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Economics Legislation Committee
10/02/2016
Estimates
INDUSTRY, INNOVATION AND SCIENCE PORTFOLIO
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

[09:02]

CHAIR: I welcome the Minister for Finance, Senator the Hon. Cormann, representing the Treasurer and representing the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science. I also welcome the Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and the Chief Scientist.

Dr Finkel, I welcome you to your first Senate estimates. I am sure that you will find them quite a pleasant experience, exhilarating in some ways. Minister, Secretary, Chief Scientist, would you like to make an opening statement?

Dr Finkel : I will make an opening statement. Given that this is my first meeting, I would like to set the scene. Can I thank the chair and the committee for accommodating me in this timeslot, acknowledging that I was scheduled to appear tomorrow, but must be interstate at an all-day board meeting of a government agency. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to meet with the committee at the outset of my term. Any national office is a profound responsibility. My commission comes with enormous opportunity. I want to make Australia work for science and science work for Australia. My experience convinces me that we can be the beneficiaries of our remarkable times.

By background, I am an engineer, migrating into neuroscience. As a PhD student and postdoctoral research fellow, I developed new methods to measure electrical signals in individual brain cells. When I finished my research fellowship in 1982, I saw an opportunity to manufacture instruments that other scientists could use to advance their research.

I left Australia for Silicon Valley, California, with my wife, a small amount of cash and a determination to do something different. In 1983 my company was a one-man operation called Axon Instruments. In 2000 Axon was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and four years later it was purchased by a US public company. I shifted my attention back to Australia, determined to share what I had learned about science, about business and about the opportunities to be made when the two combine. Since that time, I have worked right across the science and innovation community. I co-founded Cosmos Magazine to share my passion for high-quality science journalism. I have helped to progress new technologies as a company director and supported science education as a mentor and philanthropist. I have also been an active contributor to the policy debate as a member of the Research Infrastructure Review Panel led by Mr Philip Clark, as Chancellor of Monash University and as President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. I have approached every role in the firm belief that we can always make more of our resources than we think we can today.

The challenge is to reach for the distant targets in a series of measured steps, conducting research, managing risk and making space for ingenuity and innovation. I found this mindset to be as helpful in the complex challenges of policy as it is in building a business or conducting scientific research. This will be my approach to the significant items on my agenda. I would highlight in particular chairing the Expert Group, which will map out our national science and research infrastructure needs, deputy chairing Innovation and Science Australia as, among other tasks, it develops the 15-year plan for Australian government investment and reviews our research and development tax incentives and leading key Commonwealth Science Council projects to inform us about our progress against the national science and research priorities and to identify our most transformational research.

The importance of these responsibilities has been underscored in my mind by the recent conversation on the priorities of the CSIRO. As the committee will be aware, the CEO of the CSIRO announced last week a change of strategic direction that will affect programs across the organisation, including climate research. There is no question that Australia needs a continuous and highly effective commitment to climate science both to meet our national needs and to fulfil our international commitments. Our contribution is particularly important in light of our central role in understanding the climate of the Southern Hemisphere. It is reflected in the national science and research priorities, one of which specifically commits us to:

Build Australia’s capacity to respond to environmental change and integrate research outcomes from biological, physical, social and economic systems.

Australian climate research is a broad activity across many institutions and many disciplines, including science and engineering, humanities and social sciences. It relies on collaboration and it demands a national approach. Our most immediate national concern must be to ensure that long-term data collections will be funded and staffed and that the climate modelling capabilities developed by the CSIRO will continue to be made available for scientists to use and refine. I am pleased that the CSIRO has this week committed to working with stakeholders to develop a transition plan to maintain this capacity. More broadly, we need to approach all of our research capabilities as a nation with limited resources and significant needs. This includes appropriate planning for the skills and qualified people who are the core of our national research endeavour. It will be my priority in the three years ahead to embed this approach in the frameworks that underpin Australian science. It will also be my particular mission to celebrate Australian successes.

