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ECONOMICS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
20/10/2010
INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

CHAIR —Welcome, Dr Clark. Do you have an opening statement?

Dr Clark —No, I do not have an opening statement, but I would like to table for the committee’s records a copy of the showcase of CSIRO’s activities for the last year, a copy which I have sent to senators and members this week.

Senator BACK —With regard to outcome 1, Innovative solutions for national challenges opportunities to benefit industry, I want to ask some questions regarding the contribution of the late Mr Les Bett, who was a Riverina grazier. I believe he contributed some $1 million in the mid-1980s to the CSIRO from his estate and in the early 1990s contributed another $2 million in an attempt to come to some resolution of the overwhelming problem of flystrike in sheep. Could you give me some indication as to the outcomes and the work being undertaken as a result of those contributions and, no doubt, matching funds.

Dr Clark —The head of our Food, Health and Life Science Industries Group, Dr Alastair Robertson, is with us and he will have detailed knowledge of the flystrike area.

Dr Robertson —I can give you a very quick answer to your question: not to my knowledge. I cannot give you detail, but I can take that question on notice. I would be happy to respond to that. It would part of our overall biosecurity of work.

Senator BACK —Is that the extent of the information at the moment?

Dr Robertson —It is.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —I refer to an announcement earlier this week by Minister Combet that CSIRO is undertaking work to assist the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency on its clean-up of the home insulation debacle. What is the exact role of CSIRO and when was CSIRO engaged in that role?

Dr Clark —Yes, we have been asked to assist. Mr Whelan has details of both the contract and timing of that.

Mr Whelan —Senator, you are right. CSIRO has been contracted by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency for helping the department for the purposes of their home insulation safety screening program. CSIRO signed a formal contract with the department on 12 July, although we were doing work with the department from 25 June in the lead-up to the preparation and signing of that contract.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —How much is CSIRO being paid under that contract?

Mr Whelan —That will ultimately depend on the amount of work that is done. The contract currently conceives a range of effort, somewhere between 68 and 111 days.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Is CSIRO being paid on a daily basis? What is the nature of the payment?

Mr Whelan —I am not sure of the basis of the payment, whether it is on specific deliverables or on a daily basis. Based on 111 days the maximum value of the contract would be approximately $182,000.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —From CSIRO’s perspective, what is the exact nature of your work with the department?

Mr Whelan —There are two phases to the work. In macro terms, we are helping the department with the provision of statistical methods to help them identify dwellings with higher risks of safety concerns, and to assist the department to validate the statistical design of the inspection and rectification program that they are conducting. There are two phases to that: an initial phase aimed at developing a sampling strategy and a subsequent phase of developing a risk tool. We have already provided advice to the department with respect to the first phase—that is, the sampling strategy.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —In relation to the sampling strategy, has that phase been completed?

Mr Whelan —Not that I am aware of. I do know that we have provided advice to the department on the sampling phase, but I am not aware if it has been completed or not.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —The department has already inspected some 40,000 out of 50,000 homes in the foil space, and around 58,000 homes out of 150,000 homes in the non-foil space. They strike me that they already have extremely significant samples. I am curious as to what particular advice CSIRO is providing as to how to better refine those samples from here on.

Mr Whelan —What I can say is that the capability that the department has contracted from CSIRO is world-class statistical modelling capability. It is a matter for the department as to what they want CSIRO to do and the reasons as to why they want CSIRO to do it. I am not in a position to provide you with advice on that.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Is 58,000 out of around one million or so households usually a fairly significant statistical sample?

Mr Whelan —I am not qualified to provide an answer on that. I would have to take advice on that from the people doing the work.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Did CSIRO tender for this contract, or was it a selective tender approach from the department?

Mr Whelan —I would have to take that on notice; I do not know the basis for that.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —You do not know quite how the arrangement with the department began in that sense?

Mr Whelan —I do know that we began providing advice to the department from 25 June and we signed a formal contract on 12 July. I do not know what process preceded that.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —How many days have been expelled by CSIRO with the department at present?

Mr Whelan —I would have to take that on notice; I do not have that detail with me.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Is this a frequent type of work for CSIRO?

Mr Whelan —Absolutely. Our division of mathematics information and statistics provides statistical sampling advice to a large range of Australian industry and government. We provide advice to studies on Alzheimer’s. We provide advice to the wine industry on logistics. We provide advice to the transport industry on delivering fuel to aircraft. This is exactly what we do; this is our bread and butter.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —In terms of the relationship that CSIRO has, is it with the department of climate change or is it with PricewaterhouseCoopers—PwC?

Mr Whelan —We have a contract with the department of climate change.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Do you have any relationship with PwC?

Mr Whelan —In the context of this matter?

