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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2123

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (15:10): I thank Senator Carr for his interest and his experience on this matter, and I thank the minister for his response to my question yesterday. The issue is much broader than the use of private emails. We actually have to put this in context.

I do want to say, before I frame this up, that the big issue for us is that the Senate had put in an order for production of documents. The Senate had put in an order for production of documents on all correspondence relating to the so-called restructure or reprioritisation within CSIRO. Through you, Minister, we were advised prior to the Senate committee hearings in Hobart and Melbourne that it would not be possible for CSIRO to comply with the order for production of documents because of the amount of time, effort and diversion of resources by CSIRO that it was going to take to provide that information. At the Senate inquiry hearings we heard from senior executives at CSIRO that they had actually provided that information and that they were willing to comply. We now understand from a letter you have written to us, Minister, that the CSIRO will be able to comply by 17 March—of course, two weeks later than we requested. I understand now that it has been extended again to 30 March.

This is not just an issue about the ethics and legality of senior management at a very important organisation, how this pertains to the reputation of the organisation and, of course, the morale of the staff within the organisation. This also has ramifications for us in the Senate and the job we need to do. If the issue were that the OPD could not be complied with in time because private emails were being used and we did not actually know what the correspondence was in the first place, that is of course very concerning. I raised the issue in the Senate inquiry on how the correspondence had occurred—whether it had been phone conversations or private email—and I was actually genuinely surprised when senior management said that they had been using private emails.

Just to quickly put this in context, this whole process that led to the announcement of 350 jobs going at CSIRO—100 of those being in Oceans and Atmosphere in Hobart—has been a total shambles. It has destroyed CSIRO's reputation in climate science, in public-good science more broadly and I think across the board. It has been noted and condemned all around the world, as I said in my question yesterday, including by TheNew York Times editorial. It has led to what was referred to by senior scientists in CSIRO as a toxic culture within the organisation.

No consultation occurred between CSIRO management and senior stakeholders, all of whom rely on critical work and inputs from CSIRO. To top it off, the CEO, who is on only a two-year contract—and we have not found out why it is only a two-year contract yet; I understand that five years is the standard at CSIRO—has made comments publicly that have led to the devaluation of the work that a number of these career scientists have contributed not just to CSIRO but to all of us in this country. In fact, many of these scientists were ringing the bell on climate change decades ago, before it was recognised, and they are now being told they are not needed anymore.

To rub salt into the wounds, Senator Brandis, the spin that has been put out by CSIRO management is that the science is in and we need to focus on mitigation and adaption. Guess what. The committee has heard 100 per cent of the evidence from the most venerable scientists in the world that their work is used for mitigation and adaption, so either someone has got this completely wrong or it is complete BS. Either way, it does not sit well with one of Australia's proudest organisations, which it was noted in Senate question time we are celebrating today.

This needs to be fixed. This kind of process cannot occur again. The damage that has been done to CSIRO is going to take a long time to reverse and change. The best way to do that is to be fully compliant with the order for production of documents so we can assess this process, to reverse these cuts to the best climate scientists in the world and to increase funding to this critical area of public-good science. I really worry about the message we are sending to young scientists early in their careers that the only science that actually matters in this country is science that generates short-term commercial returns. A lot of these scientific projects are 20 or 30 years in duration and are absolutely critical to how we manage risk in our economy, in our climate and in our communities. In fact, the value impact of this work will go into the hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars. It is very short-sighted that a process has been put in place where we cannot get information on how these scientists were even valued in terms of their contribution or how this decision was made. I am looking forward to getting that information as soon as possible.