To grasp the breadth of our potential, we need to hear about our achievements and we need to grasp that potential to answer so many of our critical questions. How do we put in place new research infrastructure to fuel superb science and innovation for decades to come? How do we develop a workforce that is literate in science, skilled in technology and excited by innovation? How do we ensure rewarding jobs in a more automated world?

I know that interest in these topics is widely shared across the government and the parliament, and I look forward to working with you in the years ahead. My role comes with high expectations. I assure you that I approach them with energy, ambition and commitment.

CHAIR: Thank you. We very much appreciate that outline.

Senator KIM CARR: Could we have a copy of the statement?

Dr Finkel : Yes, I think we have copies available to table.

CHAIR: I think we all agree to table that.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Finkel, thank you very much for your statement. I was just somewhat surprised to read about it in the press before you delivered it. It is a little unusual for that to occur. Can you tell me how that occurred?

Dr Finkel : I am not aware that it is in the press. My instructions have been for this to be first introduced as a statement for this committee.

Senator KIM CARR: Well, the reports in the Fairfax press and on the ABC this morning say—this is Radio National:

Today, Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will weigh into the argument over the future of Australian climate science, after the announcement last week that the CSIRO will effectively abandon future climate monitoring and data collection.

In a carefully worded statement, Dr Finkel is expected to tell a Senate Committee that there needs to be a long term funding and staffing commitment to climate data collection.

I am wondering how that got there.

Dr Finkel : I cannot say with certainty. I think people can speculate. That is the logical position that I would take. I have been spending a lot of time in the period since the CSIRO announced its shifting priorities talking to leaders in the Australian science research community. That includes, of course, the experts in the CSIRO itself and in the bureau and centres of excellence, leaders of learned academies and other experts in the field. I would assume that some of them have the sense of where I am leaning.

Senator KIM CARR: That is fair enough. You have a long record of public comment in this area. I acknowledge that. Does the Chief Scientist's press secretary Clinton Porteous still work for you?

Dr Finkel : He certainly does.

Senator KIM CARR: Is he a press secretary, or is he a communications officer?

Dr Finkel : We regard him I think as the media officer.

Senator KIM CARR: The reason I raise this is that if your office is advising you to act in this way—I take it they did advise you to prerelease the material, did they?

Dr Finkel : No. I had a specific discussion that this should not be released. I did not have a discussion about embargo release.

Senator KIM CARR: The reason I raise it—it is just that if officials wish to behave like politicians, I guess you are inviting being treated like a politician. That is my first point to you.

CHAIR: Really?

Dr Finkel : My specific instructions to my office were that my statement should not be released until after I had communicated it to the committee.

Senator Cormann: Senator Carr, I think the evidence is very clear. You have asked a fair question. I think Dr Finkel provided a very straightforward and precise answer.

Senator KIM CARR: All I am saying is that clearly your instructions were not followed, because there were references in Radio National this morning, prior to your appearance, and in Fairfax media. There is no big deal in that. It is just that it does change the terms of engagement.

Senator Cormann: Well, I think you have asked the question, and I think Dr Finkel has answered.

Dr Finkel : My final comment would be that, if anything was inadvertently put out, that was not my intention, and I will give attention to that in future.

CHAIR: But, I must say, in listening to your contribution this morning and listening to the framing of the press release, there was a lot more about you and a lot less about all of the things that were said with—

Senator KIM CARR: I guess that is the nature of the media's interest, isn't it. I was hoping today to get an opportunity for you to tell us what your priorities were, Dr Finkel, given that this is your first estimates. Do you see that there are any significant differences in approach that you take from your predecessor?

Dr Finkel : When somebody starts in a new position, first of all I need a little bit of time to finalise my work plan. But I feel that my predecessor, Professor Chubb, has done a splendid job in many, many respects, and I am literally picking up from where he left off. But I will be determining the future direction of my advice in the most appropriate way. Will what I do be a linear extension of what my predecessor did? No, but it will not be at right angles, and it will not be a reversal.

Senator KIM CARR: How would you describe your key priorities?