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Yes.

Mr Whelan —Not that I am aware of.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Are you aware of there being any contact between CSIRO and PwC in relation to this matter?

Mr Whelan —I am not.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —That is all I have on this topic at present. I might jump into a bit of Murray-Darling, if that is okay, Chair.

CHAIR —Go ahead.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —CSIRO’s work has obviously formed a fair basis of some of the evidence that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has drawn upon for the release of its draft guide, in particular the sustainable yields project. In coming to the conclusion of the guide, did CSIRO have any role in the oversight or the final development of the guide or the sustainable diversion limits that are proposed within it?

Dr Clark —With us today are two people: we have Andrew Johnson, but we also have Bill Young from Water for a Healthy Country. So the detail of our commitment to Murray-Darling Basin, the independent authority and our work with that authority, we can cover in quite substantial detail.

Dr Johnson —It was hard to hear back there, could you repeat your question please?

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Certainly. I am particularly looking at what role CSIRO had in the final development of the sustainable diversion limits and the publication of the guide to the Murray-Darling plan.

Dr Johnson —CSIRO had no role in that. As Dr Clark indicated, our role in the development of the basin plan was to provide scientific advice to the authority and the authority has obviously taken that on board with a range of inputs to formulate the plan.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —And the scientific advice that CSIRO provided? I am well aware of the sustainable yields project, which of course is particularly looking at inflows into the basin under a range of climate change scenarios. The authority has helpfully, but somewhat unhelpfully, put 1,200 reference papers on its website, which is a nice way of ensuring that you are drowned in material. What, in CSIRO’s opinion, are the benchmark topics or areas that you have undertaken that have informed the work?

Dr Johnson —As you say, the work we did on sustainable yields definitely was an input into the process. We have also supplied the best knowledge we have around ground water resources. We undertook some work for the basin assessing the fit-for-purpose of their modelling, their modelling approaches for the questions they have answered. We had a number of staff on secondment to the authority during the development of the basin guide, reflecting various expertises that they had. There are a number of other smaller projects that the basin authority commissioned during the development of the plan that we contributed to either ourselves or in partnership with other organisations.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —So while not contributing directly to the guide or the setting of the SDLs, you did have staff on secondment to the authority?

Dr Johnson —That is correct.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —How many staff were on secondment and over what period of time?

Dr Johnson —I would have to get the exact dates for you on notice. I think I had best take that on notice; I do not have that detail in front of me right now.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —These were particular experts in certain fields?

Dr Johnson —Correct.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —What types of fields?

Dr Johnson —We had expertise in river water modelling, experts around ground water assessment, expertise in socioeconomics—a range of skills, depending on what the basin required.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Obviously quite a number of staff across a number of—

Dr Johnson —From time to time, yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —If you could provide that detail on notice, that would be helpful.

Dr Johnson —Sure.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —CSIRO claims to undertake research to support the adaptation of irrigation communities in water scarce environments. I am aware of some of that work that you do. Have you been asked to provide advice to the authority at all in relation to those adaptation measures and how water savings may be achieved?

Dr Johnson —Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Have you been asked by the department of water—I cannot for the life of me remember what its actual name is nowadays—to provide such advice?

Dr Johnson —Not at this stage, no.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Okay, so as they have developed their on-farm infrastructure efficiency programs, their off-farm priority projects with state governments for infrastructure development, they have not sought the expertise of CSIRO that you are aware of?

Dr Johnson —Just to be clear: if you are referring to within the context of the basin plan, the answer is no; if you are referring to the broader portfolio of work that the department of environment undertakes with respect to water use efficiencies, CSIRO has had extensive engagement with that department over a long period of time.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —So their current on-farm irrigation programs that they are supporting, the guidelines and so on for those, have been developed—

Dr Johnson —Yes, CSIRO has been involved in that.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —That is fine for me for now, thank you.

Senator WILLIAMS —I have a question on staffing for CSIRO representatives. I read an alarming little story just recently, and my concerns are for the Chiswick facility in Armidale. Are there any plans to cut any of the staff there?

Dr Clark —No, there is not. We currently have 48 staff at Armidale.

Senator WILLIAMS —And it is to remain at 48?

Dr Clark —We have no plans for any reduction there.

Senator WILLIAMS —That is good news—going on a media report in the Canberra Times of 9 June.

Senator Carr —That is the Canberra Times. I would be very cautious there, Senator.

Senator WILLIAMS —Do they not always print the truth, Minister? I was led to believe that everything that went into the paper was fact and truth!

Senator Carr —Oh yes, but that particular reporter—I would be worried!

Senator WILLIAMS —You are referring to Rosslyn Beeby.

Senator CARR —Yes, Miss Beeby.

