Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Economics Legislation Committee
31/05/2018
Estimates
JOBS AND INNOVATION PORTFOLIO
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

[20:25]

CHAIR: Good evening, everybody. Thank you very much for staying so late. Hello again, Dr Marshall. It's good to see you again. Welcome back to estimates. Do you have an opening statement for us?

Dr Marshall : I do. The CSIRO's purpose is to solve Australia's greatest challenges with science. Your national science agency is the country's most trusted research organisation thanks to the excellent science and solutions that our staff deliver every day. But we don't just focus on today: we look to tomorrow and well beyond. The Australian National Outlook recognises Australia's future national challenges and is closely aligned with the industry growth centre road maps and the Innovation and Science Australia national missions. We've invested in future science platforms like hydrogen energy to support these national 'moon shots', and I'm proud to say that CSIRO's Strategy 2020 continues to substantially increase our investment in blue-sky science.

As Australian industry such as manufacturing and minerals transitions in response to digital and other disruptions so too must CSIRO in order to remain relevant and deliver impact for the nation. In CSIRO Manufacturing we forecast 32 redundancies but have successfully managed this to a lesser number of 23. Similarly in CSIRO Materials we forecast 42 redundancies last year. We now believe this will be closer to 32. While changes to staffing are always difficult, overall I'm very pleased to report that every year of Strategy 2020 has delivered modest growth in CSIRO impact, staffing, revenue and appropriation.

Just under $300 million of our appropriation is dedicated to collaborative research infrastructure, so we're pleased to see an investment of $1.9 billion for Australia's national research infrastructure, including that managed by CSIRO such as the Pawsey supercomputer, a key component of Australia's space research. On the topic of national infrastructure, it is with great sadness that I must note the passing last Sunday of Dr John La Salle, the director of Atlas of Living Australia. John was a great Australian and a great contributor to global science, and our thoughts reach out to his family and others involved in the accident currently recovering in hospital. John was also a passionate supporter of innovation.

The ON program and the CSIRO Innovation Fund, both funded by the National Innovation and Science Agenda, fill a critical gap in the system by taking invention off the lab bench to beta and to business where science can truly benefit all Australians. So far ON has supported 222 teams, 825 scientists from 29 universities, four publicly funded research agencies and all CSIRO science areas. Start-ups graduating from the ON accelerator program have been as successful as those coming out of the best science accelerators in the world, including the US I-Corps program. But ON also delivers profound public good for environment and society.

Coviu is a spin-off that brings unique cloud-based healthcare experiences and diagnoses to rural Australians. Coviu was created in CSIRO, accelerated through ON and funded by CSIRO's Innovation Fund. Like our very first ON spin-off Cardihab, Coviu is proof of the power of female founders, and both are great examples of the power of policy to get Australia's innovation system working together to bring life-changing science to all Australians. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Marshall. On behalf of the committee, we'd also like to acknowledge the passing of Dr John La Salle and thank you very much for noting it here. I might start questions with Senator Bushby.

Senator BUSHBY: I asked questions earlier of the department regarding our investment in critical research infrastructure and particularly the RV Investigator. I was wondering if you could please walk the committee through the increased support that the government is providing to help keep the Investigator at sea and make full use of the fantastic research tools that it provides.

Dr Marshall : Certainly. We're now funded for approximately 300 days a year. But I might ask Dr Williams to give you a little bit more detail on that.

Dr Williams : The RV Investigator—we were given $31.15 million over the forward period, most of which was opex but some was minor capital. That raises the nominal annual spend to $26.2 million on the vessel itself, with some $4 million going towards mainly capital items, replacement parts. That will allow us, once we've rescheduled the vessel and moved through the system with the peer review process we have for allocating time, to move to 300 days a year of active sea time.

Senator BUSHBY: So that was an extra $31.8 million or thereabouts?

Dr Williams : Yes.

Senator BUSHBY: Then you said that it takes you to $22.6 million—

Dr Williams : $26. 2 million per year.

Senator BUSHBY: $26.2 million per annum?

Dr Williams : On average. It varies slightly by year, but that's the sort of nominal overall sum.

Senator BUSHBY: That's the investment in—

Dr Williams : Sorry, it's the $26. 2 million plus the $7.8 million, so it takes us to about $34 million a year to operate the Investigator.

Senator BUSHBY: Where is most of that money spent?

Dr Williams : A lot of the money is spent on operations—sea-time running.

Senator BUSHBY: So, for fuel and staff—

Dr Williams : Fuel and day-to-day—

Senator BUSHBY: running the thing.

Dr Williams : Quite a lot of it. We have a team of about 25 staff—nominal staff numbers—who work in the technical laboratories on site in Hobart, and they make sure the equipment is ready for sail.

Senator BUSHBY: How many staff?

Dr Williams : About 25 on average. Some of the staff travel with each voyage to make sure the equipment stays in order. We have a computing suite which we have to maintain. It's a pretty state-of-the-art computing suite on board. That requires maintenance and support through the system. In addition to scientists being on board, we have technical people on board and the crew on board—

Senator BUSHBY: who are based out of Hobart. How long does it go out for at any given time?

Dr Williams : The new vessel can go to sea for 60 days maximum without returning to port. It doesn't do that on every voyage. We have a mechanism to award time, and it varies from 20 to 60 days according to the mission of the chief scientist. Sometimes all the berths are taken up by scientists on the main mission; sometimes we have subsidiary people going on board to fill in the berths and allow other science to take place on the back of the main mission.

Senator BUSHBY: And provisions—if you're going out for up to 60 days, where does that all occur?

Dr Williams : That normally occurs in Hobart, but we do sometimes do that up in Brisbane or in Perth—

Senator BUSHBY: depending on the actual work program.

Dr Williams : depending on where it was and where it's going.

Senator BUSHBY: If you have it on hand, could you walk us through the at-sea hours and the funding that the RV Investigator was allocated from 2012-13 through to the predicted funding for 2019-20.

Dr Williams : I haven't got those with me. I'll take that on notice and make sure you get them.

Senator BUSHBY: That's all I had. Thank you.

Senator KIM CARR: Since we're talking about the comings and goings, Ms Bennett, I'm told that this is your last estimates. Is that correct?

Ms Bennett : My last estimates with the CSIRO, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: You're moving on?

Ms Bennett : I am moving across to become deputy secretary at the Australian Signals Directorate.

Senator KIM CARR: I wish you well.

Ms Bennett : Thank you very much.

Senator KIM CARR: Can I place on the record my thanks for the work that you've provided with the CSIRO. How many years have you been—

Ms Bennett : Nearly eight.

Senator KIM CARR: All the very best for the new role.

Ms Bennett : Thank you very much.

Senator KIM CARR: Could I perhaps turn, Dr Marshall, to the recent commentary that was made in regard to the Great Barrier Reef. I see that the Financial Review—which is a great scientific journal—quoted you as saying on 27 February this year:

Looking specifically at the Great Barrier Reef, Dr Marshall said it was a common misconception that coral bleaching meant it was too late to save.

You said:

The reef usually grows back two years after a bleaching event, similar to trees after a bushfire, and the CSIRO had deployed sensors in the reef, which showed most of its problems come from sedimentary run-off from the land, rather than the ocean itself.

Will Steffen made some comments about all of that. You'd have to say he's probably one of our pre-eminent authorities in terms of the reef. Would you agree?

Dr Marshall : Senator, there are many points of view on the reef.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, but Professor Steffen from the Climate Council would surely be regarded as a pre-eminent expert. I know all the scientists would, at that level, dispute many things, but he would be regarded highly amongst climate change scientists as a man of some considerable authority.

Dr Marshall : I thought we were talking about the Great Barrier Reef.

Senator KIM CARR: We are. I'm going to come to what he's had to say about you in a minute. I just want to get it clear in terms of his remarks. Would you agree that Professor Steffen is a noted authority on climate change matters?

CHAIR: I'd withhold my comments till I found out what he said about me, if I were you, Dr Marshall!

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Marshall?

Dr Marshall : I think we have some of the best experts on the Great Barrier Reef in AIMS and in CSIRO and in GBRMPA.

Senator KIM CARR: You don't regard Professor Steffen as—

Dr Marshall : I don't know Professor Steffen.

Senator KIM CARR: You don't know him. I suspect you'll probably get to know a lot more about him. Can I perhaps give you this opportunity to explain what you meant by your comments as published on 27 February regarding coral bleaching?

Dr Marshall : Are we talking about the loss of coral cover to the Great Barrier Reef?