Dr Finkel : My key task of course is to provide advice to government based on my considered evaluation of opportunities in science and technology to help with our national needs. There are a number of specific responsibilities that I have been asked to take on. Would you rather me answer in the generalities, and then perhaps—

Senator KIM CARR: This is an opportunity for you to tell us what you see as—

Dr Finkel : The generality is to look at the research endeavour. I like to think of my responsibility as the Chief Scientist as being to look at knowledge. If you take the Latin route of 'science', it is 'scientia', broad knowledge. So, I am not just looking at the natural sciences; I am looking at our research capability, and I think of that as the latitudinal aspect of it. But given the interests of the nation in reaping maximum benefit from the excellent-quality science and an ongoing investment in excellent-quality science, I have a strong interest in looking at the translation capabilities of our nation of that scientific effort. And when I say 'translation' I mean translation not just for the commercial benefit but translation for societal and economic benefit. That, in the broadest spectrum is how I would see my responsibilities.

Senator KIM CARR: In particular, looking at the work of, for instance, the Commonwealth Science Council: do you anticipate any changes to the arrangements there?

Dr Finkel : No. The Commonwealth Science Council will continue have a targeted meeting frequency of about two per year. Its positioning is perhaps going to be something that will need to constantly be looked at, because it will be sitting there with the Innovation and Science Australia board. There is some overlap but some significant differences in their purposes. I will be the executive officer of the Commonwealth Science Council. Of course, the Prime Minister is the chair of that. It will be my role as executive officer to engage with the external membership of the council in particular to develop the agenda of topics that we want to look at and the preparatory analysis that we will take to the committee meetings. I see that as crucially important. The Commonwealth Science Council brings together five of Australia's leading research scientists and research science managers with five of our leading business people with backgrounds that have involved a lot of innovation. There is a huge pool of expertise there that should appropriately, and will continue to be appropriately, tapped into.

I said that the Commonwealth Science Council is extremely important. It has been already looking at and will continue to look at the challenges around building out our future national large-scale research infrastructure. And I would hope that as we go forward the Commonwealth Science Council, as well as some specific topics, will look at the bigger issue of how we are tracking in achieving the goals that are captured in our nine national science and research priorities.

Senator KIM CARR: I want to turn specifically to a task that you have been given, and that is the review of the R&D tax incentive. While there will be much that we have to talk about, I will just start with this particular one. I am wondering when that review actually commenced.

Dr Finkel : I cannot tell you exactly when the task force was pulled together. By the way, I commenced two weeks ago. In my first week we had our first meeting of the R&D tax incentive review panel, the meeting that is co-chaired by John Fraser, Bill Ferris and me. That is a preliminary meeting to develop the issues that will be looked at by us through our process.

Senator KIM CARR: So, this is the preliminary meeting. The review had not already commenced prior to your—

Dr Finkel : It was not a delivery meeting; it was the first meeting of the actual co-chairs with the task force. The task force had of course been doing some preliminary work, trying to anticipate what we would see as the issues. We had a deep discussion about the issues, process and consultation. We had a second meeting this week to seek to finalise that issues paper so that we can start with the more engaged process, and so far it has been going, I would say, with appropriately good haste.

Senator KIM CARR: When do you think the issues paper will be released?

Dr Finkel : We are in the process of finalising it. I am not ducking the question, but I cannot say exactly when it will be, but it will not be terribly long from now.

Senator KIM CARR: So you expect it soon?

Dr Finkel : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Fair enough. You say that a task force was established prior to your commencing in the role, but you are not certain when that occurred?

Dr Finkel : I am not. These are members of the departments of industry, Treasury and finance and representatives from the ATO. They are helping us as chairs in our role.

Senator KIM CARR: Madam Secretary, can you assist us here? When was that task force established?

Ms Beauchamp : These questions, Chair, are probably best directed under the portfolio. In terms of background: there have been a number of reviews of the R&D tax incentive, as you may be aware, particularly, from our point of view, looking at the administrative arrangements as part of the administration of the R&D tax incentive. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the government announced that it wants to have a closer look at the R&D tax incentive to make sure that it is effective, that it is well targeted and that we are getting the return out of the R&D dollar that we require.

Senator KIM CARR: So what was the date on which the task force was established?

