most of the research thus far has been more laboratory oriented rather than in substantial field trials?

Dr Keating —There is a mix, both of CSIRO research and research of other groups, both laboratory, glasshouse and field; they are spread across each of those three areas. One of the science challenges in this area is that the benefits of biochar when additional quantities are added to soil are proving quite variable. We believe that variability probably has something to do with the nature of the biochar, the biomass that it has come from, the nature of the soil—

Senator ABETZ —So the biomass which is charred, if I can use that term—

Dr Keating —Yes.

Senator ABETZ —So it depends, for example, if it were, what, timber refuse compared to straw?

Dr Keating —Let us take a woody eucalypt residue or a poultry litter, they would have very different nutrient contents, very different chemical and physical properties going into a charring process and then going back onto the soil. We believe some of the variability relates to those factors, and that is a focus of the current research.

Senator ABETZ —Without holding you to anything specifically at this stage, which one has the most beneficial aspect? Is it the poultry litter or the timber refuse?

Dr Keating —I am getting close to the edges of my expertise here, but I believe that the higher nutrient content materials going in clearly take higher nutrients through into the char environments as well. But I would like to perhaps explore that in more detail.

Senator ABETZ —If you could take that aspect on notice. Chair, I have a number of other questions for CSIRO, but I am assuming that on the biochar issue some of my colleagues will have questions.

CHAIR —Some other senators on this side have questions as well.

Senator ABETZ —Of course, I fully understand that. But I thought that it might be convenient for those who have issues relating to biochar that we air those now and then move on.

CHAIR —Do other senators have biochar questions?

Senator JOYCE —Your advent into biochar is interesting, because obviously there must be the belief that there will be a change in the Kyoto protocol guidelines that you will now be allowed to account for soil sequestration, is that right?

Mr Paterson —I do not think that is a question that can reasonably be put to the scientists from CSIRO. That is a policy question that should be properly directed to the Department of Climate Change.

Senator JOYCE —I will make a very blunt statement of fact then. Is soil sequestration allowable under the Kyoto protocol guidelines?

Mr Paterson —This is not a question that should be put to these officers. That is a question that should be put to the Department of Climate Change.

Senator JOYCE —You have no knowledge of the answer to that, Mr Paterson?

Mr Paterson —I do not appear here as a witness with expertise in relation to the Kyoto protocol per se; it is the responsibility of the Department of Climate Change.

Senator JOYCE —Well, they do not; I will help you out. Did you do any other alternative studies into other forms of biosequestration such as the planting of summer grasses?

Dr Keating —CSIRO’s research is intended to explore all the carbon management options that Australia has open to it, and that extends from forest plantings, from grassland management, into cropping systems and residue management, as you know, right into things like the biochar or, for that matter, bio-energy fits in there. Across that spectrum they are all subject to different elements of CSIRO’s current and historical research activity.

Senator JOYCE —You look at biochar for the purpose of sequestrating carbon; that is the premise of the study?

Dr Keating —With biochar, you have to start with biomass, so all of these technologies, all of these options for carbon management start with biomass somewhere. What is attractive about biochar is that many biomass options, like a forest, saturate. After a period of time, the accumulation of carbon will stop when the forest reaches what we call an equilibrium level of carbon. The benefit of biochar is there are possibilities to continue to capture carbon in biomass and store it in biochar. That is an attractive feature that is one reason why we are looking at it.

Senator JOYCE —In the latest policy I notice 11 schedules that were delivered to us to review through the economics committee. There is a part where there is a policy of encouraging reforestation, and now obviously there are the studies of people such as Dr Christine Jones who says there is more carbon sequestrated through summer grasses than dry sclerophyll forests. In your study of biochar and the optimum storage of carbon, did you do a comparative analysis to carbon sequestrated through buffel grass or Mitchell grass compared to carbon sequestrated through a dry sclerophyll forest? In your research, did you find an optimum storage capacity and, if so, what were your findings?

Dr Clark —Let me cover the aims of some of the research. We have four main aspects: one of course is simply the documentation of carbon in the soils. As I mentioned, we now have new techniques to do that. Secondly, there is an area of looking at the influence of carbon stocks. We do look at things like lucerne and kikuyu, we are looking at some of the woody fodder crops as well, and Rhodes grass. We look at the uses of some of these materials and how the management activity related to their use affects the carbon stock. The third area that we look at is actually quantifying the amount of carbon in that nutrient cycle. As Dr Keating outlined, we also look at carbon in relation to other areas under our agricultural productivity simulator, which is a computer model that looks at soil moisture, soil carbon and the nitrous oxides; it looks at that whole system. As you can understand, our research is covering several aspects of this which cover productivity areas and the active management of soils, as well as the stocks and flows of carbon.

Senator JOYCE —Just in those two you mentioned, kikuyu and Rhodes grass, and the carbon stock of those, I am interested to know what the results were. Was there more carbon sequestrated through kikuyu and Rhodes grass than through, for instance, dry sclerophyll forests?

Dr Clark —We are just commencing that work. I am just outlining where our research focus is now. My understanding is that we do not yet have all of the results of that yet to share.

Senator JOYCE —That will be peer reviewed and brought back before parliament?

Dr Clark —Absolutely. Our foundation is the integrity of our excellent science and that involves our peer review process.

Senator JOYCE —It is extremely applicable to the current legislation before us which has a premise that reafforestation is the optimum form of carbon sequestration. It is quite apparent in what you are doing the study for that it might not be the optimum form of carbon sequestration, if the object of what is before us at the moment is about carbon sequestration. We might be actually giving people a premise and structuring a policy towards an inferior form of carbon sequestration, if you are still doing a study into which is the optimum form.

CHAIR —I do not know if there was a question for the CSIRO in that.

Senator JOYCE —The question is that they are doing the study now that will clearly define what is the optimum form, if you want to go down the path of carbon sequestration, of what you should be doing. So they are doing the study to work out which is the best, yet we have a policy before us right now telling us what is the best.