Senator KIM CARR: What I'm talking about are the comments I've quoted, which are the ones that have drawn particular attention.

Senator Cash: Senator, do you have a copy of the article, because, obviously, sometimes comments can be—

Senator KIM CARR: No, I've got it on my notes here.

Senator Cash: taken out of context or—

Senator KIM CARR: I will ask the secretary: can you pull off an article that appeared in TheAustralian Financial Review on 27 February 2018? Is it possible that you can pull that off the screen? There's a suggestion that I've misquoted you, is there?

Dr Marshall : Perhaps just ask me the question.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm asking you if you could explain what you meant by those comments that were reported on in the Financial Review on 27 February.

Dr Marshall : Which part?

Senator KIM CARR: The one that said:

The reef usually grows back two years after a bleaching event, similar to trees after a bushfire, and the CSIRO had deployed sensors in the reef, which showed most of its problems come from sedimentary run-off from the land, rather than the ocean itself.

Dr Marshall : Sure. It is a fact that the coral cover on the Barrier Reef reached an all-time low of 11 per cent in 2012, and since that time, in just over two years, we've seen significant regrowth. I think the misconception is that the coral dies when it's bleached. It sometimes does die, but often does not and grows back. But I don't think that was the heart of the comments. Perhaps you mean more around the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm interested to know what you intended to say, because this is your opportunity to put the view as to what your intentions were. That's all I'm putting to you at this stage.

Dr Marshall : It's much easier if you ask me a question.

Senator KIM CARR: If you prefer that. If that's all you want to say, okay. Professor Steffen said that your comments were 'not just extremely misleading; they are simply wrong'. He said:

First, Marshall claims that poor water quality was the main reason for the recent devastating and unprecedented bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017. However, authoritative scientific evidence shows that the primary cause was very high surface water temperatures as a result of intensifying climate change. Such temperatures could occur every two years by the mid-2030s if climate change continues unabated.

And he saw your comments as essentially supporting the government's position. He said:

Addressing water quality is just a bandaid solution that is only useful if we also tackle climate change, the root cause of coral bleaching. Yet Australia's greenhouse gas pollution levels continue to rise (by 0.8% the past year) without credible federal climate policy in place.

He's basically fairly sharply contradicting the proposition that you have put, Dr Marshall. I'm wondering what the evidence is that you're drawing upon that would suggest that Professor Steffen is wrong?

Dr Marshall : According to the published data by the National Science Foundation in the United States, by AIMS and by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, water quality, crown-of-thorns starfish—by the way, water quality, sedimentary run-off and crown-of-thorns are all interrelated—and cyclones have historically been the primary threat to the reduction of coral cover, the primary cause of the reduction of coral cover. Specifically, they have been 90 per cent of the cause of the coral reduction from 1987 to 2012. In 1987 the coral cover was measured to be 25 per cent. It reduced to 11 per cent, less than half, by 2012. That's the published data. So I'm not sure what Mr Steffen is referring to, but I can send you a copy of the National Science Foundation definitive work on the subject.

Senator KIM CARR: That's the point of demarcation here. Were you involved in the announcement the government made on reef restoration on 22 January?

Dr Marshall : Not in the announcement, no.

Senator KIM CARR: What involvement did you have?

Dr Marshall : One of CSIRO's primary purposes is to provide the best quality scientific advice to the government, including on environmental issues—particularly issues like the Great Barrier Reef.

Senator KIM CARR: CSIRO provided advice to the government to support that announcement in January. Is that the proposition?

Dr Mayfield : I was present at that launch, representing CSIRO. Prior to that, we had been involved in a range of scoping exercises with a consortium of research providers who work on the Great Barrier Reef and had been part of the scoping to bring together that $6 million RRAP.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Marshall, were you involved in the announcement on 29 April with the foreign minister concerning the reef?

Dr Marshall : I don't believe so.

Senator KIM CARR: Who from CSIRO was involved in that one?

Dr Mayfield : I wasn't present at that announcement.

Senator KIM CARR: Was CSIRO snubbed?

Dr Mayfield : CSIRO's been working on the RRAP, and that was obviously one of the aspects that was announced on the day. So we have been working towards the scoping of that exercise. That's been our role on that to date.

Senator KIM CARR: How does that announcement relate to the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program—is that the RRAP you are talking about?

Dr Mayfield : Yes. In that announcement there was $100 million as part of that funding announcement, which relates to the next stage of the RRAP once the scoping is complete.

Senator KIM CARR: In terms of the funding to the reef foundation itself, how much of that money do you secure?

Dr Mayfield : At this point in time, we are working on the $6 million project. The $6 million is the total scoping project for the RRAP, which runs through to the middle of next year. We're working on it as part of a consortium, so we don't receive the full $6 million. But, as that collaborative research group working forward, we expect that the outcomes of that scoping exercise will inform investment in the future.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. It was just under $500 million for the foundation, wasn't it?

Dr Mayfield : I believe it is $446 million.

Senator KIM CARR: You get $6 million?

Dr Mayfield : No. We're currently working on the scoping project for $6 million. The actual deployment of the other dollars is I guess something for the future. I can't speculate as to what level of funding CSIRO—

Senator KIM CARR: Nothing's been allocated to CSIRO?

Dr Mayfield : Nothing's been allocated to anybody at this point in time.

Senator KIM CARR: And you said there was another hundred million. What's that for?

Dr Mayfield : As part of that announcement, I believe there was $201 million allocated towards water quality, $58 million towards COTS management, $40 million to reef health monitoring, $45 million on Indigenous and $100 million provisioned for reef restoration and adaptation.

Senator KIM CARR: If we can turn to the foundation itself, it's a grant of $446 million?

Dr Mayfield : Four hundred and forty-six million is what was in the announcement that I saw, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you have any information about that grant?

Dr Mayfield : There's the breakdown as I've explained it, but at this point in time I don't have any more particular details on it, no.

Senator KIM CARR: In terms of working in this area, what is the CSIRO's capacity on reef science?

Dr Mayfield : CSIRO has had a long history of working in reef science and we have capability that stretches all the way from doing land management, which leads to management of run-off and sediment as well as pesticides, herbicides, and that leads to water quality work. We do modelling for the reef which looks at the movement of all these different materials around the reef and their impact. We also do social licence work, so engagement with the community. We do some level of coral ecology—so quite a range of different activity.

Senator KIM CARR: So right across the spectrum.

Dr Mayfield : A fairly broad range of activity, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Not as broad as AIMS perhaps?

Dr Mayfield : AIMS have particular expertise in the coral ecology aspects of that. They have a strength there which we would not have. We complement their capabilities.

Senator KIM CARR: But significant, you'd have to say.

Dr Mayfield : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: What about in terms of managing large grants—do you have much experience there?

Dr Mayfield : CSIRO from time to time manages large programs of work, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you have any staff that have been seconded to the foundation?

Dr Mayfield : At this point in time, no.

Dr Marshall : We have offered to second a member of staff to the foundation.

Senator KIM CARR: I just can't quite work out how this money is going to be spent. A big dob of money is handed out to a private foundation, and they work out what they want to do with it—is that how it works?

Dr Marshall : The foundation has been funding various projects on the reef for some time. I think you might be familiar with the very famous eReefs project that CSIRO delivered.

Senator KIM CARR: But how many of them have got $446 million out of the public purse for a private foundation?

Dr Marshall : Generally those projects would be smaller in nature.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, considerably smaller, and they normally involve public research agencies that have established and substantial history and capability in that area—specific expertise. I'm just wondering what the foundation's specific expertise is, apart from having a number of businessmen that are obviously interested in public good. But what particular expertise do they have?

Dr Marshall : There's an expert advisory panel with representatives from CSIRO, AIMS, GBRMPA and various other agencies and universities that support the reef.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you been involved with the foundation?

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: How have you been involved?

Dr Marshall : I sit on that panel with—

Senator KIM CARR: I see. You're part of the expertise then, are you?

Dr Marshall : Me, John Gunn and now Paul Hardisty, Russell Reichelt.

Senator KIM CARR: In what capacity?

Dr Marshall : As Chief Executive of CSIRO.

Senator KIM CARR: So you were consulted about the grant, were you?

Dr Marshall : No.

Senator KIM CARR: Were you consulted about how the money should be spent?

Dr Marshall : I think that's sort of the next phase of the project, and I'm sure we will be consulted about that.

Senator KIM CARR: I've watched CSIRO for quite a while now, and I had this funny idea that, as a public research agency, you argue the case in terms of an investment strategy based on what I presume has always been a rigorous scientific allocation process—peer review.