Senator WILLIAMS —I know that one of them did show some concerns. The Armidale paper, I think, had a story about job cuts in the Chiswick facility. So it is good news that I can report back that, at this stage, it does not look like there are any job cuts in it.

Dr Clark —Not a problem.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —A colleague has given me an example in relation to their region, and I went through some of this example with the authority yesterday as well. In the Ovens system, in Victoria, there is a potential cut to irrigators in the vicinity of 10 gigalitres out of 14 gigalitres that are available. From the work the authority has done, do cuts of that level leave any potential for maintaining sustainable irrigation communities?

Dr Johnson —I think you really need to direct that question to the authorities. It is not appropriate for me to comment on that.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —I might place a few of those questions in relation to Ovens on notice. Is CSIRO a member of the MDBA or does CSIRO provide any members to the MDBA’s panel of consultants?

Dr Johnson —Not to my knowledge. I would have to take that on notice, but not to my knowledge.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —If you could, please check on that. Do you expect to be playing any role in the additional socioeconomic study that was announced by the MDBA on Sunday just past?

Dr Johnson —What role we play, really, is at the discretion of the MDBA. But as they know—and I reaffirm here—CSIRO stands ready to help wherever we can on this issue.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Have you made inquiries about tendering or otherwise to assist in or develop that body of work?

Dr Johnson —No, we have not.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —The MDBA has based some if its forecasts on reduction in rainfall into the basin, and inflows into the basin, at 10 per cent by 2030. Is this consistent with CSIRO’s research, to date?

Dr Johnson —CSIRO’s position on that, as articulated in the sustainable yields, was an 11 per cent reduction by 2030—so it is in the same ball park.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —And in terms of the scenarios modelled, is that 10, 11 per cent reduction at the high, low or medium end?

Dr Johnson —I would characterise it as an appropriate figure based on the knowledge that we have at the present time.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —So you would expect that, having settled on a figure of 10 per cent—which aligns fairly closely to your 11 per cent—that it is largely based on that body of work.

Dr Johnson —Correct.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —What level of uncertainty exists around an estimate like that?

Mr Johns —There is uncertainty around that. It is important to recognise that that is an aggregate figure for the basin as a whole and that there will be significant differences, spatially, through the basin. As you know, the basin has a very broad geographic extent from Southern Queensland all the way through to South Australia. So there will be differences based on local geographies.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Does CSIRO expect to be undertaking any further work in relation to inflows and those climate variability models as they affect the MDBA?

Dr Johnson —CSIRO has an extensive investment in water research in the Murray-Darling Basin in the areas that you refer to and in others, and remains a significant priority for us. Consistent with my earlier answer, we stand ready to assist government, the authority, local communities and industry in this very complex issue wherever we can, with the science that we have.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —The chairman of the MDBA, Mr Taylor, has been reported as saying that the science still needs to be tested. Is that a view that you would share?

Dr Johnson —I have not seen those comments. I would have to understand the context within which they were made.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —I will provide the detail of those on notice for you.  Lastly, I assume that CSIRO relies on the data of the Bureau of Meteorology in assessing the rainfall patterns and so on?

Dr Johnson —Correct.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —There has been some suggestion in the last couple of weeks that some of the bureau’s historical data published in August 2008 and again in October 2010 shows a reduction in rainfall figures for the same period of time. Have you seen any of those criticisms?

Dr Johnson —I am unaware of those criticisms. But if you would like to put them on notice I would be happy to look into it for you.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —I shall do that.

CHAIR —I have a couple of questions around funding for multidisciplinary and more pure research fields. The booklet that you distributed, Science: securing the future, is very interesting. It may be just the way it is organised but, apart from the climate change area, most of them focus on one particular discipline. You say 90 per cent of your total expenditure is directed towards Australia’s national research priorities. Is there any problem with getting funding for multidisciplinary type areas?

Dr Clark —Currently about half of the funding is in our 10 national flagships which are directed at the opportunities and challenges of the nation, so a substantial part of our investment. I refer to our annual report which actually breaks down each of those flagships and goes through what they are covering. Securing the future is really just highlights. Some of the impact areas and also some of the science that we have delivered to both industry and the community has been delivered around building a sustainable future and environment for the nation. So I would urge you to have a look at the annual report which has just been tabled. You mentioned multidisciplinary—that is really the focus and the distinct and unique role of CSIRO. We are mission directed. We have, as mentioned, the bulk of our investment in our flagships and by their very nature they can draw on all of the expertise across CSIRO to particularly address a problem. That is what sets us apart. Amongst our global peers in this area we certainly have the most distinct and unique investment in that multidisciplinary area, so it is what sets CSIRO apart from the other research institutions.