CHAIR —I do not know that this is the responsibility of the CSIRO. They are doing the research now. I do not know if Dr Keating wants to—

Dr Keating —I was going to make the statement that the CSIRO is committed to exploring every potential option that Australia has open to it to deal with this carbon management. All of the options that we are talking about are actively being pursued at the current time because we recognise the importance of the issue.

Senator JOYCE —We look forward to the science that will take the place of the policy that we have currently got.

CHAIR —Senator Cameron?

Senator CAMERON —Dr Keating, I understand Dr Evelyn Krull has been responsible for undertaking the research into biochar at the CSIRO?

Dr Keating —That is correct, Senator. She is our project leader in this area.

Senator CAMERON —I understand that she has raised a number of impediments or safeguard issues that we need to deal with on biochar.

Dr Keating —That is correct.

Senator CAMERON —Can I just ask you to comment briefly on some of the issues: that not all soils respond to biochar. Is that still the CSIRO’s position?

Dr Keating —That has been the experience of the experiments to date, Senator, by not just CSIRO but by other groups around the world.

Senator CAMERON —That it could have an adverse effect on some plant growth?

Dr Keating —That has also been the experience in some situations, I gather, Senator.

Senator CAMERON —There is no real measurement available at the moment on the stability or its capacity to sequester the carbon; you cannot be sure how much it will sequester?

Dr Keating —I think, Senator, there was a question on what you might call the loading rates of soils, how much you can load up in a soil as a long-term large store. There is less of an issue over the stability; this is a very stable form of carbon. That is not—

Senator CAMERON —Yes. CSIRO believe an environmental risk assessment should be undertaken before they go into this in a big way?

Dr Keating —Certainly, Senator. Any major landscape-scale change that was of such magnitude you would want to be doing cautiously and with proper foresight.

Senator CAMERON —And the economic viability is not understood yet?

Dr Keating —The economic viability will depend on a great many factors, not the least being whether you are using a waste stream or if you have to go and grow a purpose grown biomass source; and, secondly, the magnitude of any benefits in the agricultural productivity which could come and compensate for the cost. They are both significant uncertainties.

Senator CAMERON —That also includes the chemical and physical properties of the different materials that may be used?

Dr Keating —Senator, as I think I explained earlier, that is a source of some of the variation that you find in the experimental activities.

Senator CAMERON —I notice in the published pamphlet from Dr Evelyn Krull she talks about the difference between manure and wood cuttings in terms of what they can deliver?

Dr Keating —Yes, they are both sources but with potentially different consequences.

Senator CAMERON —I was a bit intrigued when she indicated that the difference between manure and wood cuttings was that wood cuttings had more aromaticity. I would have thought it would have been the other way around.

Dr Keating —I am not in a position to comment to that.

Senator JOYCE —Can Senator Cameron explain aromaticity to us please?

Senator CAMERON —I think it is a technical term so I am not qualified.

CHAIR —Senator Abetz?

Senator ABETZ —In relation to all those matters that Senator Cameron has just raised, that it might benefit some soils more than others or benefit some plants more than others and the issue of sequestration, that is more an issue of the amount of sequestration rather than if; all those issues are in fact worthy of investigation, because the CSIRO has already pumped a lot of its own money into it, and, indeed, the government has now agreed to pump even more money into the issue. It seems to be a worthwhile area of investigation. In your opinion, Dr Keating, as an expert in this area, is it or do you think it is just money wasted?

Dr Keating —Senator, as reflected in CSIRO’s research, we are exploring all the carbon management options open to Australia, and this is part of the mix.

Senator ABETZ —Can I say there is a diplomatic posting going, and I think that answer is very good. You ensured that you did not traverse into the debate between Senator Cameron and myself. I think it might be in Germany or Sweden. Well done. Can I just ask you, if I did not ask you to take on notice, the exact date when the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry indicated to the CSIRO that it was looking into this—do I call it a partnership—in relation to the announcement by Minister Burke on 21 May 2009 when that was sort of finalised?

Dr Keating —We can pull the time line out for you, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Excellent, thank you very much. That finishes biochar.

CHAIR —Senator Pratt?

Senator PRATT —Thank you, I wanted to ask about—

CHAIR —You had not finished?

Senator ABETZ —I had finished but—

Senator Carr —Can I ask, Chair, the timetable as published would suggest to me that the CSIRO’s question time would be completed at 11.45 am.

CHAIR —Yes, but it does not appear to be the case, and my understanding from the committee is that CSIRO and the Australian Research Council will go on for longer and the section that was scheduled for after lunch, from two to seven, will be shortened according to how long we go over with the agencies.

Senator Carr —We have officers obviously available to answer questions but it is always of assistance if these program guides can be stuck to.

CHAIR —Yes. We are certainly trying to, but I will indicate that we have a long list of people to ask questions and I do expect that we will go on with the Australian Research Council as well. IP Australia might well be after lunch. Senator Pratt, and then we will go back to you, Senator Abetz.

Senator PRATT —I have a question with relation to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), because I note in your opening statement, Dr Clark, you spoke about the success of the transference of data across Australia. I wanted to know the significance of that in relation to our bid.

Dr Clark —It is a very important milestone for the project because we were transferring data 500 times faster than those of consumer broadband. This kind of transmission is going to be critical because of the amount and intensity of data that will be received under the Square Kilometre Array. It was a very important milestone to be able to demonstrate that we had the national network coordination needed to do that.

Senator PRATT —How does that sit with our competitors in South Africa in relation to the bid for the ultimate announcement?

Dr Clark —In terms of the transfer—

Senator PRATT —Just this issue in terms of South Africa’s capacity compared to ours?

Dr Clark —I have Dr Zelinsky here, who is our expert on those matters of transmission of data et cetera, and I invite him to the table.

Dr Zelinsky —Could you please repeat the question?