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: That's how you work?

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm wondering how that process fits with this grant. You just get a big lob of dough arrive just before the budget. Is that how it works? Where else does it occur like that in our research community? This is unprecedented, isn't it? You're on the expert panel. You must know. You must have been able to say, 'Yes, this has happened several times; this is how we operate.'

Dr Marshall : Historically, there have been various philanthropic donations to the foundation.

Senator KIM CARR: This is not a philanthropic donation. This is public money from the Commonwealth of Australia to a group of businessmen. I'm wondering what the precedent for this is. Dr Marshall, can you help me here? In CSIRO's history, give me an example of where that's happened before? Hundreds of millions of dollars handed out like this. What, friends of the Prime Minister? How does it work?

Senator Cash: Senator Carr, I don't think these are appropriate questions to put to the witnesses. As you would be aware, this is actually—

Senator KIM CARR: He's on the expert review panel—

Senator Cash: a decision for the minister for the environment, which is Minister Frydenberg. It might be more appropriate that you put those questions to him.

Senator KIM CARR: Okay. Minister, perhaps you can tell me how this non-profit foundation is able to duplicate the rigorous scientific allocation process that the CSIRO would normally operate for its investment strategy?

Senator Cash: As I said, this is in the purview of Minister Frydenberg. Those questions are more appropriately put to him.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. As the minister for innovation, it hasn't occurred to you to actually ask a few questions about this matter?

Senator Cash: I'm actually delighted by the investment that the government is making in the Great Barrier Reef, for so many reasons—in particular, as the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, it is one of our greatest economic assets. We need to protect the 64,000 jobs that are currently reliant upon the Great Barrier Reef, and that is exactly what we are doing. As you know, the reef is a critical national asset. It provides $6.4 billion a year to the Queensland and Australian economies, and the government is very proud of its investment in the Great Barrier Reef.

Senator KIM CARR: That's right; good. Dr Marshall, regarding this chairman's panel of the foundation, what's the purpose of the panel?

Dr Marshall : To give advice to the board of the foundation, and also to review certain proposals for projects and proposals for funding.

Senator KIM CARR: How often does it meet?

Dr Marshall : Usually twice a year, although there are many phone calls and emails, that sort of thing, during the course of the year. But physically, in person, it is twice a year.

Senator KIM CARR: So it's a bit informal?

Dr Marshall : Well, it's not a board, so it's not as formal as a board.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm talking about the expert panel. The chairman's panel.

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: So it would be a very informal sort of arrangement?

Dr Marshall : It's less formal than a board, but there are formal presentations, there are formal reviews—

Senator KIM CARR: Obviously this is a new form of public administration. If you're handing out $446 million, you'd want to make it informal, wouldn't you? I mean, amongst friends, you just have a bit of a chat.

Senator Cash: I don't think that was the evidence of Dr Marshall, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you make recommendations to the board? Or do you just ring up and have a chat?

Dr Marshall : That part, I would say, can be quite rigorous, but it's not as formal as a board.

Senator KIM CARR: How many meetings have you attended, Dr Marshall?

Dr Marshall : I have been on the panel since 2015, since I started as chief executive of CSIRO. I have been to every meeting.

Senator KIM CARR: You've had two a year? You've been to each of the meetings?

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: When did you find out about this money that is going to come through the system?

Dr Marshall : Probably the weekend before the announcement.

Senator KIM CARR: What was the form of discovery? The weekend before? This is before the announcement?

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: It was before a public announcement that you were told, were you?

Dr Marshall : There was a rumour that I heard.

Senator KIM CARR: A rumour! Well, we are informal, aren't we? Normal budgetary processes. Thanks, Dr Marshall.

Senator RHIANNON: I wanted to ask questions about the gene drive work that you're undertaking at the present time. How much is the CSIRO being funded by the US military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as part of the genetic biocontrol of invasive rodents?

Dr Marshall : I will bring up Dr Steele to address that.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I'm referring, obviously, to the project to develop gene drive mice.

Dr Steele : I understand the project you're referring to, which has the acronym GBIRd. It's less than $100,000.

Senator RHIANNON: Less than $100,000?

Dr Steele : That was my answer, Senator.

Senator RHIANNON: Wasn't there a grant of $6.4 million that was split between CSIRO and various universities?

Dr Steele : The answer I have given you is the funds that are coming to CSIRO.

Senator RHIANNON: So that's $100,000 out of the $6.4 million?

Dr Steele : The correct answer.

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, when you say 'correct answer', was the answer to my question yes?

Dr Steele : It's publicly on the record that a figure of more than $6 million—I believe that was US dollars—has been granted by a US government agency to a US university. CSIRO is a subcontractor for a small and specific part of that project, and my answer first was given.

Senator RHIANNON: So it's $100,000 of the $6 million plus.

Dr Steele : That's correct at this point in time.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Dr Steele : Sorry, just to be clear, I said 'less than'.

Senator RHIANNON: Less than. I understand the GBIRd project is seeking funding from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. Is that correct?

Dr Steele : Are you referring to the US government entity called DARPA?

Senator RHIANNON: Well, there's DARPA and there's IARPA, I've found. DARPA we dealt with in the previous question. I understand you are seeking funding from the CIA via the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. I'm trying to understand if that's correct.

Dr Steele : I guess your question is directed as to whether CSIRO understands that that's what's going on by the research collaborators. I'm not aware. I have not heard that mentioned to me in any way, shape or form. I have no reason to give any credence to the question.

Senator RHIANNON: It sounds like maybe it would be best if you took it on notice, because you're not actually ruling it out.

Dr Steele : I'm happy to take it on notice, but I would not want to mislead you at this point in time to give you the impression that I believe there is any credibility to it.

Senator RHIANNON: To be clear what's going on notice: how much funding has GBIRd sought from IARPA, and how much would be coming to CSIRO? Please detail what these funds are intended to be used for.

Dr Steele : Senator, the question I'm prepared to take on notice is: what is CSIRO's knowledge in relation to any of this?

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that we can ask questions and you take them on notice.

Dr Steele : Indeed, Senator, and that's what I'm doing. But I'm being clear about the fact that what we will answer is: what is CSIRO's knowledge?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Dr Steele : Just to put that in context, this is a multicountry, multiparty collaboration, predominantly located in the US. I would not want to lead you to believe that CSIRO is a spokesperson and able to give you the full details of that. I'm very happy to be transparent about what we know.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for clarifying that. Freedom of information documents reveal that CSIRO scientists have been—this is from one of the documents, on page 13 of the freedom of information document—'spruiking the rodent gene drive technologies to various government agencies and other stakeholders'. Would you agree that CSIRO has a serious potential conflict of interest if it is promoting rodent gene drives whilst being tasked with conducting a risk assessment on them at the same time?

Dr Steele : I'm familiar with the background you're talking about. I believe that the question you have asked relates to the fact that least one CSIRO collaborator from offshore—in relation to a completely different project—asked the question as to whether or not the group in CSIRO which conducts risk assessments felt that there was a conflict of interest because other parts of CSIRO were involved in projects using the new technology called gene drive. That's the context in which this assertion that I have seen came up. And the response that was made by CSIRO to that other research collaborator made the point that the way in which we conduct our research in that particular area of CSIRO does not have any direct connection to any other part of CSIRO in relation to promoting gene drive technology. It is a part of CSIRO that conducts risk assessments—including, by the way, risk assessments about new technologies like gene drive technology and potential applications. And we maintain that part of CSIRO conducting its activity, in essence, in a Chinese-wall arrangement.

But there is a second point to make here, which is that the use of this technology that has been talked about in projects like the GBIRd project is looking for new technologies to do projects that I'm going to describe to you, Senator, as basically being public-good projects. They are not fundamentally commercial in nature; they are to deliver things like new strategies to improve maintenance of the diversity of the bioflora et cetera.

So it's true to say that it's possible to make assertions and make up a speculative argument as to whether or not there is a potential conflict of interest. Obviously, all of those things need to be addressed, both in the way in which we conduct research and also in the public debate about CSIRO's credibility. But it's so easy to make a slur, Senator, and we really need to be very careful about how we take the accusations that are made about CSIRO and explore them in depth. And that is what we do.

