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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 5004

Senator CARR (2:49 PM) —My question is to Senator Alston, the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Has the minister been advised of plans, to be announced in detail tomorrow, to sack up to 26 scientists and technicians at the CSIRO's division of Land and Water? What consultation has there been with affected staff or the relevant union, the CSIRO Staff Association? On what basis have staff been selected for removal? What was the involvement of the minister in effecting these forced redundancies? Can the minister confirm that the redundancies of up to 100 staff will have been announced between June and December this year?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I am afraid that the Trades Hall Council must have passed it on directly to you and not relayed their concerns to the government. Certainly, I do not have any information on it. The CSIRO are presumably capable of handling their own affairs and consulting with whomever they think might be helpful, even if that includes unions. To my knowledge, they are handling matters in a very efficient way. Certainly Dr Geoff Garrett is very much wanting to ensure that the CSIRO have world's best practices and a high-level commitment to innovation. I would very much hope that Senator Carr will recant from all of his past stances and ideologies and finally embrace the commitment to world's best practice and innovation, and I hope that that is therefore consistent with the approach that he will adopt to the CSIRO.

Senator CARR —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, I would ask you to take this seriously. The sacking of some of this country's most important scientists, and compulsory redundancies without consultation, should be taken as a serious matter by this government. Minister, will the government seek from the CSIRO a commitment to a moratorium on the sacking of senior scientists at the CSIRO until there has been sufficient and proper consultation with the staff affected and their association? I further ask: can the minister assure the Senate that the restructure proposals in the CSIRO will protect the CSIRO's traditional commitment to core public good research? Further, in the search for external revenues, what assurances have been given to the government about protecting the core strategic research functions of the CSIRO?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —If that means that Senator Carr is finally interested in core strategic research and what he describes as `common public good commitments', then that is a very big sea change. Previously, of course, all he was interested in was lifetime employment guarantees. That is about the last place in Australia where you get them, irrespective of merit. As long as you have a few people's arms twisted behind their backs, you can keep coming back here for years on end.

Senator Carr —Answer the question!

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator ALSTON —I am sure that the CSIRO has precisely the same commitment to those very important values that are enshrined in its charter and that it will take action to ensure that all that it seeks to achieve is achieved at the highest level by pursuing quality outcomes and not by simply guaranteeing that there will never ever be any job reductions. That is your approach, not ours. (Time expired)