Ms Beauchamp : The task force was established soon after the release of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Senator KIM CARR: This is the one that was announced in December?

Ms Beauchamp : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: So, if the task force was established in December—I think it was the second week that the announcement was made?

Ms Beauchamp : That is correct, but what I am saying is that we already had a group of people working on a review.

Senator KIM CARR: I understand that you have had a group of people working on R&D for some years. I would like to know when this particular task force was established.

Ms Beauchamp : I will take that on notice, on the exact establishment—

Senator KIM CARR: And I am going to presume it is sometime in the second or third week of December. Would that seem unreasonable?

Ms Beauchamp : That is not unreasonable.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Finkel, you have had papers presented to you from this task force to guide your work?

Dr Finkel : We had a number of papers that were all in draft form and nowhere near being complete. I would think of them as highly appropriate thought starters which were to some extent summarising the state of the current incentive scheme, giving some advice on the previous schemes that had been done and anticipating some survey work that there has been in the last year by a consulting company. Those quite appropriately helped us in our initial discussions. But I can assure you that the chairpersons—that is, John Fraser, Bill Ferris and I—certainly managed the direction of the issues paper that is evolving.

Senator KIM CARR: Would you expect it to be making recommendations or to be making findings?

Dr Finkel : I do not know exactly, and I am sure that there is a subtlety there. We do not have definitive terms of reference that specify that. Perhaps one of my colleagues would know.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you able to tell me what the terms of reference are?

Dr Finkel : There are no published terms of reference, so I cannot at the moment, but I will look into—

Senator KIM CARR: Are there terms of reference?

Senator Cormann: We will take it on notice—

Dr Finkel : I would rather take it on notice.

Senator Cormann: to assist you on this.

Senator KIM CARR: There are terms of reference? That is the question I have asked you.

Dr Finkel : In development.

Senator KIM CARR: Not yet?

Senator Cormann: In development.

Senator KIM CARR: But 'in development' is not yet.

Senator Cormann: 'In development' is self-explanatory—

Senator KIM CARR: What is the primary objective of the review then, Doctor?

Dr Finkel : The absolute, primary, objective is to consider whether or not the existing scheme is delivering the fundamental goal of motivating additionality—additional research in strongly innovative areas that would not otherwise take place. At the same time, it is going to look at the integrity and the efficiency of the system. Ultimately, the whole aim is—

Senator KIM CARR: Will it be looking at the objects of the act and the degree to which the act is being implemented—the effectiveness of the act?

Dr Finkel : We will be looking at the effectiveness of the way that the incentive is delivered, for example, but not from the point of view of the words in the legislation. For example, the R&D tax incentive at the moment ends up requiring for most companies that they have professional consulting firms to help them with the submission. That is a fairly expensive process. Are there things that we could recommend that would further achieve the ultimate goal of additionality of innovative research and take some of the complexity out of it? How it would be legislated is not something that we are currently looking at.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. There were review procedures proposed under the act. Are they being overlooked?

Dr Finkel : I would have to take that on notice. I cannot comment. It is not something that has been brought to my attention.

Senator KIM CARR: Will you be looking at improving efficiency, for instance?

Dr Finkel : Correct. There are two aspects to the efficiency, and they are the workload and the need for professional consultants for the companies submitting, and then the internal efficiency of the review process, which at the moment is done by two departments. There is an initial review of the R&D requirements—are they being met by the company making the submission?—which is done by AusIndustry, and that then gets handed over as an input to the ATO. So the question is: is that efficient? It might be. If it is not efficient, how would we recommend or make a finding on how it can be improved?

Senator KIM CARR: There were a number of consultations undertaken for the preparation of the government white paper. Will you be revisiting those consultations?

Dr Finkel : Yes, they have been referred to. I have not personally looked at them yet.

Senator KIM CARR: Will you be reinterviewing organisations that were consulted about the white paper?

Dr Finkel : We will certainly be interviewing widely. There has been no discussion about going through an actual checklist, but the consultation list has not been developed yet.

Senator KIM CARR: When do you expect the report to be prepared by?