Senator RHIANNON: I don't think it is fair to say that it was a slur. I think the questions that I am asking are in keeping with the approach that I think you were just trying to develop there, that there needs to be transparency here. Clearly, there could be a belief that there is a conflict of interest when the regulator and the investigations are within the same body. I take how you've explained it, but I don't think it's fair to be saying that it's a slur. You use—

Dr Steele : If I can respond to that? Thank you. It is a very appropriate point to make. I wasn't saying that those particular assertions were a slur, but this is an area of quite a bit of animation. It is one of those situations where there are both well-considered thought patterns and also quite animated thought patterns, and all of those need to be addressed.

One other point of clarification, on the way in which you described the last bit of your commentary: it's useful to remember that we are not actually the regulator at the end of the day. All of these activities are subject to independent regulation by other bodies, albeit ones who, on occasion, also take technical advice from research agencies, including CSIRO, universities et cetera.

Senator RHIANNON: When you first started answering the question you spoke about another research collaborator. Were you referring then to the quote that I gave about spruiking the rodent gene drive? Are you suggesting that this comes from this other research collaborator?

Dr Steele : I was referring to the fact that questions as to whether or not there have been conflicts of interests were raised with CSIRO scientists, but they were raised by other research collaborators in other projects. The reason I talked about that was that the language in which you raised the question referenced FOI material. That is FOI material that has come out of US sources, and I'm pretty certain that is what you were referring to, Senator.

Senator RHIANNON: Just sticking with some of the FOI documents: they reveal that the GBIRd has identified six potential offshore islands in Western Australia for the potential release of gene drive mice. How many of these islands meet GBIRd's selection criteria of being closed to the public?

Dr Steele : I am familiar with them—but I admit that it's not since February that I have reread them—and I'm pretty certain I remember the references that you are referring to. I think a more accurate description of what the FOI material refers to is that it names approximately six islands, and I believe that they are off the coast of Western Australia, as islands to be looked at to see whether or not any of those were suitable islands for which there was, shall we say, the potential to be used as an experimental base.

You've now asked a question as to whether or not any of those have been validated for the purpose of that, and I'm going to take that question on notice to the extent it is known by CSIRO. But I'm going to make the point that the FOI material was talking about exchanges with other Australian players, not just CSIRO, and I'm not at all certain in my mind, as I sit here now, that it's CSIRO who's doing the determination as to whether or not they qualify against the GBIRd criteria. I'm pretty certain that would be done in any case by agencies of the Western Australian government.

Senator RHIANNON: I was hoping you would be able to provide more information on this and that you wouldn't need to take it on notice, but I will take it a bit further. On page 34 of this FOI material, you get the impression, very clearly, that all islands are now about to be involved. So the question is: why did GBIRd decide to 'move forward on all six islands'? I understand that they don't actually meet the selection criteria.

Dr Steele : I have several comments in response. The first one is: my recollection of the amount of FOI material is that it was quite extensive. I appreciate and thank you for the help with page 34, but I'm marrying that up against a folder which was around about two inches thick in my brain. I go back to the answer I gave to the last question, which is to say that I'm not at all certain that we're in a position where the islands have been tested against the criteria that the GBIRd project collaboration had established for suitable islands, so I can't validate whether they've passed the test or not, which is an assumption that was in your question. And I'm not aware at all of any decision having been made to proceed with any specific island in relation to that.

Senator RHIANNON: Well, the quote that I shared with you would suggest otherwise, so, if you could provide details, it would be useful.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I am conscious of the time. Do you have many more questions? I did promise Senator Patrick that he could have a crack before the break, which was supposed to be a couple of minutes ago, but we can make it 9.15.

Senator RHIANNON: Can I have a couple more?

Senator PATRICK: Yes, I can come back after the break.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, thank you, Senator Patrick. Has GBIRd established whether there are mice on Browse Island? To help your memory, on page 35 of this document it says they hadn't as of September last year, which is when that was reported. They didn't report there were any mice there then.

Dr Steele : What I'm going to take on notice, because I certainly can't answer a question that specific at this point in time, is whether or not CSIRO has any information that is relevant to the question that you've just asked.

Senator RHIANNON: To assist with that question and to inform the hearing, could you take on notice tooo provide the survey report, the species list and the survey methodologies.

Dr Steele : With the same qualification I have just made, yes, I'll take the question on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: CSIRO has publicly stated:

… if traditional methods are not feasible, such as the use of poison baits, are we willing to risk extinction of the seabirds?

I was surprised to read that because it really sounded quite suggestive; the word 'manipulative' was mentioned to me, but I won't use that word. I'm a keen birdwatcher, particularly of marine bids. Maybe I'm wrong on this—maybe the mice are eating the birds' eggs, but what's the evidence CSIRO has that the mice are driving the seabirds towards extinction?

Dr Steele : Where are we talking about?

Senator RHIANNON: Still these islands off Western Australia.

Dr Steele : I'm going to take your question on notice, noting that the first question we will answer in our own minds, in attempting to respond, is whether or not we believe that the question has a foundation.

Senator RHIANNON: Did CSIRO instigate the Australian Academy of Science's report on gene drives?

Dr Steele : It is the case that some CSIRO scientists who are learned in their field have, together with other learned scientists in Australia, contributed to the development of the report on gene drive—actually, I don't remember whether it is a report on synthetic biology, but certainly it has a large component in relation to gene drive—that has been published recently by the Australian Academy of Science. I am not quite sure that I can satisfy you, one way or the other, about the verb that you have used in your question, Senator, but we certainly have scientists who were involved.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that the three co-authors of the report worked directly for CSIRO on the GBIRd project. Why wasn't that mentioned in the report and the media release?

Dr Steele : There are several points of additional information here. It is certainly true that there were CSIRO scientists who contributed to the Academy of Science report. The way you phrased the question made it sound as though you thought all the authors of the academy report were from CSIRO and, further, that they were all involved in the GBIRd project. That is certainly not the case. The—

Senator RHIANNON: The question was: why wasn't it mentioned? Normally you would mention it.

Dr Steele : I am getting there. The release of the report was done by the Academy of Science. I have seen documentation that suggested that the nature of the publication of the report was something that some of our scientists who had been authors of the report knew was coming up. But, as best I know, as to the way in which it was actually communicated that the report was being put out, that was done by the Academy of Science. I don't know that I can give you an answer to your question, because it was done by the academy.

Senator RHIANNON: Who funded the report?

Dr Steele : The Academy of Science report would have been funded by the Academy of Science.

Senator RHIANNON: You are confident of that, you don't need to take it on notice?

Dr Steele : No. I'm quite happy with that answer.

Senator RHIANNON: From 11 to 15 September last year CSIRO co-hosted a conference aimed at 'identifying synthetic biology solutions to conservation problems caused by environmental change'. Who funded that conference?

Dr Steele : As with other activities that CSIRO conducts from time to time, when we conduct scientific conferences there is usually funding from CSIRO involved in that. I can't tell you whether there were any other funding sources involved but certainly there would have been CSIRO support for it.

Senator RHIANNON: The emphasis is on solutions to conservation problems caused by environmental change. It is widely recognised that the drivers of ecological system collapse and species extinction are land-clearing and the overexploitation of native wildlife. Were those issues discussed at the conference?

Dr Steele : I wasn't at the conference. The best I can do for you is see if we can find a copy of the agenda or any proceedings that came out of the conference. I am not aware that there was any publication of the proceedings of the conference. I will take on notice whether there are any documents to give you any indication.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. How much was spent on that conference?

Dr Steele : I will take on notice—

Senator RHIANNON: Could you just take the question on notice.

Dr Steele : Senator, stay with me for a moment please. I will take on notice finding out whether there is any separate identification of the cost of the conference. If we can find that information, I am happy to do that.

Senator RHIANNON: According to other FOI documents, CSIRO ran a gene drive workshop followed by a regulatory meeting on July 26. Who attended the regulatory meeting?

Dr Steele : When you say 'regulatory meeting' what are you referring to?

Senator RHIANNON: I am just going on what was in the FOI documents, and it was described in that way. I am assuming it is a meeting about regulations for these new developments that CSIRO is working on.

Dr Steele : If you are prepared to identify the specific document out of the US FOI that is being referred to there—not necessarily now; I am happy if you provide that to the secretary of the committee later—we will see what we can find out in answer to that question on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I do think I gave you enough information, because you haven't denied that there was a gene drive workshop last year followed by a regulatory meeting. I'm just asking for details of that and who attended that second meeting.

Dr Steele : I was actually looking for any further particulars that you could give me, just to make sure I was answering precisely the question you are asking.

Senator RHIANNON: I am still asking for it on notice. Could you also take on notice what the agenda of the meeting was.