Senator PRATT —I just wanted to know how Australia stands in relation to its bid, particularly in relation to the data transfer question. I know there are a number of issues that need to be resolved. I am not sure when a decision is going to be made about the SKA; I have seen different reports ranging from 2010 to 2012. But my specific question is in relation to data transfer. How does Australia’s capacity compare to our competitors in South Africa?

Dr Zelinsky —Firstly, the decision is 2012. In the meantime we are building the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder in North Western Australia, the Boolardy site in the Murchison Range. As part of that demonstrator we will be transferring data to Geraldton. There will be a data processing centre. There are ongoing discussions about upgrade of broadband backbone from there to Perth with the national SKA science centre that was announced in the budget. We will be looking to doing further data processing there.

Senator Carr —Senator Pratt, as you are aware, the government regards the SKA as a very important piece of infrastructure and we are seeking to accelerate our efforts internationally in terms of drawing the attention of other countries to the value of this project, and because it is an international project we will be working cooperatively with countries around the world. There are some 21 countries, if I recall, in the consortia. There are issues that do need to be pursued further in regard to funding arrangements and timelines for decision making. It is our intention to see what actions can be made to work more closely with southern African consortia. I think there are some eight countries involved in that consortium. We will be exploring what actions we can take on a cooperative basis with that in mind. It is my intention later in the year to seek out discussions in the United States about the United States Decadal Plan. These are critical issues in regard to future funding arrangements also in regard to what actions are being taken by European governments to support this project. The Australian government has provided additional support in this budget for the SKA. We are working closely and cooperatively with the Western Australian government to facilitate further infrastructure development. CSIRO has a leading role in that project and I am very pleased with the progress that is being taken. Professor Brian Boyle has a very significant role to play in terms of our international work.

We are developing new arrangements with the Western Australian government to facilitate our capacity at a domestic level to improve coordination and communication, and internationally we are taking renewed efforts to produce a more cooperative approach around the world to these issues. To be successful though, this international project will require a high level of cooperation across the globe.

Senator PRATT —Is that what drew the government’s commitment of that $180 million worth of funding, for the Pathfinder Project, which is a kind of capacity demonstration, and I suppose a project very much of its own merit leading into the bid for the overall SKA project; is that right?

Senator Carr —The officers can talk about the technical detail, but it is quite clear that for this project to be successful there will have to be developed new technological breakthroughs. There will have to be new processes put in place that currently do not exist, and the Pathfinder provides an opportunity to demonstrate what can be done. It is a very significant piece of infrastructure in its own right. When it is all said and done, the international decision making timetable will be very important. This is initially a very major part of the process. The southern African countries are looking to us in regard to their operations for the MeerKAT project, and I dare think we are making considerable progress with what work is being undertaken at the moment. I will let the officers actually go to the specifics though.

Dr Zelinsky —The only thing I would be able to add about the project is that the project is a $111 million project; about 25 per cent of the expenditure has been expended; we have secured the site, which is considered to be the best radio quiet zone in the world; and we are building a Pathfinder. A Pathfinder is essentially a demonstrator of new technology that is required for the full SKA. SKA stands for Square Kilometre Array, which means it is a square kilometre array of collecting area. You would not build a single dish of that size. So it is proposed somewhere around 4,000 dishes will be required to operate the Square Kilometre Array. We are currently proposing to operate a Pathfinder with 36 dishes, which shows the concept, the scale of the instrument, and then those numerous scientific and technical challenges in building such an instrument. By doing that, that shows us the way forward, hence the word Pathfinder.

Senator Carr —That answers my question, thank you.

CHAIR —Senator Eggleston.

Senator EGGLESTON —I am interested in your joint environmental management study and I am just wondering if I could ask some questions of somebody to do with that.

Dr Clark —Certainly, Senator, and we have with us Andrew Johnson who covers this particular area and who can answer your questions.

Senator ABETZ —I thought he was an expert in matters south of Tasmania, but there you go, he is an expert in all manner of things.

Dr Johnson —I will attempt to answer the question, Senator, if I can. I do not have a deep familiarity with that but I will do my best.

Senator EGGLESTON —The questions are not going to be terribly difficult. There is a proposal to put forward the Ningaloo area for World Heritage listing. Have you had any role in the preparation of the case for that?

Dr Johnson —To the best of my knowledge, the answer to that is no.

Senator EGGLESTON —In addition, there is a lot of activity in terms of oil and gas exploration off the coast, in particular the Chevron development, which is the Chevron and the Gorgon development. Have you given any advice to Chevron or have they consulted you about the impact their development might have on the fisheries off that coast?

Dr Johnson —I am not in a position to answer that from an environmental point of view, but my colleague, Dr Beverley Ronalds, who looks after the energy part of CSIRO, may be in a position to answer that question for you.

Senator EGGLESTON —Do not leave. I might ask other questions.

Dr Johnson —I was not leaving.

Dr Ronalds —I am sorry, Senator, could you repeat the question?

Senator EGGLESTON —I just wondered whether you had given advice to some of the oil and gas companies operating in that area about the impact of their developments on the fisheries off the north west coast?

Dr Ronalds —I am not able to answer that question in detail. Certainly, CSIRO has offered advice to Chevron in relation to some environmental aspects of the Gorgon project, including the potential for CO2 storage. In addition, a major collaborative effort in Western Australia called WAMSI, the Western Australian Marine Science Institution, has worked with companies, including BHP, in assessing the environmental values of the Ningaloo area.

Senator EGGLESTON —I notice your charter is to provide practical tools to help planners manage potentially competing uses of Australia’s marine ecosystems. Since you are apparently not involved in the two issues I have raised with you to any great degree, what exactly is it that you are doing with your $7.7 million budget?

Dr Ronalds —I am sorry, what is the $7.7 million budget?

Senator EGGLESTON —That is what your budget is listed as in this document; is that not the case?

Senator ABETZ —To what page are you referring?

Senator EGGLESTON —On the CSIRO annual report, page 56.