CHAIR —CSIRO has been pretty successful in securing private sponsorship and other funding that is generally, and naturally, directed towards outcomes. What about any funding for research that just arises that is not necessarily directed towards an outcome? What is the situation for CSIRO with that kind of funding?

Dr Clark —That is a very important area for us to continue to explore new horizons. We have a number of mechanisms in which to do that. We have transformational science platforms where we invest in those areas that we need to develop fundamental science but that will have application across a wide area, such as sensor and sensor networks and the areas of molecular biology. So we address those and also within our divisions we look at those capabilities that we need to develop and that have far-reaching applications as well. So we cover both of those. I suppose in CSIRO it is really both the science and science with impact, and it is bringing those two things together that we try to do with excellence.

CHAIR —So it is too simplistic to say that the funding for the more fundamental science comes from government funding and the bulk of the remainder?

Dr Clark —It is too simplistic because it is embedded, if you look at our road maps for our flagships. Many of those challenges require developments in fundamental science and many of our partnerships are in those areas. So it is not true that we can split them in that direction. Some of our external projects address some of the most fundamental aspects of science, particularly in plant genomics and some of those other areas. So it is too simplistic, but we are very mission directed and solution oriented as an organisation.

CHAIR —Science, like many other things, is becoming far more global. In a lot of the areas you need to attract either Australians who have been working overseas or foreign scientists who have been working in a particular area. All too often in science it is not money that motivates people—they do it for the love of it. Does CSIRO have any trouble with paying the right amount of money to international scientists?

Dr Clark —We certainly have no trouble attracting scientists. I think what is very encouraging is that the greatest growth in our research scientists is in the under-35 group and we do have global diversity in our scientists. What is attractive to our scientists is the capacity to work on those things that really matter to this nation and increasingly those things that matter to us around the globe. This is very attractive, as is the capacity to work in major teams, as Dr Johnson has outlined, on some of the issues facing water in this nation. This is what is attracting our young scientists and it is extremely pleasing to see the sort of growth we are getting—20 per cent compound annual growth—in our PhD students and also postdocs are growing at five per cent. In attracting the brightest and best from the globe and from this nation, the way we work and the way we are focused is certainly an attraction for many of the best.

Senator BUSHBY —Thank you for appearing before us today. If I had more time I would ask you about your staffing and reports about scientists being burnt out by bureaucracy and so on. I might put some questions on notice about that.

Dr Clark —Not a problem.

Senator BUSHBY —In the brief time that I have, I will focus on the Tasmanian ICT Centre. I recently read a report from Deloitte that was commissioned to look into the work that they do—the CSIRO Tasmanian ICT Centre impact study—and I noted that it is expected that the research they are currently undertaking will have significant economic and other impacts for Tasmania and Australia. Everything I hear about that centre is good and it is doing a great job. It is a great little thing that is very powerful and it is developing some great and innovative ideas and concepts. I would like to know how it is funded and how secure its funding is looking in the forward estimates and beyond.

Dr Clark —I concur with your comments that it is doing some terrific work across a number of areas—in supporting the fishing industry in Tasmania, in supporting communication as well as the health issues. In terms of the breakdown of funding, Mr Whelan will cover that.

Mr Roy —The ICT Centre in Tasmania was originally initiated out of the Intelligent Island program in 2006. As you may well be aware, $30 million was invested into it over a five-year period. That funding lapses in September 2011. There are three partners to that—the Australian government effectively through the department, CSIRO and the Tasmanian government. I think it is fair to say that we are working up options going forward which are subject to budgetary consideration by the various stakeholders at the moment so it would not be appropriate to venture too much into that ground at the moment.

Senator BUSHBY —But at this stage there is no guarantee of funding beyond 2011?

Mr Roy —We are working with the other stakeholders at the moment.

Senator BUSHBY —Obviously you are working towards it, but you cannot tell me what the recommendations may be. At this stage, it depends entirely on the outcome of budget considerations that are currently being worked through.

Mr Roy —Yes, the discussions with those multiple parties is the depending factor.

Dr Clark —That is not inconsistent with many areas where we work with stakeholders to define the projects moving forward.

Senator BUSHBY —So just to clarify: you are saying that the funding is dependent on the other stakeholders?

Mr Roy —I was indicating that, as with all of these sorts of programs that run over a period of time, you have conversations with the partners who fund you as those programs near their end. Those discussions mature over time. These ones have not yet been brought to a conclusion. I am really not saying much more or less than that at the moment.

Senator BUSHBY —But if the partners were not keen to continue participating in the way that they have, it could actually pose a threat to the future of that centre?

Mr Roy —Well, if all the partners did not want it to go forward for one reason or another, then we would have to change the arrangements.

Senator BUSHBY —If all the partners did not, yes.