Dr Steele : To the extent that I'm able to confirm to myself that I've identified the correct meeting, I'm certainly happy to answer that question on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: And also the minutes from the meeting. I am asking for that because—you use the words 'slur' et cetera; I am not an enemy here—transparency is incredibly important. There is angst among the public about this. That's why we're getting queries about it and I need to ask the question. I think transparency is so important.

Dr Steele : I absolutely agree with your point. Just to be clear: the public debate about this is both informed and uninformed, which does add to the importance of transparency, clarity and public debate about it on well-formed facts. I am very happy to provide answers to these questions that way. But my point is that it is a constructive dialogue when it is factually based and there is some willingness among the dialogue parties to actually accept that there could be a number of different perspectives taken.

Senator RHIANNON: Has CSIRO already commenced research developing gene drive mosquitoes?

Dr Steele : I will take that question on notice. I am not aware that we have, but I am very happy to correct the record if it turns out that we have.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that you have notified the OGTR that you have. But I forgot to look up OGTR, so I will have to end it there.

Proceedings suspended from 21:16 to 21:30

CHAIR: The committee will now resume. Before we begin, I should have asked Dr Marshall if you wish to table your opening statement. That's done. Senator Patrick?

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. I want to ask some questions about lithium batteries. I know CSIRO does some stuff on that. Do I need an expert?

Dr Mayfield : I can try and answer those questions for you.

Senator PATRICK: Fantastic. I have been reading this report on the lithium industry in Australia by the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, and I've been running around like the Duracell bunny ever since. It's pretty interesting technology, disruptive technology in a number of senses. We, as we always do, have a lot of lithium in the ground, and we're shipping it overseas where all the value-adding takes place. We are doing some—the second stage of processing is being planned for Kwinana. There is some lithium activity going on around the country. It's pretty exciting stuff. I'm wondering what CSIRO's doing in this space?

Dr Mayfield : With regard to lithium batteries, we have a number of things happening. With respect to some of the effort you're talking about in Western Australia, where there are spodumene deposits and there are technologies that are evolving, we have conducted some pilot plant work for some junior companies.

Senator PATRICK: Is that the stuff with ARENA? Or the Clean Energy Finance Corporation?

Dr Mayfield : I don't believe so. This was with a junior mining company, looking at trying to process the materials. They may have had some CEFC funding, but I'm not aware of it. I would have to check that.

Senator PATRICK: I know you're doing ultrabatteries.

Dr Mayfield : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: I think you've done some lithium work with an Adelaide company, PMB Defence, I think. Is there any other stuff you're doing in that lithium space?

Dr Mayfield : The UltraBattery that you mentioned, which is a CSIRO invention, is a lead acid technology. We did that in the last 10 years. That's in commercial production. In terms of lithium batteries, we have done research around novel lithium chemistries, so new chemistries involving sulphur and oxygen, which is probably the next generation of batteries, but we haven't had any great success. That effort has probably been wound back. We have done some work with batteries with regard to military applications. I'm not that familiar with the specifics of that. I couldn't answer your question too directly. Most of our work these days is more about how you integrate these batteries into energy systems. That's where our efforts are primarily.

Senator PATRICK: Obviously there are multiple stages, the third one being electrochemical, and then development of anodes and cathodes and the like, and through to construction of batteries. At each stage significant, almost order-of-magnitude differences in value-add takes place, which is why I think it's very interesting with that technology—I imagine the UltraBattery is under threat from lithium because of the energy density, I would have thought?

Dr Mayfield : The energy density is definitely higher in a lithium-ion battery system. In terms of the applications, that does have other problems in that some of the electrolytes used are flammable. Not in every lithium-ion battery, but in the majority. There is a balance.

Senator PATRICK: That was the Samsung problem, wasn't it?

Dr Mayfield : That's part of it, yes. You get to a certain temperature and you get a thermal runaway and it will cash fire. So managing battery temperature is really important. Each battery type has certain attributes. Lead acid has a very good recyclable nature to it, and there is an existing industry around that. It has advantages in that respect. But it has a lot more weight for the amount available power, so for vehicles maybe it's not the best option. Metal hydride batteries have been looked at in that space, as well as lithium-ion batteries. Each battery is trying to find its place in the market in terms of its strengths and weaknesses at this point in time.

Senator PATRICK: On notice, could you touch on the research you're doing across that space?

Dr Mayfield : Yes. We are doing research, everything from how you process lithium, some battery chemistries, integration of batteries, and also, ultimately, some minor work around how you might recycle some of these batteries.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Marshall, what can you tell me about the industrial relations situation at Tidbinbilla?

Dr Marshall : I'll ask Dr Williams to give you the detail on that, but I take the liberty of mentioning that the team at Tidbinbilla delivered yet another successful launch just after half past midnight on 5 May. It was the latest critical NASA launch. They are remarkable team and they are exemplars of putting NASA and Australia's needs ahead of pretty much everything else.

Dr Williams : On the details, we have concluded negotiations around the new enterprise agreement. It has been agreed by the APSC, so the intention—all parties agreed on this—is now to go to a vote. That vote will take place, and it will conclude on 19 June, on the current schedule.

Senator KIM CARR: So that's when the vote will take place?

Dr Williams : It takes place over a period of a week before that. That is the final day.

Senator KIM CARR: Is there any industrial action at Tidbinbilla at the moment?

Dr Williams : At the moment they still have their overtime ban in place. They have still got their—I wouldn't say weekly, but they still have the right to call one hour walk-outs at a time of their choosing with a week's notice. They're continuing with that. For the most recent launch that Dr Marshall referred to they agreed to go in and cover that launch, which was a night launch, and therefore it was very important that they went in and covered it.

Senator KIM CARR: So there was a full crew on deck?

Dr Williams : There was a full crew on deck for that launch.

Senator KIM CARR: When you say the agreement is concluded, does it have the support of the unions to go to a vote?

Dr Williams : The understanding is all parties—bargaining representatives and CSIRO—have agreed that now is the time it should go to the vote.

Senator KIM CARR: Does that include the unions? Have the unions agreed to that position?

Dr Williams : That's my understanding.

Senator KIM CARR: Has there been any advice provided to the minister in regard to the status of the dispute?

Dr Williams : I cannot answer that. I have not provided any advice. I cannot answer if anyone else has.

Senator KIM CARR: Anyone else?

Dr Marshall : I have.

Senator KIM CARR: When was that?

Dr Marshall : Probably within the last two weeks.

Senator KIM CARR: Have there been upgrades to the facilities to enable the facility to be operated remotely by NASA?

Dr Williams : In the last few years NASA installed new, more powerful antennae for future work. We have also gone to a system called 'follow the sun', which means there are three stations globally, one in Australia, one in Spain and one in California. Each one follows the sun and manages all the satellites that NASA have for the daytime period in their zone—hence the name 'follow the sun'. Previously the satellites were shared between sites and all sites were staffed 24/7. The way the operations are now undertaken has been refined in the last year.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. I want to take you back. You were saying that the agreement has been concluded. Is there an agreement or a pay rise? What's the story? What's the nature of the agreement?

Dr Williams : The nature of the agreement is a classic enterprise agreement, which lists a number of features traditionally, and one of those is the pay rise cycle.

Senator KIM CARR: What's the pay rise?

Dr Williams : The pay rise is an average of two per cent—with three per cent payable on the day that the agreement comes into force, two per cent after 12 months and one per cent after 24 months—over a three-year agreement.

Senator KIM CARR: Are the job delegates recommending a yes vote?

Dr Williams : I do not know. They've not told us what their recommendation is at this point in time, but they've agreed that we're at a point where—

Senator KIM CARR: You said that there was an agreement.

Dr Williams : There is an agreement that we should go to a vote, but they have not told us what they're recommending to their staff and their teams. We don't expect them to.

Senator KIM CARR: In terms of the work with NASA, they've supported a new 25-year agreement; is that right?

Dr Williams : Yes, an agreement between the Australian government and the US government has been signed that puts in place a 25-year agreement to continue this work. Within that agreement NASA is named as the US agency and CSIRO is named as the Australian agency.

Senator KIM CARR: What's involved with this Breakthrough Listen project?

Dr Williams : The breakthrough program is a philanthropic program funded by an American billionaire. It's full scientific backing of senior astronomers around the world. He has agreed to buy time on the Parkes telescope to search for extraterrestrial life. He has also agreed to buy time on other telescopes around the world.

Senator KIM CARR: Who's the person who is funding this?

Dr Williams : I'm trying to remember his name.

Dr Marshall : Yuri Milner.

Senator KIM CARR: So it's a 60-day project; is that right?