Dr Ronalds —The North West Shelf Joint Environmental Management Study developed the framework and tools to assess the management of different uses for a particular area, and it used the North West Shelf generically as a case study. It therefore looked at a range of different things, including oil and gas, tourism and fisheries, in a broad contextual framework and developed tools that could be used to look at the specifics in various locations.

Senator EGGLESTON —You talked about resource development. You seem not to confirm that your advice had been used to any great extent by the gas and oil industry in that area, or is that unfair? What advice have you given them?

Dr Ronalds —This particular project was very much around developing the tools and the framework, rather than specifically applying them with and for particular oil companies.

Senator EGGLESTON —So you have set up a system to deal with issues.

Dr Ronalds —Yes.

Senator EGGLESTON —It has not progressed to a practical application phase?

Dr Ronalds —I am not aware of it being used in practice at the moment, although there is work of that sort of nature, as I mentioned, going on through the WAMSI joint venture.

Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you very much.

Senator CAMERON —Dr Clark, in your opening statement you spoke about the new automation technologies for longwall mines. Is this a CSIRO initiative?

Dr Clark —There are several areas but this really brings together some of our ICT research. We now have active visual communication with the active face to enable automation and increased automation and we have active trials running. The face and the operation at the coal face can be viewed remotely, so it is a significant piece of work and it also connects with an overall focus that we have on increasing automation.

Senator CAMERON —The question I asked was: was this a mining company initiative or a CSIRO initiative?

—It is actually joint. Automation is a CSIRO initiative and we have several applications in that area. This particular activity was working with a company on a particular longwall and making sure that we could provide the best tools to the remote operation of that by operators on the surface and away from the longwall.

Senator CAMERON —Is there any remote operation being undertaken here or elsewhere in the world at the moment in longwall mining.

Dr Clark —There are clearly a number of activities involved in automation of longwall. This particular active partnership and collaboration uses the latest techniques to see the longwall actually operating to measure the parameters of the longwall itself and see if it is operating to specifications. It also incorporates some of CSIRO’s world-leading technology in laser surveying. It is a project that leads the world in this particular area.

Senator CAMERON —There is no longwall manufacturing in Australia, is there?

Dr Clark —Not to my knowledge or my colleagues’ knowledge.

Senator CAMERON —So this technology would benefit those companies who manufacture longwall mining equipment, and that would be predominantly overseas companies.

Dr Clark —No, this is to operate that equipment safely from the surface and to monitor, guide and see how the equipment is operating, which is of benefit to the companies in Australia.

Senator CAMERON —You say it increases both productivity and safety. How do you increase your productivity? Is that because you will not be employing miners down in the actual operational sector?

Dr Clark —It does so by making sure that the longwall is operating for the maximum time available and by making sure that any down time on the longwall is visible instantly to the operators on the surface. That is the main area of productivity—being able to make sure that the maintenance of the machine is done.

Senator CAMERON —But I am asking you: who does that monitoring now?

Dr Clark —In terms of the operating company does that monitoring? I am not sure what you are—

Senator CAMERON —No. You are going to put this automatic monitoring in place. Who or what performs that task at the moment? You are saying it will increase productivity. I am saying: does that mean less jobs?

Dr Clark —You want to make sure that you increase the safety of that area and that you do not have people in an environment—

Senator CAMERON —I will come to the safety, but I want to stick to the productivity at the moment. You have said there are two aspects to this—one is productivity and the other is safety.

Dr Clark —That is right.

Senator CAMERON —I am asking: what is CSIRO’s analysis of how you increase productivity?

Dr Clark —This particular work that we are doing with the company is really making sure that the equipment is online and up and running for maximum amount of time.

Senator CAMERON —I am not sure about that because I do not know how that works. Does it mean less employment in longwall mining in Australia?

Dr Clark —One of the things that make that productivity most efficient—and this is what brings in CSIRO’s laser technology in terms of guiding the longwall—is making sure that it maintains the smoothest surface, and our technology is being used to make sure that it maintains a very smooth operating surface.

Senator CAMERON —Then you come to this issue of safety. You must have human involvement at the moment in the process. By automating it, you take that human involvement out. Isn’t that correct?

Dr Clark —No. Simply providing camera and laser access to assess the quality condition of the operating environment is very valuable to the humans interacting in that particular environment.

Senator CAMERON —On notice could you try and get a more detailed response to me in terms of the implications of this for employment in the longwall mining activities in Australia?

—It is not a focus of our research. We can certainly provide you where we have increased the productivity and how we are doing that. We can certainly provide you with additional information on the improvement of safety.

Senator CAMERON —It means less cost if you are going to increase productivity, and one of the areas of cost is human involvement.

Dr Clark —The deep analysis of that particular aspect that you delve into is not an area of our research.

Senator CAMERON —What company are you doing the work with?

Dr Clark —The work has been funded by ACARP. We want to check whether the naming of the company was commercially sensitive, and we will need to take that off-line. I can confirm that the work is being sponsored by many of the operators in this area.

Senator CAMERON —I am not sure what you mean. Are you going to take it on notice?

Dr Clark —Before answering with the name of the individual company which we are working for, we need to confirm whether that is commercially sensitive. What I can say to you is that the research has been funded by ACARP, which is a consortium of the coal companies.

Senator CAMERON —I am still not sure what this actually means. Can you provide on notice a more detailed response to some of the questions I have asked so that I can get an idea of what you are actually doing with this?

Dr Clark —It is certainly a major step forward to be able to automate and to be able to manage from the surface. To be able to control the longwall to a much more level and continuous surface is a major step forward.

Senator CAMERON —It is not if you are employed down there and you lose your job.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —My questions to CSIRO relate mainly to Northern Australia, and I guess they will be to Mr Johnson. I want to ask the same question Senator Eggleston asked in relation to Cape York. What work has CSIRO done in relation to the World Heritage listing of Cape York? Were you consulted?