Mr Roy —Or you could look for alternative options as well. I think we are in the exploratory stages at the moment. The centre has another 12 months to run, so it is not unusual that 12 months out we find ourselves in such discussions.

Senator BUSHBY —I have some more portfolio related questions. When you get the science—and therefore the predictions—wrong, what kind of responsibility does the organisation take for that? Presumably, you do not always get everything right, and occasionally you may find things that have not turned out the way you intended. What kind of internal and external accountability measures are there for when you get things wrong, like when you predicted in the 1990s that unless radical action was taken more than a third of the farmland in the basin would be under saline water by 2006?

Dr Clark —I think returning to the observations and data is where the excellence of science comes from.

Senator BUSHBY —I am not being critical of the CSIRO for occasionally getting things wrong.

Dr Clark —I understand that. We very clearly separate the observations and the data from the interpretation and the uncertainties in all of our areas of science. Clearly, by separating those you can always go back with additional data and revisit the interpretations and conclusions. That is the basis of all science.

Senator BUSHBY —To some extent, I canvassed that a little bit with the Chief Scientist earlier.

Dr Clark —That is right.

Senator BUSHBY —How much risk planning would you do before embarking on any of your science related projects?

Dr Clark —What do you mean by ‘risk planning’, Senator?

Senator BUSHBY —I will use the example that I used a minute ago. If you come out and make a statement claiming more than a third of the farmland in the Murray-Darling Basin will be under saline water by 2006, how do you approach that, given that the data that you used might change due to the potential uncertainties that you just outlined? How do you build that into the process when you are starting a science related project?

Dr Clark —What is built into the process very early on is a very clear statement about the assumptions, the uncertainties and where the data comes from. So right upfront, in the way we do science and report it, all of that is transparent for any of the stakeholders. It is very important, just the way it is simply stated, that that can be revisited and looked at. As I said, that is the nature of science.

We are focused on making sure our science is used in the community to support industry in being more competitive and to create a sustainable future. So one of the things that we do with our science all the way through is look at the path to impact. We map out the possible path to impact. We look at our approach to achieving those goals and we make that transparent. I draw your attention to the annual report, which outlines that and demonstrates that transparency.

Senator BUSHBY —I was asking because you would be aware of the legal action that was recently taken in New Zealand against the New Zealand weather bureau for alleged temperature data fraud. Given that you and the Bureau of Meteorology collaborate closely on climate research and data, and have issued joint statements and publications on that research, have you done any contingency planning at all for similar kinds of scenarios occurring in Australia?

Dr Clark —You are absolutely right: we do work very closely with the Bureau of Meteorology. Dr Johnson can go through how we do that and how we make sure we report our data. We absolutely stand by the data and observations made by our scientists in any forum—and we would be prepared to do so here.

Dr Johnson —I concur with Dr Clark. We have rigorous peer review processes with the bureau and we are very clear in all areas of science on the assumptions we make. If I could correct the record, with respect to the work on salinity you referred to, I need to go back and double-check, but I would be very surprised if we made any blanket statements along the lines that you suggest. We would have had a set of assumptions around what we thought may happen in the basin with respect to salinity. As you know, that basin has been in extended drought for a significant period of time and, as the groundwater levels dropped, the salinity threat reduced. Should the basin get wetter over time, I think the material risk of salinity becoming an issue again is significant. Confirming what Dr Clark said, we would have been very careful about the basis upon which we made that assessment. Senator, I think you asked if we had contingency planning with the bureau.

Senator BUSHBY —Yes.

Dr Johnson —No, we do not have formal contingency planning processes. As Dr Clark has indicated, we have very robust peer review processes and formal review processes at the end of our projects, and I think that provides a high degree of assurance for the Australian public around the quality of the work that we do and the quality of the work that the bureau does. Of course, as new knowledge comes to bear over time we will update our information and we will be absolutely transparent around the assumptions we make in terms of the science that we do.

Senator BUSHBY —It just concerns me that, no doubt, the New Zealand weather bureau would have been saying the same thing. I am not for one minute casting any aspersions on the Bureau of Meteorology and its data, but, if you are relying on data from other sources, the New Zealand case indicates that there may well be problems with some of that data. Your reputation essentially rests on what you conclude based on data that you are getting from these other sources. I was really interested in the contingency plans that are made—

Dr Johnson —I am not aware of the case you refer to in New Zealand, but again I can give you my assurance that any data that CSIRO accepts from third parties and any data that CSIRO generates itself goes through extremely rigorous quality assurance processes because, as you indicate, it has a material impact on the work we do and the reputation of CSIRO in the eyes of Australians.

Dr Clark —As all scientists do, we clearly reference where the information comes from so that it is very clear whether information has come from our own research or from reports. All of that is very clearly referenced, and that provides additional transparency.