Dr Williams : No, it's a five-year project. It's using about 25 per cent of the observing time at Parkes.

Senator KIM CARR: What's the value of that?

Dr Williams : I'll take on notice to give you the exact value.

Dr Marshall : I believe he donated roughly $10 million, but we'll give you the exact number.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. That's extraordinary.

Dr Marshall : It was an extraordinary gift.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. Is it the intention of CSIRO astronomy to move to Lindfield?

Dr Williams : Yes, we are at this moment in time undertaking a review of the Sydney property footprint and the intention is to consolidate effectively onto three sites—the small group at Lucas Heights where they need special facilities, a bigger group at the ATP centre in Sydney where the Data61 main team are and the remainder on the Lindfield site—before closing down both the North Ryde site and the Marsfield site.

Senator KIM CARR: So is that dependent on budget?

Ms Bennett : That was approved in the May budget.

Senator KIM CARR: The last budget?

Ms Bennett : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: How much was provided for that?

Ms Bennett : It's part of CSIRO's self-funded property plan. We were given approval for $112.6 million in total, being $112.1 million over the forward estimates.

Senator KIM CARR: You say it's self-funded. So that's asset sales, is it?

Ms Bennett : Yes, through other property divestment.

Senator KIM CARR: What's the length of time you said you have to finance the project?

Ms Bennett : That will take just over four years, so it moves into the first year beyond forward estimates.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. I want to turn to the Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong. Were you able to secure additional moneys for that?

Ms Bennett : Again, that is part of CSIRO's self-funded property plan.

Senator KIM CARR: This is another self-funded project?

Ms Bennett : Indeed. There is $218 million in total and $105.9 million over the forward estimates.

Senator KIM CARR: Which properties are you selling?

Ms Bennett : Within the plan CSIRO will divest the properties at Marsfield and the property at Parkville. We will receive funds from the divestment of Ginninderra, and there will be further contribution from CSIRO's capital budget.

Senator KIM CARR: You said Ginninderra. What's the situation with Ginninderra?

Ms Bennett : Ginninderra was on the market in a tender. CSIRO has ceased the evaluation. In March 2018 we set aside the RFP process, as we determined that it would have limited flow-on benefits to the Commonwealth. We are opting to revise the procurement process through a new RFP and that should go out to the market in July.

Senator KIM CARR: There were some reports concerning some probity issues on that site. Have they been resolved?

Ms Bennett : I'm not aware of any probity issues on the Ginninderra site.

Senator KIM CARR: You're not aware of them?

Ms Bennett : All through the procurement process, CSIRO has been advised by external probity advisers and we have no issues.

Senator KIM CARR: You're saying you're not aware of any probity problems regarding Ginninderra? You're not aware of the public reports of last year?

Ms Bennett : No reports have been made to CSIRO. CSIRO has not identified any issues with the probity of the Ginninderra tender.

Senator KIM CARR: There were some media reports, though, were there not?

Ms Bennett : There was media.

Senator KIM CARR: Let me just get this straight. Let me see if I can find that report. The upshot is you investigated the media report and you found there was nothing in it. Is that the thrust of the evidence?

Ms Bennett : Yes. In the main, I would say that the media report was making some linkage between an issue of inappropriate expenditure by a former staff member and the market approach. CSIRO went out to market with an RFP in July 2017. The staff member had nothing to do with that final market approach.

Senator KIM CARR: With regard to the North Ryde site, are you selling both North Ryde and Marsfield?

Ms Bennett : North Ryde is a leased site and the lease expires in December 2021.

Senator KIM CARR: Okay. The budget papers refer to property sales and the existing resources—that's page 205, Budget Paper No. 2. What are the existing resources, other than property sales?

Mr Munyard : The existing resources are that CSIRO will use some of its departmental capital budget and reallocate that money to this project.

Senator KIM CARR: What's the capital budget?

Mr Munyard : Capital budget varies from year to year. For example, in 2018-19 our departmental capital budget—

Senator KIM CARR: What page is that on?

Mr Munyard : It will be on page 132 of the Industry portfolio budget statements. Our capital budget for that year is a total of $131.1 million.

Senator KIM CARR: You have allocated $200 million for the health laboratories, is that right?

Mr Munyard : It's $218 million.

Senator KIM CARR: Over what length of time is that?

Mr Munyard : We anticipate completion in the 2025-26 financial year. It will be about an eight-year project.

Senator KIM CARR: That's the full upgrade, is it?

Mr Munyard : It's a refurbishment.

Senator KIM CARR: The mid-life refurbishment?

Mr Munyard : It's the third-of-life, 33-year upgrade.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. Dr Marshall, in the past the Animal Health Laboratory has received NCRIS money.

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you surprised that you're not receiving it now? Why shouldn't this be funded out of NCRIS? It's a national facility—national infrastructure.

Ms Weston : We need to take that on notice because my recollection is that it was only a very small amount, not a large—

Ms Bennett : Correct. Only a small amount of capital has been received from NCRIS. Most of the original funding of the AAHL was by the government but not through NCRIS. It predated NCRIS. Subsequently, there have been other capital upgrades—a small amount through NCRIS and other amounts put forward by CSIRO.

Senator KIM CARR: Okay. Perhaps my memory is incorrect and it's only a small amount, but the principle remains the same. This is a national facility. This is a biosecurity facility for the whole nation. Why is the CSIRO required to fund that project when you are custodian of the project? Why are you required to fund it from your own resources? Is that not a question for you? Ms Weston, what's the answer to that question?

Ms Weston : As Ms Bennett has mentioned, it does predate NCRIS. There was a funding agreement for Agriculture and CSIRO to be the funders of that, as I recall.

Dr Williams : And that agreement called for the costs of operations to be shared between what is now Agriculture and Water Resources.

Senator KIM CARR: How much is Agriculture putting into this revamp?

Dr Williams : Well, let me finish. When it was created, the original agreement on the operations and running of AAHL was that the cost of operations would be shared between the department and CSIRO and that CSIRO would be responsible for the capital maintenance.

Senator KIM CARR: Which department are we talking about?

Dr Williams : Currently, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Senator KIM CARR: How much money is the department of agriculture putting into the refurbishment?

Dr Williams : They're not putting anything in because the original agreement said that CSIRO would look after the capital refurbishment.

Senator KIM CARR: Forever?

Dr Williams : When the Animal Health Lab was established, that was in the original agreement to establish it.

Senator KIM CARR: What year was that? That's a dangerous question, I'm sure.

Dr Williams : It was 30-something years ago, I think.

Senator KIM CARR: What was that?

Dr Williams : I don't know the exact year off the top of my head, but it would be 30 or 35 years ago.

Senator KIM CARR: Maybe it was not so dangerous a question! I think the principle, nonetheless, does require further inquiry.

Ms Bennett : The funding decision was in 1984.

Senator KIM CARR: The point remains, though, that it should be a whole-of-government expenditure, surely. It's a whole-of-government responsibility. That doesn't cut any ice with the central agency—is that what you're saying?

Ms Weston : My colleagues have shown me that the NCRIS quantum is in the vicinity of just over $3 million.

Senator KIM CARR: Okay, but the principle's the same. Whether it's $3 million or $118 million, it's a national facility, the same as the boat—a national facility. It should be funded, surely, through infrastructure money.

Dr Williams : All I can say to that is this is funded through taxpayers' money from the government and—

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, thanks very much—

Dr Williams : the way in which it's delivered is a second-order issue, in many respects.

Senator KIM CARR: Who do I ask that question—why it's not funded through national infrastructure funding?

Ms Weston : We can take that on notice and see what we can find out for you.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. Dr Marshall, you mentioned in your opening statement that you've managed to reduce the redundancies for manufacturing—the headcount number—and minerals. What's happened with fabrication engineering? Are they down as well?

Dr Marshall : I'll hand you over to our chief scientist, Dr Anita Hill, a recent fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

Senator KIM CARR: Well, congratulations!

Dr Hill : Thank you. Could you repeat the question?

Senator KIM CARR: The CEO has indicated that the number of redundancies in manufacturing is now at 23 and in minerals the number of redundancies is at 32. What's the situation in regard to the fabrication engineering team? Are there a number of redundancies there?

Dr Hill : Bear with me while I find that information.

Dr Marshall : Senator, if you want to go to specific programs—

Senator KIM CARR: I'm really interested in sites. I have asked you a previous question, AI59. You said the headcount for manufacturing business unit fell from 414 to 391. Is that still the case? I've probably made it a bit difficult if Dr Hill's looking for the answer to my last question.