Dr Johnson —CSIRO had no direct involvement in that process, Senator. As you know, it is a process that is driven by the Environment portfolio in consultation with the state. We have had a series of investments in research on the cape dating back to the 1970s. In fact, CSIRO did many of the original soil surveys and biological surveys on the cape in the seventies, but at the moment the extent of our engagement on the cape on the land side of things is primarily through involvement in supporting the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce in its deliberations and also through some ongoing work that we have with Indigenous communities, looking at options for cultural economies and so on.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am aware that you are a member of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce, so I guess you will have to determine whether there is any conflict of interest between CSIRO and your membership of that, although I should not imagine so, it is a pretty well open book. I want to pursue that, but before I do, I just ask: in relation to the proposal for a World Heritage listing of Cape York, CSIRO has not been consulted?

Dr Johnson —No.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The work you are doing for and on behalf of either the Land and Water Taskforce or the department of infrastructure et cetera, what does that constitute just at the moment?

Dr Johnson —To take a step back, earlier this year the chair of the task force, Joe Ross, wrote to CSIRO seeking its support to undertake a series of scientific investigations to support the task force’s work plan. In other words, the task force is being asked to report to government by December this year. To assist it in its deliberations, CSIRO, on behalf of a number of scientific institutions in Australia, pulled together the latest information around a number of key issues, such as water availability, climate change, land use and so on. We are now working with colleagues in the state agencies and a couple of universities as well to bring that information together so that the task force can use it in its deliberations consistent with its terms of reference.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is this a paid job for CSIRO or are you—

Dr Johnson —There are three funding sources for the work.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —What are they?

Dr Johnson —CSIRO is committing some of its appropriation dollars to this activity. The department of infrastructure is also committing some dollars and the environment department is also contributing. Between the three of us we are pooling our resources to do the work.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is there a specific number of titled, separate projects?

Dr Johnson —There is a comprehensive scientific work plan between now and a very tight deadline, which is really the end of November. It is quite complex and lengthy. I would be happy to take that on notice and supply you with a copy.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So it is available?

Dr Johnson —It is available. It is in the public domain.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Does it include soil types?

Dr Johnson —Yes, it does. It is a very ambitious request that we have been asked to meet in the time period, but as both of you would know, given your previous involvement in the task force, it is absolutely crucial information to assist the task force discharge its duties.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —In relation to your work on water, can you tell me where that is? Are you close to some conclusions or what is your expectation of time?

Dr Johnson —As you know, post the completion of our work in the Murray-Darling Basin we were asked to undertake similar assessments of water availability for Northern Australia, south-west Western Australia and north-west Tasmania. That work is ongoing. It is running on schedule and we are expecting to deliver that in the next period. I do not have an exact date in front of me, but again it is imminent. Certainly, all three of those studies are expected to be delivered by the end of this calendar year.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Does that include gauging—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Does it include what?

Senator HEFFERNAN —Gauging.

Dr Johnson —It does not include new gauging, Senator.

Senator HEFFERNAN —It does?

Dr Johnson —No, it does not. What it does, given the incredibly short time frame we have been asked to do the work in, all it is doing is bringing together all the available information that exists within the state jurisdictions, but there is no new gauging.

Senator HEFFERNAN —We cannot measure what happens.

Dr Johnson —Certainly there are a lot of systems that have been neglected and—

Senator HEFFERNAN —Some sort of guessed information.

Dr Johnson —Yes, where we do not have gauges, we are being asked to model, using the best available information that we have, estimates of water flows.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Have you been doing work on the Flinders River in Queensland?

Dr Johnson —It is one of the catchments that we are investigating, yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —And the Gilbert River?

Dr Johnson —We will be looking at every catchment from the tip of Cape York west through to Broome. Every river basin in that region is part of the investigation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I gather when you say the report is imminent, that you would be expecting that within the next couple of months?

Dr Johnson —That is our expectation. The issue there in terms of its actual release is a matter for the department of environment and subject to all the usual review processes. Its release is beyond our control, but we are certainly on schedule and on budget with respect to the science that we have been asked to do.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It raises an interesting question of course about who actually owns the work you are doing, seeing some of it is done by you on your own money.

Dr Johnson —I need to differentiate. The water resource assessments that I am talking about are being fully paid for by the department of environment. They are an input source to the work that has been commissioned by the northern task force.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I remember that. It was the $20 million.

Dr Johnson —Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Regarding the soils work, that has been going on for almost a century that we are aware of now. We saw that book in your library in Darwin. Is the work you are doing now on the soil types new work or is it a collation of work that has been done by others?

Dr Johnson —We are not undertaking any new investigations on the soil types of the north. They are well known, as you say. That work has been going on since the sixties. What we are doing is really looking at the land capabilities. It is the combination of soil type, geology, water resources, climate and so on and looking at the capability of those particular soils to support not just agricultural enterprises but others as well.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thanks for that. I am not sure whether this is you or Dr Clark. Is CSIRO doing work on global climate change in relation to the cooling of the sea in the north? The Bureau of Meteorology indicated to me in answer to a question on notice that in the last 18 months the sea temperatures around Northern Australia had a downward decline from what had been an upward decline for the previous 18 years I think—18 years to 18 months. Is CSIRO doing work on that?

Dr Clark —One of the key aspects of our climate change research is in fact the observations both in the marine area, deep ocean as well as the surface temperatures. Dr Johnson has some of the latest information relating to that particular area.

Dr Johnson —I am happy to take that question on notice because I am not aware of the evidence given by the Bureau of Meteorology, whether they are talking about long-term temperature trends of the Pacific or the short-term variation in sea surface temperatures as part of the El Nino southern oscillation index—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I think the latter.

Dr Johnson —which may be what they are referring to. In that case, yes, the sea surface temperatures in the Western Pacific have been cooling in the last few months, and, as I am sure many of the senators would know, projections are for return to an El Nino cycle in the months ahead. But, if you are talking about longer term deep ocean temperatures, again I would be happy to take that on notice.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —If you would, thanks, Dr Johnson.