Senator BERNARDI —Dr Clark, in the assessment of the data that is provided to you, for instance, from the Bureau of Meteorology, have you ever analysed whether the stations that record temperature comply with world’s best practice as far as distance from other heat sources et cetera is concerned?

Dr Clark —I understand the issue that you are referring to. In effect, the detail of our own stations and how we monitor those is in Dr Johnson’s area. We would be happy to answer questions about our own stations.

Dr Johnson —Again, I think if you have concerns about the quality of any particular stations that the bureau oversees they should be directed to the bureau. I know there has been some commentary in the public domain around a couple of the bureau’s stations. Again, we have sought assurance from the bureau and are satisfied that they have necessary protocols in place with respect to the data sources that they generate so that the sorts of issues that I think you are implying could be problematic are dealt with in a robust and transparent way.

Senator BERNARDI —They have been identified overseas. What about your own data-recording stations? Are they compliant with best practice?

Dr Johnson —Yes.

Senator BERNARDI —They all are?

Dr Johnson —Yes.

Senator BERNARDI —Going back to a previous answer you gave, Dr Johnson, it surprised me when you said you were not familiar with the New Zealand case.

Dr Johnson —No, I am not. I was not aware that there was legal action in New Zealand taken against the—

Senator BERNARDI —It is surprising because it is quite a significant result.

Dr Johnson —No, I am not aware of it. I will follow up post this hearing.

Senator BERNARDI —Would you like me to send you some information?

Dr Johnson —Yes, I would be delighted to receive it. As I said, I actually do not follow the New Zealand courts closely.

Senator BERNARDI —Are you aware of it, Dr Clark?

Dr Clark —Yes, I am.

Senator BUSHBY —Has the well-known climate researcher Jim Salinger done any work for or provided any professional advice to the CSIRO and, if so, what has been the nature of that work?

Dr Johnson —I am not aware of that.

Senator BUSHBY —Are you aware of Ken Stewart’s recent research which has indicated that there has been artificial adjustment of temperature records in urban areas in Australia?

Dr Johnson —No I am not aware of that.

Senator BUSHBY —Is anybody aware of that?

Dr Clark —No I am not aware of that, Senator.

Senator BUSHBY —Given that you are not aware of it I will not ask any further questions on it now, but I might give you some questions on notice. Some of what he finds—and I would be very interested in the CSIRO’s perspective on this, because it is obviously one person’s findings—on the face of it, is very disturbing; about tampering with climate data that was recorded 50 years ago and then changed 50 years later. I will look at putting some questions on notice to you.

Dr Clark —We would be happy to provide expert advice on those.

Senator BUSHBY —Thank you. Does CSIRO have any involvement with the Researchers in Business program that is run under the auspices of Enterprise Connect and, if so, can you outline what involvement you have in it?

Mr Whelan —I think we do but I am afraid I do not have the details with me. I would be very happy to take that on notice. We do work closely with the Enterprise Connect program, and CSIRO provides advice and research to that; but I do not have the exact nature of the detail of that and the numbers with me.

Senator BUSHBY —I am happy for you to take that on notice. Question to the minister—who is not listening at the moment—

Senator Carr —Sorry?

Senator BUSHBY —When the Researchers in Business program was first announced, it was a $10 million program focussed on bringing university researchers into individual businesses.

Senator Carr —Is this through Enterprise Connect?

Senator BUSHBY —Yes, but I gather that there has been at least one extension to the program that was announced in June 2010 when Parliamentary Secretary Marles said that you had widened it to include post-graduate students in maths and statistics. Can you confirm that extension and advise us of any others that have been made?

Senator Carr —Do you mind if I check the precise detail? It is actually through Enterprise Connect, and if those officers are here I would rather get—

Senator BUSHBY —Okay, not a problem. CSIRO is a partner of the Monash IITB Research Academy—is that correct?

Dr Clark —We have a number of partnerships with Monash. Can you give me a bit more detail?

Senator BUSHBY —I am talking in particular about how you sponsor IITB students from India to study in Australia.

Dr Clark —Yes we are a partner in that venture.

Senator BUSHBY —Can you explain how you identify the students for sponsorship? Do you run an application process? In which case, can you tell me how many applications you receive and how you sort through those?

Dr Clark —The process for studentship is managed by the chief executive of the IIT Bombay. There is a process of review, there is a selection committee and then the decision is made on students.

Senator BUSHBY —So you call for applications?

Dr Clark —We call for applications. There is a select committee which has representations from Monash and externally, and the process is managed by the chief executive of IIT Bombay.

Senator BUSHBY —How are the applications advertised? How do the Indian students know that—

Dr Clark —I do not have the details of the website for the applications, but I can certainly provide you the application process for that.