Dr Hill : And I cannot find fabrication engineering, so let me take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Well, tell me this: is the manufacturing business unit headcount to fall from 414 to 391?

Dr Hill : Yes, 391 is the correct number.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Does that mean that there's change in the various teams as a result of that change? Can you give me a rundown on how that's ricocheted through the system?

Mr Heldt : Question A159 referred to expectations of the impact on the manufacturing business unit at the end of the program, and referring in addition there to question 2 about 391. The figures Dr Marshall referred to are slightly less than that. We would expect that, at the end of the program, that 391 as at today would increase slightly.

Senator KIM CARR: What is it today?

Mr Heldt : I don't have Dr Marshall's opening numbers in front of me.

Senator KIM CARR: Well, he did say that in manufacturing forecast redundancies were being managed to a lesser number of 23.

Mr Heldt : In manufacturing we were originally expecting approximately 30—

Senator KIM CARR: Thirty-two?

Mr Heldt : so that 391 headcount we would expect at the end of the program to increase to approximately 398.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. Let me do it another way. How many jobs will be lost at Clayton?

Mr Heldt : What time period?

Senator KIM CARR: Well, at the end of the program—put it that way.

Mr Heldt : If you give me a moment I'll just see what information I have available.

Dr Marshall : As you know, Senator, Clayton is quite a large site, and there are many—

Senator KIM CARR: No, I'm talking about the manufacturing unit.

Mr Heldt : Manufacturing at Clayton is expecting a reduction of a further five.

Senator KIM CARR: At Lindfield?

Mr Heldt : One. These are future redundancies that haven't actually—

Senator KIM CARR: These are further, okay. And at Waurn Ponds, in Geelong?

Mr Heldt : Seven.

Senator KIM CARR: Seven. How many staff in total will be leaving?

Mr Heldt : At the end of March, there were approximately 55.

Senator KIM CARR: Would that be leaving or total?

Mr Heldt : It would be approximately 48 after the seven exits.

Senator KIM CARR: So there will be 48 left.

Mr Heldt : Yes—remaining on the site once those redundancies have been implemented.

Senator KIM CARR: Are there any other business units at Waurn Ponds?

Mr Heldt : Of the 55, 47 people are in the manufacturing business unit.

Senator KIM CARR: So, if you say 48 will be remaining, I take it that 47 are manufacturing. What is the other one person?

Mr Heldt : Of the current 55, approximately 47 are in manufacturing, and the remainder are mainly finance HSE, business development and a number of other functions. The seven redundancies are in the manufacturing area, which would reduce the manufacturing staffing level at Waurn Ponds from 47 currently to approximately 40.

Senator KIM CARR: Forty. Of the 48 left, there are eight in business development and other fields. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Heldt : On the rest of the site, there are two business development staff, one corporate affairs staff, two finance staff, two HSE staff and one strategy staff, so from around the pro-support areas.

Senator KIM CARR: Question on notice No. 59 refers to fabrication and engineering capabilities. Dr Hill, do you see there in the answer, in the first paragraph, it talks about fabrication engineering comprising CSIRO industrial-scale fabrication facilities supporting research through design and design prototyping machines, instruments in assistance for application and research and/or industry. This is A158. That may be easier. If I give you the right number, that will help you a lot. I would like the detail of that. It is obviously quite important to have. It is a relatively new facility. I don't know if you know the history of this. I have taken some interest in this for some time.

Dr Hill : I do.

Senator KIM CARR: Given what happened with the textile labs, can you explain to me what that means for fabrication engineering capabilities to be reduced.

Dr Hill : I will take on notice what is happening to the fabrication and engineering team at Waurn Ponds.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you able to deliver on existing contracts and commitments to other government entities through that site?

Dr Hill : In going through the process of identifying potentially redundant officers, we look at the work that we have planned and we work to be able to deliver to those customers. If we cannot, we contact the customers and give them an indication of why we won't be able to deliver.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Marshall, what does that say to you about your commercial targets, if you can't meet your contracts?

Dr Marshall : As a general rule, CSIRO will always deliver at or above our commitments.

Senator KIM CARR: You would be somewhat surprised though, wouldn't you, if you had to turn down work because you had sacked people?

Dr Marshall : We turn down work for many reasons, not usually because of redundancies. We try to only do those projects that are strategically important for the nation.

Senator KIM CARR: What does this mean, Dr Hill, for the sustainability of the Waurn Ponds CSIRO site?

Dr Hill : The CSIRO site at Waurn Ponds is co-located with Deakin University in the carbon cluster, as you know, which has 400 jobs focused on it, from molecule through to carbon fibre and carbon-fibre part production.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, that's right. There's a major expansion just around the corner, isn't there?

Dr Hill : Absolutely. There are industries there that were start-ups from CSIRO, such as Quickstep, now employing 220 scientists and engineers, exporting globally and doing their global R&D there.

Senator KIM CARR: I know all that.

Dr Hill : I know that you know it.

Senator KIM CARR: Why are you taking people out of site if there's a major expansion about to happen? You would probably be aware better than I about the nature of those new investments going into that site.

Dr Marshall : I believe some of the capability dates back to wool work that CSIRO made famous by reinventing wool and creating Sirospun. It's also some of the work that created Australia's unique recipe for manufacturing carbon fibre. They are similar but different. Going forward, different capabilities will be needed to support those types of new materials. I think what Dr Hill is saying is that the site is in transition because the capability we'll need for the future will be somewhat different.

As you know, CSIRO moves people around quite a lot. We try to relocate impacted staff members into other business units. If we can't do that we try to relocate them into universities that we partner with or, indeed, our customers. Sometimes, unfortunately, we're not successful at those mitigation steps. We're then forced with redundancy.

Senator KIM CARR: My understanding is that we're talking about investments for hundreds of millions of dollars on that site. Is CSIRO not part of that? That's an extraordinary proposition.

Dr Hill : CSIRO is a part of that investment and we're aligning our capabilities with the carbon fibre and carbon-composite future. That doesn't take away anything from the teams and the capability that has delivered in, say, wool.

Senator KIM CARR: I think we'll hear more about this one. What's the story in regard to minerals? Can you give me an update on how many new positions will be created within that business unit?

Dr Mayfield : With regard to minerals, the changes we've been making have been in relation to decreasing our processing capability. We have also been reshaping some of our hard-rock mining capability and then regrowing, primarily into hard rock, different types of capability in hard-rock mining, with our Mining3 venture, and growing capability in our Deep Earth Imaging area, which is discovery exploration.

Senator KIM CARR: How many extra positions do you expect?

Dr Mayfield : We're looking at, nominally, 15 new positions there—sorry, correction. There'll be 25-odd new positions coming in there.

Senator KIM CARR: Can you give me a list of where they're located?

Dr Mayfield : I wouldn't be able to give you a breakdown at this point in time.

Senator KIM CARR: When will that be available?

Dr Mayfield : They're currently working through recruitment. Some have been done and some are yet to be done. I would expect that towards, maybe, the end of quarter 3 we would be complete and could give you an answer at that stage.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. I would like to raise some questions about your collaborations with China. I know that Friends of the Earth have had a crack at you about your collaborations with the United States, so let's get the full gamut here. Who handles the international science collaboration system?

Dr Marshall : We have a group I'd call global that's under Nigel Warren. He isn't here but I can address some of your questions about China.

Senator KIM CARR: Let me see if I can get a grounding of what we can agree on. Has CSIRO been working with the Chinese for 40 years?

Dr Marshall : With the Chinese Academy of Sciences for 40 years, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: I understand that the first visit from the academy was in 1975. Would that be right?

Dr Marshall : That'd be about 40 years ago.

Senator KIM CARR: That’d be correct though, wouldn't it? It goes back that far. You've had partnerships with Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology and jointly funded the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research; is that right?

Dr Marshall : Yes. Much of our collaborative research with the academy is around the mitigation and adaption to environmental change.

Senator KIM CARR: You've been involved with China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation as partner in the rail CRC?

Dr Marshall : Yes and also the National Astronomical Observatory, where we’re helping build the world's biggest radio telescope.

Senator KIM CARR: That's the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope?

Dr Marshall : Yes, and also using geopolymers as an alternative to concrete to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing.

Senator KIM CARR: If you were to put all this together, how much money is involved in the collaborations with universities and research agencies from the People's Republic?

Dr Marshall : The Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology is a $10 million contribution to the national climate centre we established in Hobart.

Senator KIM CARR: All up, what do you reckon—how much?