Dr Finkel : I believe that it was requested that some findings be available by April.

Senator KIM CARR: So by April?

Dr Finkel : I will double-check that—

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. I am just wondering how you are going to have extensive consultations by April.

Dr Finkel : I am not saying that it will be delivered by April.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. I will turn to your statement today—and I appreciate the remarks that you have made—about the work of the CSIRO in climate change. When did you find out about the cuts to the CSIRO?

Dr Finkel : When they were publicly announced.

Senator KIM CARR: Published. You were not consulted prior to that?

Dr Finkel : No.

Senator KIM CARR: Did you expect to be?

Dr Finkel : No. The CSIRO is an independent organisation. It has to make its own decisions.

Senator KIM CARR: Were you surprised by the extent of the reductions in capacity that come about as result of these cuts?

Senator Cormann: I might just take issue here with your characterisation. What you are referring to, I assume, is the reprioritisation of resources rather than what you politically characterise as 'cuts'.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Finkel, what did you make of the reductions in CSIRO's budgets by $115 million that were announced prior to your appointment? You had made some public comment about that matter in the past—

Dr Finkel : I would rather not make a public comment on that. Overall, my concern is—

Senator KIM CARR: Has your attitude changed since you got in the job?

Senator Cormann: Under the standing orders, you know that you cannot ask witnesses for their opinion.

CHAIR: That is certainly true.

Senator Cormann: If you have some questions on the CSIRO, you might want to ask the secretary during the appropriate time in the estimates—I believe tomorrow.

CHAIR: As a matter of procedure, I think you are moving on to statements of today. Senator Rice would like to have some time.

Senator KIM CARR: Sure. I am just interested to know whether or not—and you make the point, Doctor, that the national Science and Research Priorities specifically commit all agencies, I think, from the way I have read your previous statements and your reading of it, to 'build Australia's capacity to respond to environmental change and integrate research outcomes from biological, physical, social and economic systems'. How do you think the CSIRO's statements to date on the reductions in the capacities for their climate change divisions measure up to that requirement?

Senator Cormann: You are asking him for an opinion, and you know that that is contrary to standing orders, as again outlined by the chair in the lead-up—

Senator KIM CARR: All right, I will put it to you this way: given the statement you have made, Dr Finkel, how do the actions of the CSIRO measure up to the benchmark you have set in this statement to this committee today?

Dr Finkel : Australia has a large climate science research community. It is not just the CSIRO. My view is we have to look across the capacity amongst many organisations, including the university research sectors, to assess our climate science research capacity. I will be talking, as I indicated I have already started to do, to the leaders not only in the CSIRO but also across Australia's climate science research community to determine whether or not I can identify ways to maximise what we can deliver. It is difficult just to look at CSIRO's activity in isolation. As I said in there—I did not necessarily elaborate in great detail—the CSIRO has indicated a commitment to a transition plan for the critical work that it alone does, such as the collection of carbon dioxide levels at Cape Grim in Tasmania. And that is only one of many things that it is committed to. So if the CSIRO is engaging with the rest of the Australian community, as it is indicating that it will do, then we should be able to find optimum ways forward.

Senator KIM CARR: But given that we are the largest advanced economy in the Southern Hemisphere—which is the point you are alluding to—what is our particular role in the monitoring of climate change in the Southern Hemisphere? To what extent does the CSIRO meet that requirement to date? I say that in the context where today international experts, for instance a number of officials from Scripps, have indicated that the CSIRO is miles ahead of any other research agency in the country. To what extent are we able to fulfil those obligations, given these changes?

Dr Finkel : As I said a moment ago, the critical obligation that the CSIRO fulfils is in some of the continuous datasets that have 40-year histories. If you have a gap in a dataset, that can never be replaced retrospectively. If you have a continuous dataset, you can, decades on, always come back and refine your models and analysis using that dataset. So the CSIRO is responsible for some of those critical datasets, but it has declared that it will undertake a consultative process to ensure a transition plan for continuity in those datasets. Related to that is a model that the CSIRO, with the Bureau of Meteorology, manages for analysis of these broader weather and climate systems. That is part of its commitment through its consultation on the transition plan.