Senator BUSHBY —How many students have been awarded sponsorships in each year since it has been running?

Dr Clark —I can provide you that detail further.

Senator BUSHBY —I am interested particularly in seeing how recent negative publicity about Australia and India has impacted it, if at all.

Dr Clark —To my knowledge there has been very good attraction to that program and application.

Senator BUSHBY —What about the number of people applying? Could you also take that on notice?

Dr Clark —As I mentioned, I will give you all that detail.

Senator BUSHBY —Not just the people who are successful, but the number of people who apply as well.

Dr Clark —Not a problem.

Senator BUSHBY —I might ask some questions about your staffing then, because I have a little bit more time than I thought I had—I was under a misconception that it was finishing earlier On page 109 of the 2009-10 annual report states that CSIRO moved away from a whole-of-organisation staff opinion survey to more focussed topic specific qualitative ways of measuring staff opinion.

Dr Clark —Yes.

Senator BUSHBY —The examples given in the report are focus groups and reference groups. Can you elaborate further on the specific ways that the staff were engaged to obtain their opinions?

Dr Clark —Yes we can, because we have just completed some of that work and Mr Roy is with us who covers our area of HR, and can cover that area.

Mr Roy —Thank you for the question. As you indicated, we use a range of different methodologies to do that. Let me walk through the most recent one, if I may, which was conducted in June and July this year with the assistance of Towers Watson.

We established 29 focus groups to work with staff to understand what was important to them. There were four lenses used around that. There were their views around remuneration and allowances; their views around leave and work-life balance; their views around career performance and rewards; and the final lens into that was the way we work at CSIRO.

We then received results back from that work which, again, were analysed by Towers Watson. The focus groups were facilitated by our own HR people, who were trained by Towers Watson to do that, to look at the attractors of people to CSIRO—I think Dr Clark elaborated on some of those earlier in a response to a question—their motivation for staying with CSIRO, the retention issues and also what would make them leave CSIRO. That is one of many examples of the sorts of things we do in getting a pulse on what the staff are thinking.

Senator BUSHBY —How many of the staff of the CSIRO were involved in that process?

Mr Roy —There were 239 staff, who were randomly selected to match the profile of CSIRO in location and general demographics in terms of age, level, gender and the like. We asked Towers Watson about the degree of confidence around the survey findings given the consistency of the feedback and the analytics they use. They have 95 degrees confidence level in the results that were found coming back to us, so we are very satisfied with their confidence levels in the results coming back.

Senator BUSHBY —In representing the views of the staff as a whole.

Mr Roy —That is correct, yes.

Senator BUSHBY —What was the reasoning behind shifting from a whole-of-staff survey to the focus group method?

Mr Roy —There were a range of reasons for that. Rather than the broad sweep of questions, which in the past was in the range of about 120 to 130 questions, we wanted to focus on something a little bit more consistent in interacting and pulsing with staff, if you like, and also on issues that came up as being important to staff as well. Without just focusing on the recent focus group example I used, since about 2006 we have been running an annual survey with staff around their feedback to the delivery of support services they receive—for example, the level of IT support, HR support, legal support, finance support and contract admin support. That is done on an annual basis and we have a good trend line as to where that happens. The other important aspect of selecting Towers Watson—which I should have picked up on—was that they conducted the last insight poll you referred to in 2007. So, in some circumstances, they were able to benchmark the staff results that they provided to the organisation in 2007 to what their views were in June and July 2010.

Senator BUSHBY —I was going to ask whether you conducted your whole-of-staff surveys internally, but obviously you did not; you used consultants for that.

Mr Roy —Yes, we used the support of external experts, and it was Towers Watson.

Senator BUSHBY —How does the cost of what you are doing now compare with the cost of what you were doing?

Mr Roy —The cost of doing the current piece of work is significantly less. I do not have the exact number.

Senator BUSHBY —Could you take that on notice for both the current work and the previous work.

Mr Roy —I would be happy to.

Senator BUSHBY —How did you select the consultant? Obviously Towers Watson were already doing it; did you just, because they were doing it, give them the nod to continue to do this?

Mr Roy —No. I am happy to provide a headline answer, if you are comfortable with that, and then take any further detail on notice. My understanding was that we went through a call for applications—some form of tender process—and then sifted through who the most appropriate tenderers to that were. As I said, I would have to take that on notice. I am not as close to that as some others.

Senator BUSHBY —In general, how would you summarise the findings of the most recent work?