Dr Marshall : The Thermal Focus partnership, which transferred the heliostat technology and also retrained auto workers to manufacture heliostats in Australia for China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We expect that to be in the tens of millions going forward because of the royalty stream, but it’s early days yet. I’m not sure if we can give you a total figure.

Senator KIM CARR: Will you take that on notice for me?

Dr Marshall : Certainly.

Ms Bennett : Perhaps there's a context. In 2016-17, of the $100 million of global external revenue, approximately $6 million came from Chinese companies just in that one year.

Senator KIM CARR: I've read recent media reports that suggested that there have been some questionable collaborations. On 3 June there was an article in The Guardianheaded'CSIRO cooperation with Chinese defence contractor should raise questions'. According to Danielle Cave, a PhD student at the ANU, and Brendan Thomas-Noone, a research fellow United States Studies Centre, there’s an allegation that in April 2017 a partnership between UTS and Chinese Electronics Group Corporations also raises questions—suggests that the partnership extended to CSIRO and other Australian universities. There’s an allegation that CSIRO first partnered with CETC in 2007 to commercialise wireless technology in China. We’ve had the somewhat colourful explanations by Clive Hamilton and Alex Joske that Australian taxes were helping to finance Chinese military capabilities. With regard to the CETC No. 54 Research Institute for the Square Kilometre Array, the Chinese are a party to the SKA, aren't they?

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: I remember they helped us to put the aerials up.

Ms Bennett : The antennas.

Dr Williams : The antennas for ASKAP came from China.

Senator KIM CARR: That's right, they did. I recall it only too well. They won the contract, didn't they?

Dr Williams : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: It was a tender—I remember that only too well as well. It's been alleged that there is an army of spies operating. Who is responsible for security in CSIRO?

Ms Bennett : I am the executive responsible for security.

Senator KIM CARR: Your new job will be informed by this experience, won't it?

Ms Bennett : Very much so.

Senator KIM CARR: Has the defence department been on to you about this?

Ms Bennett : Not specifically—partly because of quite a bit of the information that you have referred to. I will take one example. You have referenced questions in The Guardian on Friday, 2 June 2017 regarding a relationship between CETC and UTS and, by inference, CSIRO. We were at that point totally unaware that inappropriately and erroneously CSIRO's name was linked to this matter in the media. We had discussions with a former CSIRO employee who was an employee of UTS, and the statement on their website was corrected immediately. That would be one example.

Senator KIM CARR: These are pretty serious allegations. The spooks would have been all over you, surely? I take it that there have been inquiries from them.

Ms Bennett : We remain in close relations with the national security agencies where appropriate but, as I have indicated, that particular example was completely erroneous.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you had any problems with the Australian Research Council in terms of any of your collaborations?

Ms Bennett : Not to my knowledge.

Senator KIM CARR: No? Have there been any suggestions—

Ms Bennett : I'm being advised that we are not aware of any concerns.

Senator KIM CARR: So the security agencies haven't been in touch?

Ms Bennett : As I indicated, we do have and maintain close relationships with a number of the security agencies.

Senator KIM CARR: Of course you do. I should hope so. So you have not had a problem with the Department of Defence in terms of the Defence Trade Controls Act? Has there been any suggestion that you are breaching that?

Ms Bennett : No.

Senator KIM CARR: No difficulties?

Ms Bennett : Dr Williams is more involved in the export act, but to my knowledge, no.

Senator KIM CARR: You've never had a query raised about the Defence Trade Controls Act?

Ms Bennett : I will just consult with my colleague.

Dr Williams : I've no record of anything being raised directly with CSIRO.

Senator KIM CARR: I have been pursuing these matters with a number of agencies because I am concerned about the reputational damage that is done to our research agencies by these sorts of claims.

Ms Bennett : Agreed, Senator. We are very concerned when our name is used in the media.

Senator KIM CARR: I have no doubt that would be the case, and you would have every reason to be. The Australian Research Council has told me there was no incidence of noncompliance with the act. Does that accord with your experience?

Ms Bennett : Yes. We are not aware of any incidents of noncompliance.

Senator KIM CARR: In estimates the other, the Department of Defence gave me exactly the same evidence. Does that accord with your experience?

Ms Bennett : Yes, Senator.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you intending to make a submission to the review of the Defence Trades Control Act?

Ms Bennett : Sorry, Senator; I have been advised that at some point in the past we have had an issue with Defence export but not relating to China. We would have to—

Senator KIM CARR: Oh, who have you had a problem with?

Ms Bennett : I've just been advised with a note. I think we'll have to take the details on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: We do export research materials to a range of countries, don't we?

Ms Bennett : We do science. Senator, that's the only information I have. I don't even know the date. If I may, I will take it on notice and give you the full information.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. But there are a range of collaborations with research materials that have military applications?

Ms Bennett : Indeed.

Senator KIM CARR: And not just the Chinese?

Ms Bennett : Indeed, and we are very aware of our obligations and our scientists are well schooled in—

Senator KIM CARR: And you are saying that you've had one incidence which did not involve the Chinese?

Ms Bennett : I have no personal knowledge; that is the information I have been passed by an officer.

Senator KIM CARR: This is a new development. I'm not aware of this one either.

Ms Bennett : We will get you information on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you making a submission to the review into the Defence Trades Control Act?

Ms Bennett : Senator, may I take a moment to get information or would you like me to take it on notice?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, of course. It is an important matter, and I trust that we get this information right.

Dr Marshall : To clarify the previous comment that you made, we do a lot of work internationally, but not much of it relates to defence. It is more relating to agriculture and environmental work.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Marshall, this is an interesting question about what relates to defence and what doesn't. There is a report that my colleague was drawing attention to before that alleged that the United States security agencies had an interest in your work. This is in the killing of rabbits or something.

Dr Marshall : Senator, as you know, CSIRO is quite experienced in—

Senator KIM CARR: Killing rabbits. Yes, I know.

Dr Marshall : making environmental—myxomatosis was very successful. By the way, it was also erroneously reported around the same date that we were responsible for cane toads. I'll just put on the record that we weren't.

Senator KIM CARR: That's another Defence problem!

Dr Marshall : Nothing to do with us!

Ms Bennett : Senator, my apologies. I was advised that we are not making an independent submission but we will be contributing—

Senator KIM CARR: Through the department.

Ms Bennett : through the department, correct.

Senator KIM CARR: I hope you do. It's a very serious question here.

Ms Bennett : We take it very seriously.

Senator KIM CARR: People are only too willing to throw these allegations around, and there appears to me to be no evidence for it, unless you can tell me that I'm mistaken.

Ms Bennett : As I've already indicated, I am not aware of any incidents of noncompliance. We have certainly the example I've given that was our name being used by someone inappropriately, and we had them correct the record.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm seeking information on this matter as well because the Academy of Science has put to me some issues with regard to the difficulties we are now facing with Chinese researchers and scientists as a result of what is believed to be a cooling in the relationship. Can you advise me if you have any evidence of changes in the ability or willingness of Chinese research groups, bodies or officials to engage with Australian scientific collaborations in the last 12 to 18 months?

Ms Bennett : I am certainly not aware that we are observing any cooling, as you term it, noting that some of our projects obviously have a lag time. In terms of early discussions, it would be quite hard, I think, to determine what is genuinely a time taken to scope a project versus anything else. But I'm certainly not aware of anything.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you the only person that would be likely to have evidence on that?

Dr Marshall : I'd add that actually we are probably seeing an increase in interest with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, at least over the last three years.

Senator KIM CARR: So you're not aware of any evidence of problems with visas?

Dr Marshall : I'm just talking about from CSIRO's perspective in the collaboration.

Senator KIM CARR: No complaint has been put to you by research groups or bodies or officials about Chinese scholars having difficulties coming to Australia?

Dr Marshall : I couldn't comment on that, just the CSIRO—

Senator KIM CARR: It's a different question. Has anyone put to you that they're having difficulty getting access to Australia from the people's republic?

Dr Marshall : Not that I'm aware of.

Senator KIM CARR: Postdocs, for instance—have you had any difficulties with people getting access?

Ms Bennett : I'd refer to Mr Heldt.

Mr Heldt : Not that I'm aware of.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. That concludes my questions. I'll put the rest on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Carr. There being no further questions, the committee's consideration of the 2018-19 budget estimates will resume at 9 am on Tuesday, 5 June 2018, with further examination of the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio. I thank Minister Cash and all the witnesses who have given evidence to the committee today. I declare the hearing adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 23:00