Senator RICE: Thank you, Dr Finkel, for your opening statement and for your support, in particular for the climate science that has been undertaken at CSIRO and for the scientists, those skilled and qualified people, that you mentioned in your report. They are the fundamental critical element of our climate science.

In your statement, in the areas of climate science that you saw as being essential you have long-term data collection and the climate modelling capabilities. There is another critical piece of work that CSIRO have led in Australian climate science, which is the climate projections—the understanding of how climate is likely to change on a regional basis. Would you agree that that is also a critical element of the climate science that we need to maintain our world-leading capabilities in?

Dr Finkel : I think what you are referring to in those projections is, in a sense, what I am also referring to when I talk about the modelling capability. It is that long-term ability to project.

Senator RICE: Yes, but in the CSIRO they are two separate areas of endeavour and they are considered separately.

Dr Finkel : Right.

Senator RICE: Basically using the output to the models.

Dr Finkel : For us to fulfil our obligations internationally and to continue to be the premier climate research country in the Southern Hemisphere, we need to ensure that capacity is preserved. But there is, as I said before, very substantial capacity outside the CSIRO as well is within the CSIRO. So if the science community collaborates, as I am sure that it can and will, in a constructive fashion, my goal would be to help facilitate the continuation of our capacity. I do not think that our capacity has been undermined at this moment—we are in the planning and discussion phase.

Senator RICE: In a situation of 110 out of the 130 climate scientists employed by the CSIRO division who are planned to be lost to CSIRO, that is a big task in transitioning them.

Dr Finkel : I cannot comment about the impact within the CSIRO, but that is in the context of a much broader research community in climate science in Australia. I am not in any way undermining the significance of the CSIRO contribution, but we need to look at that as not the only contribution.

Senator RICE: That is absolutely true. You said that since Dr Larry Marshall announced the dismantling of the CSIRO climate science program, essentially, last week you have spent a lot of time talking to leaders in Australia climate research. Who have you been speaking to?

Dr Finkel : They are all one-on-one conversations so I do not think it would be appropriate for me to list them, but they are leaders of research groups at universities, some of the agencies; leaders of the national learned academies, some of the doyens of leadership in past climate research projects—quite a number of people.

Senator RICE: Have you spoken to the leaders of the climate research institutes at the universities—

Dr Finkel : Not all of them, by any means, but this means I can get through on a Sunday and on a Monday and a Tuesday and still do my other commitments.

Senator RICE: The Bureau of Meteorology and Dr Rob Vertessy?

Dr Finkel : As I said, I will not go to the names but that would not be a surprising assumption.

Senator RICE: Have you spoken to Dr Larry Marshall himself about the cuts?

Dr Finkel : Yes. As I said, I have spoken to a number of people, and I have truly been speaking to the leaders at this stage of the various climate research centres.

Senator RICE: What rationale did Dr Marshall give you for why these cuts need to be made?

Dr Finkel : I truly have nothing to add to that other than the public statements that the CSIRO has made.

Senator RICE: Did he give you a rationale—

Senator Cormann: I think Dr Finkel has given you as much as he is going to give you. He is not going to talk to you about private conversations.

Senator RICE: Did he give you a logical rationale, Dr Finkel, that you accepted?

Dr Finkel : As Senator Cormann said—

Senator RICE: It is just a yes or no answer that I require.

Senator Cormann: You are inviting Dr Finkel to talk to you about private conversations.

Senator RICE: No, it is a question with a yes or no answer.

Dr Finkel : What I am trying to indicate to you is that I am having significant conversations with the people I regard to be leaders. There are many other leaders in the community that I have not yet had a chance to speak to. Of course when I am having those conversations I am trying to get insights as to their perspectives.

Senator RICE: With the conversations that you have had with the other leaders of these institutions, what did they tell you about their capacity to take on extra research given that there will be a big hole if those 110 staff go?

