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Budget cuts lead to ANSTO job losses.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

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PM

 

Monday 19 May 2008

Budget cuts lead to ANSTO job losses

 

MARK COLVIN: The body which runs Australia's only nuclear reactor is undergoing something just short of an organisational meltdown over the Federal Budget.  

 

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has lost $16-million over the next four years. 

 

Today, it announced a restructure and the loss of 10 per cent of its workforce. ANSTO's budget was cut alongside that of the CSIRO.  

 

The combined job losses now stand at 165, although across the entire public service 3,300 jobs are going.  

 

Karen Barlow reports. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: Technical problems have kept the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney's south shut down for 10 months but just as it is about to be restarted, the Budget hits. 

 

The acting CEO of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Dr Ron Cameron: 

 

RON CAMERON: Our budget cuts are approximately $4-million each year for the next four years.  

 

In addition to that, we have anticipated cost increases through things such as high utilities costs, higher maintenance costs, higher operational costs of between about six and eight per cent. So that adds up in total to about $16-million. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: The news was broken to staff today. Some suspected the budget cuts after the earlier withdrawal of funding for a graduate programme and the fact that ANSTO, like other agencies, was about to have an efficiency dividend imposed on it.  

 

Dr Ron Cameron says $10-million needs to be found in the salaries budget, and some of the 80 jobs to go may not be voluntary.  

 

RON CAMERON: Clearly both research and operations will have to be looked at in detail as to where the reductions can come from. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: What it the effect of this number of staff; it's 10 per cent of the workforce?  

 

RON CAMERON: Well, it means we have to reduce programs and stop working in a number of areas. It means we have to look for efficiencies in our operations.  

 

But clearly we will maintain our strong focus on safety security and compliance with regulations, which has always been our key priority. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: There is concern that vital nuclear research will be lost.  

 

Nuclear physicist, Professor Leslie Kemeny: 

 

LESLIE KEMENY: There are a lot of excellent scientists there operating machinery connected with measuring neutron diffraction, basic physics, which can be associated with the OPAL reactor. 

 

Environmental scientists who are looking at radio isotope uptake in plant and animal life. Those people who are helping to manufacture and distribute radioisotopes for our hospitals, I'm not sure how that culling would take place and I’m glad it is not my responsibility. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: Professor Kemeny says this Federal Government appears opposed to nuclear technology and the prospect of nuclear power.  

 

LESLIE KEMENY: It does seem to me that nuclear has been pushed to one side. It hasn't been mentioned in the Budget, and some of our top scientists were appalled that the fact that nuclear did not get a mention in the Budget. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: The Federal Opposition says it is an anti-nuclear payback now Labor is in government.  

 

The Shadow Minister for Innovation Science and Research, Eric Abetz: 

 

ERIC ABETZ: The Labor Government saw something with the name “nuclear” in its title and thought this is a fair cop for a cut. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: Being that other organisations like the CSIRO also had budget cuts, how do you know that the nuclear agenda is being picked on here? 

 

ERIC ABETZ: Well, I think ANSTO clearly has got the biggest cut with 10 per cent of its workforce and the only explanation that can be provided is ideology. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: But the Minister for Innovation Science and Research, Kim Carr, denies any government agency was singled out in the Budget.  

 

KIM CARR: We have had very significant reductions in a range of areas. It's nothing to do with our position on nuclear power. It has everything to do with our position in regard to inflation. 

 

KAREN BARLOW: So it wasn't just easier to make the cuts on an area that isn't palatable to the general public? 

 

KIM CARR: On the contrary this has been a very tough Budget. There are many very tough decisions, very tough decisions for me personally, given my support for the innovation agencies such as the ANSTO and the CSIRO. 

 

This is not about particular an ideological position, it is about a general economic position facing the country and trying to keep inflation under control and interest rates down. That's what the real enemy of this country is. It's got nothing to do with nuclear power. 

 

MARK COLVIN: The Minister for Innovation Science and Research, Kim Carr, ending Karen Barlow's report.