Senator HEFFERNAN —With the demise of Land and Water Australia and the guess that there is 78,000 gigalitres in the Timor, 98,000 gigalitres in the gulf and 85,000 gigalitres in the north south-east, with no gauging and gathering up information that is already there, but no new science. And given the phenomenon that in most of the catchments up there the rain falls towards the bottom of the catchment—like the Gilbert River for instance—how would you store the water, in a sand bed or a series of weirs or a dam? Is it not a waste of time though if you do not put in some measuring? Otherwise it is a guess.

Dr Johnson —I do not agree that it is a guess. What we are doing is using models—

Senator HEFFERNAN —Yes, but there are no gauges.

Dr Johnson —Almost all rivers have some gauging. What they do not have is gauging at an intensity or density that enables you to model in as detailed a way as we would like. We do have a number of rivers that are well gauged. We are able to calibrate our models on those rivers that are very well gauged and use that to make our best projections possible about what might happen in those rivers that are poorly gauged. As you know better than anyone, for the distances and investment that will be needed to gauge all those rivers appropriately, there is some gap. It is not true to say that it is not new science; how you take that work and apply it is—

Senator HEFFERNAN —We want to get it under one database.

Dr Johnson —That is right. How you take the work from known catchments into unknown catchments is a significant scientific challenge, hence why CSIRO has been requested to do that work.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Will you to be able to assist in filling the hole that is going to be left by the demise of Land and Water Australia?

Dr Johnson —To the best of my knowledge, Land and Water Australia would not have undertaken the sort of work to which you are referring. It is an R&D funding agency and of course we do the R&D ourselves. Land and Water Australia was involved in funding a small component of some of that work, as you know, but the vast majority of that work can only be done by agencies like CSIRO that have the scientific capabilities to deal with some of the uncertainties to which you refer.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Finally, in regard to the longwall mining, is the CSIRO interested in the water interception of the various aquifers, some of which are saline and some of which are not, and the contamination of one? Also, regarding the coal seam gas extraction, which will alter the pressures in the aquifers and get the water flowing in different directions to what the farmers expect the water to flow, have you done any work on what will happen if you start taking the pressure out of the aquifer through gas extraction, which of course is gas and water?

Dr Clark —The interaction in terms of the groundwater in terms of the mining activity? I will just ask my colleague.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you, Madam Chair. I just wanted to go back to your opening statement.

Senator Carr —Hang on. We are just trying to get an answer to the last question.

CHAIR —Sorry, that was my fault.

Dr Clark —Senator, can we provide that information on notice to you in terms of the detail?

Senator HEFFERNAN —So you have done the work?

Dr Clark —We do have some work active in the groundwater area, but I do not have the detail and I would prefer to provide you with accurate information.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Does the CSIRO recognise the danger in coal seam extraction, that you actually alter the flow of the aquifer in the process?

CHAIR —I think Dr Clark has said she will take it on notice. Senator Macdonald?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Dr Clark, your final dot point in your opening statement about the Northern Prawn Fishery, could you just elaborate on that?

Dr Clark —Certainly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —When did the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, say it was a global model?

Dr Clark —It was actually a few weeks ago in their recently released report. They highlighted the Australian Northern Prawn Fishery as one of the global models for sustainability. We have been working with the industry and with the government for some 45 years in that area, particularly looking at reducing the bycatch by making sure that we use design elements for the nets to be able to release turtles from their nets; there is very sophisticated modelling but some very simple adjustment to that. In addition, we have been monitoring and quantifying all of the bycatch for many, many years with the industry. All of this has resulted in a significant reduction of bycatch, increase of catchment and much more sustainability. It points to a longstanding relationship with both industry and stakeholders, and now independently verified by the United Nations as a model that the rest of the world can follow.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Are you involved with the floating quota proposal for the Northern Prawn Fishery? Is that something that you get involved in with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority?

Dr Clark —I do not know whether we are involved in the aspects of—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I think Dr Johnson the floating quota.

Dr Johnson —I would like to answer that question, Senator. CSIRO’s fisheries research scientists do contribute scientific information into that process. As you know, there is a well established process to take that science and consider it amongst all the other values in the system through the marine coastal advisory committee and the fisheries management authority but our science provides an input into that process.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Right.

Dr Johnson —But it is not the only input.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Okay, thanks. That is all I have.

Senator ABETZ —I thought Senator Macdonald was going to ask who the responsible minister was in relation to the Northern Prawn Fishery.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —There are two of them.

Senator ABETZ —Yes. The most important one I think is sitting over there. Senator Ian Macdonald and I faced numerous issues, let us put it that way, in seeking to deal with the Northern Prawn Fishery and it is nice to know that it got some approval somewhere in the world, even if not locally.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Even if it is from the FAO.

Senator ABETZ —Can I ask CSIRO whether any studies have been done in relation to the importance of gas replacing other forms of fossil fuel in our fight with climate change? Are there any specific studies being done on that?

Dr Clark —Dr Beverley Ronalds heads our energy group and can cover that question.

Senator ABETZ —Could you confirm that a study has been undertaken in this area?

Dr Ronalds —CSIRO undertakes techno-economic modelling of different future scenarios of what the energy mix might be. We have conducted a number of those reports and studies over the years as have other organisations. We publish them, for example, in a document called The heat is on: the future of energy in Australia published a couple of years ago. A number of those scenarios show a growth in gas utilisation over the next 20 years or so.

Senator ABETZ —Would an increase in gas utilisation as a substitute for, say, coal be helpful in seeking to abate greenhouse gas emissions, and that is for producing energy?

Dr Ronalds —Yes, the basis of the modelling is to make different—

Senator ABETZ —So we do have studies that confirm that?