Mr Roy —I will summarise those findings into four categories. What attracted people to join CSIRO? It was the leading-edge science we conduct and it was the brand and what it means to work for CSIRO. The fact that it was a great career launching pad was something that was generally used in there, so that was a pleasing finding. What motivates staff to perform well and highly inside the organisation? There is the interesting, challenging work that makes a real difference. There are ongoing learning and development opportunities in the work they do. They enjoy the collaborative approach and the collegial atmosphere that they work in as part of a diverse team. That comes back to the chair’s previous question around working in a multidisciplinary organisation. I think the staff value that.

In terms of retention, why do we keep people—and as an aside I say that our voluntary separation rate at the moment is at pretty much a 10-year low at just above four per cent—they like the interesting and impactful work and, again, they enjoy the diverse range of people and teams. What would motivate them to leave the organisation? Frustration with bureaucratic procedures, complexities inside the matrix and not getting on with their peers or their leaders. When we pushed Towers Watson around that piece of work we got that that was fairly consistent with most groups, because we surveyed employees who are still with us and have not exercised the right that every employee has to leave their employer at one stage or another.

So we got some good input out of that and some areas that we will work on going forward. I will just summarise the headline findings though. We spoke about the 2007 report vis-a-vis the 2010 report. Towers Watson did some analytic work on two questions. In response to the question: ‘I would recommend CSIRO as a good place to work’, compared to the 2007 poll the number of staff who answered positively was greater than 10 per cent higher. They also benchmarked against global R&D norms, so peer organisations—

Senator BUSHBY —You have highlighted that, in answer to a specific question as to why people would leave, there were some issues raised which you would expect in response to such a question, but your overall take on it is fairly positive. According to media reports—and I am referring specifically to one from the Canberra Times on 16 September—the CSIRO Staff Association—

Senator Carr —The opposition should broaden their research. I think that would be the first lesson we can draw from this.

Senator BUSHBY —Are you telling us that we should ignore things reported in the paper?

Senator Carr —No, I am just saying you should broaden your research tools.

Senator BUSHBY —I can assure you that we have looked at a number of things, but if it is in the paper and it is relevant then I am not going to ignore it.

Senator Carr —No, I am just offering some advice. I have been in your position.

Senator BUSHBY —I appreciate your advice, Minister. The CSIRO Staff Association does not appear, according to that report, to read the results of this survey as rosily as you do. It describes it as a ‘wake-up call’ for Australia’s peak science agency. The article states:

… 62 per cent of scientists thought CSIRO’s top-heavy management structure created conflict over research goals … 54 per cent said an increase in administrative tasks … was diverting valuable time away from research.

You have painted a fairly rosy picture of this. Quite clearly, you do these sorts of things because you want to find out if there are problems in the organisation so that you can make appropriate management changes to address those. Are you listening to these concerns and taking them seriously or are you saying: ‘This is pretty good and the organisation is performing well above the global average for research organisations; therefore, we don’t need to take any action’?

Mr Roy —I think either you or the journalist has taken that out of context. The situation I would say is we have a very positive dialogue with the staff association. They are one of the inputs to our pulse on the staff. In terms of the staff association survey, CSIRO was not directly involved in that. It was, as you alluded to, some work done externally with the support of the CSIRO Staff Association. They ran two focus groups of 10 CSIRO staff members to initiate that. There were 21 individual interviews that followed and a survey was sent out to staff members, which asked a series of questions, and there were 2,100 responses—

Senator BUSHBY —So it was a voluntary response?

Mr Roy —I am being a little careful here. I can attest to the fact that there were 2,100 forms that were received in the office, but as I reviewed one of the forms myself and completed it for my own interest there was no way of having a personal identifier on there. That is different from what we do in our surveys. Even keeping the individual confidential—allowing them anonymity in responding—

Senator BUSHBY —Are you saying that these surveys could identify who the people were?

Mr Roy —No, you could not identify them. There was no marker on the survey. So, in terms of the key finding that we need to do some more work in terms of matrix, systems and processes, absolutely. I do not think we will ever get off that treadmill. We will continually try to improve the way we do business as an organisation. I have sympathy for some of the findings of the survey.

Senator BUSHBY —Just for the record: how many employees left the CSIRO in the 2009-10 year?

Mr Roy —I can get that detail for you.

Dr Clark —In terms of the context, as Mr Roy outlined, our resignation rates, voluntary leaving of the CSIRO, is at a five-year low, certainly for our scientists—in the year to date, it is around 1.7 per cent, which is a drop from over four per cent. That is a pretty clear measure.

Senator BUSHBY —Could you get those numbers for the last five years?

Dr Clark —Absolutely. We can provide those numbers.

Senator BUSHBY —Also, how many stress leave claims have there been in the past 12 months?

Dr Clark —We can certainly provide that for you.

CHAIR —I thank officers from the CSIRO for coming in today. We will see you again.

Proceedings suspended from 10.46 am to 11.00 am