Dr Finkel : It is too soon for me to summarise their positions. Their positions are obviously motivated by a number of different considerations and it is going to take me some time to form a singular opinion such as yours. I can tell you that it is my intention to get more and more understanding and, to the extent that I can, facilitate discussions.

Senator RICE: Did they say that they had the capacity to take on extra science research—

Senator Cormann: You are again asking him to talk about private conversations.

Senator RICE: I am asking a simple question, Minister.

Senator Cormann: It is not a simple question—you are asking what people in conversation have said. That is not the way it works.

CHAIR: I have been listening, and that is the third time you have tried to ask the same question. Reframe the question and ask it again. I am happy to give you the time to ask a question that Dr Finkel can answer.

Senator RICE: Do you believe that these institutes with their current resources have got the capacity to take on the climate science that you state we need to maintain?

Senator Cormann: You are asking him for an opinion, which, if you go back to the Chair's opening statement—

Senator RICE: He has been having discussions with these people.

CHAIR: Do you have a different line of questioning, Senator Rice? I am happy to give you the time if you have a different line.

Senator RICE: Dr Finkel, you have been having lots of research with all of our climate institutions. What is your assessment of their capacity to increase their level of climate research?

Dr Finkel : I am in the early stages. My assessment to date is that there is enormous capacity in this country to conduct climate science research. Without doubt, there are ramifications of the CSIRO's priority decisions and I am doing as much as I can in the time available to form a considered understanding of that capacity. I am not avoiding the question. I cannot give you a specific answer to that, even if it were appropriate for me to give you a specific answer to that.

Senator RICE: With the loss of capability at CSIRO, have you identified any areas where they feel they could take on that new capacity?

Dr Finkel : I think we are going over the same territory. I think there is capacity to do a lot. The first thing that I was concerned about was the continuity of data collection, then the continuity of modelling, and everything that follows which is important. As I said, the statement made this week by the CSIRO addresses their recognition of the need to have a transition plan that supports the continuity of data collection and discusses the importance of maintaining the model—

Senator RICE: Would that transition plan require funding to also be transitioned in order to maintain that capacity?

Dr Finkel : I cannot comment on that. I do not have an answer.

CHAIR: Dr Finkel has already said that he believes that there is a great deal of climate science capacity in this country. I understand your line of questioning, specifically about the CSIRO's capacity to do it. I have been generous with my time. I do not know that you are going to get a different answer. I know where you are going.

Senator RICE: I have two more questions.

CHAIR: We will then shut down and I will let you go.

Senator RICE: People have been talking to me about the capacity of the university climate science and the Bureau of Meteorology. The Bureau of Meteorology told us at estimates on Monday that they did not have the capacity to take on extra tasks and it was going to leave a big hole if CSIRO exited from the field. I know from conversations with university scientists that they also do not have that capacity. There have also been discussions of potentially setting up a separate climate research institution. Given your expertise in those sorts of institutions, would you be able to give us some estimate of what sorts of resources would be required?

Senator Cormann: That goes well and truly beyond the role of the Chief Scientist in terms of providing evidence on his functions and the performance of his role. You are asking him to give you advice on a potential new policy proposal that is not in his sphere of responsibility. If anything, it is part of a different part of the portfolio.

Senator RICE: It certainly fits within his statement of ensuring that the long-term science continues.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like to raise a point of clarification, Dr Finkel. When you say there is other capacity to potentially soak up any losses at CSIRO, or reprioritisation, as the minister might like to call it, are you referring to also the knowledge and the experience of some of the world's best scientists who are currently in those divisions facing—

Dr Finkel : I would hope that my statement is not overinterpreted. When I say there is lots of capacity, I am not saying that it is a simple case of absorbing the changes that have happened. I am saying that those changes are in the context of a lot of capacity. I am not in any way dismissing the significance of the priority changes at the CSIRO. I am doing what I can to understand the impact. If the government wants me to look further or provide advice, I need to make sure that I have firsthand and considered advice, so I am starting that process. I can tell you that everybody I have spoken to has been very pleased that I am engaging and beginning a process of gathering information that will help to inform the advice that I give.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Finkel. That was a very good first foray. Thank you very much. We appreciate your time here this morning.