Dr Ronalds —We have studies that look at different scenarios, make a series of assumptions around each of those scenarios and go on from that to model what the most cost-effective energy mix would be. In certain scenarios, it shows a significant increase in gas because of its cost and CO2 footprint relative to other opportunities in the mix.

Senator ABETZ —Are you able to provide on notice some of these studies?

Dr Ronalds —Absolutely.

Senator ABETZ —To the committee?

Dr Ronalds —A number of them are in the public domain.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you very much for that. I understand journalists are running a competition to determine which senator asks the most self-serving question. I think the Labor Party took that one away last week with the use of Comcars—

Senator CAMERON —You have lots of experience with that. You are the winner. We will give you that.

Senator ABETZ —and it is only on that basis that I am prepared to ask this question.

Senator CAMERON —Self serving!

CHAIR —Are you finished?

Senator ABETZ —Enjoy a bit of humour in your life sometimes, Senator Cameron.

Senator CAMERON —What a joke.

CHAIR —Are we right there?

Senator HEFFERNAN —Do you want to lower the tone? I will intervene.

Senator ABETZ —It is only on the basis that I think somebody else has already won that award for this fortnight that I am willing to ask this about ‘DNA uncorks wine blue’. That is a heading in a local newspaper which suggests that CSIRO is under fire over vine origins. For those of us who partake in the odd drop of wine, albeit in moderation, this could be considered a matter of self-interest. Knowing journalists as I do, chances are they will give me a few brownie points—and I do not get many of them—for inquiring about this important beverage. Who can assist, Dr Clark?

Dr Clark —Thank you. I think you are referring to the Albarino wine growth area.

Senator ABETZ —That is the one.

Dr Clark —We have Dr TJ Higgins with us to answer that question.

Senator ABETZ —I assume that potentially sits on the other side of the ledger with the very successful legal action with the wireless situation?

Dr Clark —Which aspects would you like Dr Higgins to cover?

Senator ABETZ —First of all, Dr Higgins, do we accept the basis of these media reports that it appears as though an error was made in the DNA testing of the spanish grape Albarino?

Dr Higgins —I think your question assumes that there has been a mistake made in the DNA testing.

Senator ABETZ —Do you accept that that is the case? We have heard the media view of this but I would like to hear the CSIRO view of this.

Dr Higgins —As you know, the naming of varieties of grapevines is a very complex area. We probably depend on maybe 50 different varieties for our major wine grapes but there are 5,000 different grapevine varieties out there. Their identity is mostly based on their appearance, what they call morphology—the leaf shape, the bunch shape and the bunch colours. This of course makes it very difficult to deal with the naming of varieties. A relatively new technique has come into use, as you have just indicated, of DNA typing in the last 10 years or so. It is an improvement on the existing method for identifying varieties, but it is still not totally foolproof because it depends on having good reference standards and there are not very many reference standards, certainly for some of more minor varieties. It is certainly true that it is possible to do that for the major varieties but for the minor varieties it is much more difficult. There was no mistake made on the DNA testing of the Albarino variety; there was a mistake made on its identity

Senator ABETZ —Originally, when it was imported?

Dr Higgins —It was imported into Australian in 1978. Because of the confusion that surrounds the naming of varieties CSIRO, takes a great deal of care to go to the best sources for new varieties that it imports for its research activities. In that particular case it went back to the Spanish germplasm source and unfortunately there had been a mistake at some time in the past. We do not know when that mistake was made, but there was a mistake in the collection.

Senator ABETZ —Does the CSIRO accept that it was partly responsible for this mistake?

Dr Higgins —No, I think that CSIRO was not responsible for this mistake. Since it became clear at the end of last year with the visiting French expert that the variety grown in Australia was likely not to be Albarino, we have since gone back to the Spanish authorities to seek standard reference material. We have been able to get DNA from that material, do the DNA typing and confirm that the variety that we had imported 20 years ago was in fact a different variety, not Albarino.

Senator ABETZ —That is still to be confirmed, one way or the other, is that right?

Dr Higgins —Sorry, what is to be confirmed?

Senator ABETZ —As to whether an error was made some 20 years ago. Do we accept an error was made?

Dr Higgins —Yes, an error was made 20 years ago. We accept that.

Senator ABETZ —The next issue then is: who is responsible for the error? I understand CSIRO was involved in the importation of this particular variety.

Dr Clark —That is right, Senator. Imagine 20 years ago, as TJ has outlined, in this plethora of names and varieties, the best way to make sure of your source was in fact to import from a collection; this was from a Spanish collection. We now use DNA testing. At the time it was the best and most accurate way of ensuring the correct variety, by importing from the Spanish collection. As TJ outlined, the mistake that was made in that collection was clearly made some time before that—so over 20 years ago.

Senator ABETZ —But that error, you say, given the scientific knowledge available 20 years ago, was not able to be guarded against?

Dr Clark —That is right. The mechanism was the best available at the time. Subsequent to that we now have of course the availability of detailed DNA testing.

Senator ABETZ —There are some vineyards, especially in South Australia as I understand it, that were given the results and now have to relabel and go to considerable costs because they can longer call the wine an Albarino wine. They will have to change their labelling to the other varieties. That is going to impact, as I understand it, on more than 30 South Australian vineyards. Does the CSIRO have any ongoing involvement with these vineyards? Is it considered there might be some legal liability consequences arising out of this error?

Dr Higgins —CSIRO is working closely with the growers involved. As you say, there are about 30 growers who are involved in growing the putative Albarino variety. CSIRO is working closely with the growers as well as with the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, which has regulatory control over the naming of varieties, to come up with a solution to this problem and to come up with an alternative name for the variety which they are growing and which they are making very good wine from.

Senator ABETZ —As a result of these estimates, I trust CSIRO will be delivered a crate or two so you can confirm for yourself that it is a good wine. In relation to the legal liability issue, do you foresee any possibility there, or will the answer be that you do not want to comment on that?

Dr Higgins —If I could pass that question on to one of my colleagues.

Senator ABETZ —Of course.

Dr Higgins —I am only experienced in the technical area.

Dr Steele —The question of whether there is legal liability is the subject of CSIRO’s internal legal advice, Senator, and I prefer that we do not go there.

Senator ABETZ —Yes, of course, fully understood. So we have not dismissed it completely as a potential issue?

Dr Steele —Senator, I do not want to expand the answer; I am just saying it is the subject of CSIRO’s legal advice.

Senator ABETZ —I fully appreciate that. Can I move to the issue of bushfires? Who is our expert there?

Dr Johnson —Dr Andrew Johnson.

Senator ABETZ —Dr Johnson, what is the CSIRO’s view of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, CRC? Do they do good work? Is it scientifically robust?

Dr Johnson —CSIRO has been part of the Bushfire CRC since its inception. We have somewhat immodestly formed the view that, as a key member of that consortium, it does good science.

Senator ABETZ —You would not agree with the assessment that research results are academic waffle, as reported in the Canberra Times on 21 February 2009 on page four?

Dr Johnson —It is really a matter of opinion. I am not in a position to comment on that.

Senator ABETZ —You believe that it does worthwhile research?

Dr Johnson —The work that it has done has made significant contributions across a range of dimensions of bushfire research over a long period of time.

Senator ABETZ —Are you working with a CRC in a renewed partnership bid to secure new funding for the round in 2010?

Dr Johnson —Yes.

Senator ABETZ —You would not be doing that unless you thought there was some benefit to the body of science and CSIRO in that?

Dr Johnson —Correct.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that. I understand CSIRO is looking at a bushfire resistant housing panel. Is that correct?

Dr Johnson —I am not in a position—

Senator ABETZ —Take it on notice, please.

Dr Johnson —Yes, I may have to take that on notice.

Senator ABETZ —Let me know how developments are going in that area. Can I ask about the decision to let the Chinese government build an antenna network for the CSIRO virtually adjacent to a top secret joint US-Australian intelligence and operations base?

Mr Whelan —I am happy to have a go, Senator.

Senator ABETZ —Excellent, thank you. First of all, this has also got some media speculation about it. It seems to be a matter of national security. Prior to that contract being agreed, were there discussions with Australia’s defence intelligence organisations as a general body?

Mr Whelan —Just to clarify the premise for your question, Senator, I think you made reference to the Chinese government operating a facility; I think what you might be referring to is the decision by CSIRO to let a contract to a Chinese company to construct some antennas to be used in the development of the Pathfinder.

Senator ABETZ —That is right. Can I just get an understanding that, in general terms, Chinese companies usually operate under the auspices of the Chinese government.

Mr Whelan —Senator, I was making reference to your observation to operate the facility. The facility will be operated by CSIRO Pathfinder; it is a research project to which Dr Zelinsky was referring earlier. The CSIRO will be operating that facility. The Chinese company’s involvement is the construction of antennas to be deployed in that facility. To go to the substance of your question, Senator, yes, CSIRO did approach the Department of Defence as part of its planning for this process.

Senator ABETZ —I assume that CSIRO would not have gone ahead with this if there would have been any difficulties?

Mr Whelan —The advice we received, Senator, was that there were no compatibility issues between the SKA development and the proposed ground station at Geraldton.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that.

Senator Carr —This is the article that Piers Akerman published, is that the one?

Senator ABETZ —I am asking the questions, Minister.

Senator Carr —We want to be clear about this, Senator Abetz, you should cite your sources.

Senator ABETZ —The red snakes have kicked in. The morning was very good until Mr Patterson brought in the red snakes.

CHAIR —Thank you, Senators, we are running a tad over time and it would be helpful if we got on with questions.

Senator Carr —You should not run fabrications as fact.

Senator ABETZ —I asked questions and I am more than satisfied with the responses. No assertions have been made; I simply asked questions. Can I ask a question in relation to Moreton Bay and the CSIRO making a report available just before the Queensland state election in relation to the state of fisheries in Moreton Bay, which attracted some publicity?

Dr Clark —Senator, Dr Johnson could cover that.

Senator ABETZ —I understand a scientist from the CSIRO Wealth From Oceans Flagship, a national research flagship, reported they had almost completed the first stage of a three-year collaboration and then started to make commentary on it before they had actually finished. Are you able to tell us about that Dr Johnson?

Dr Johnson —I am just seeking your guidance, Senator, as to exactly what you would like to know.

Senator ABETZ —Is it usual for the CSIRO to release unfinished studies into the public arena?

Dr Johnson —I am not exactly sure what data information you are talking about in terms of what was released. All I know is that our scientists would not be talking in the public domain unless the science that they were talking about had been peer reviewed. It may well be part of a long-term study, which is not unusual, but I would be surprised. I can take that on notice if you like, but to the best of my knowledge that is the case.

Senator ABETZ —I do not like mentioning individuals at these estimates but the Australian, Friday 27 February 2009 on page four, had an article at the bottom of the page referring to the project leader in relation to that. Possibly if we could be provided with a response to what the article was talking about and if you could provide that on notice, I would be much obliged.

Turning to the team of scientists, there is I understand a team of scientists led by a CSIRO environmental economist who suggests that cool burns across Indigenous land could cut emissions by 2.6 million tonnes per year. Do we have any information on that to provide us with further information?

Dr Johnson —Again, I am just trying to understand the nature of your question. Are you asking if we are involved in work around burning in the northern range lands?

Senator ABETZ —Yes, if a copy of that study—I think it is no secret that it is your environmental economist, Mr Scott Heckbert, Research Scientist, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems. Similarly, if we could be provided with a copy of that study because that would be, if I might say, very helpful to us. I think finishes me on CSIRO.

CHAIR —In that case, thank you to the CSIRO for your contribution this morning. Thank you for the long session when I think you were expecting half an hour.

Dr Clark —It is our pleasure.

CHAIR —We will now ask the Australian Research Council to come to the table.

[12.29 pm]