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Economics Legislation Committee
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation


CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Thank you all for being here tonight. Dr Marshall, we do have your opening statement to table. Did you want to read it out, or are you happy—

Dr Marshall : Is there time for that, Chair, or are you tight?

CHAIR: I'm in your hands. If you have a burning desire to read it, you can. But committee members would probably prefer to get straight to questions.

Dr Marshall : Alright, I will table it.

CHAIR: Thank you. I'm happy for you to cover anything you feel you need to cover as we go through the questions. We will go to Senator Walsh.

Senator WALSH: Thank you, Chair; thank you, Dr Marshall, for being here. I am happy for you to go through and point to your key priorities from your opening statement, if you would like—without reading the whole—

CHAIR: Okay. Would committee members would like to hear it?

Senator WALSH: My question is, what are the key priorities you'd like to share with us, and perhaps that's in your opening statement?

Dr Marshall : As you know, throughout most of 2020 we focused very much on dealing with the pandemic, and before that with the bushfires, and, more recently, with the floods. But the good news is that, while we're not out of COVID yet, we can all see light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are starting to roll out. The work we did in January and February last year to accelerate the vaccines was really helpful in making that happen. Whilst we stay working on those issues, we've shifted some resources to helping Australia grow its way out of the economic crisis that the world is facing because of the pandemic.

You may have seen last week that we've launched our hydrogen industry mission. We've been working on hydrogen for a long time, certainly many years before the rest of the world started investing heavily in hydrogen, which was in about 2019. It's a great example of the changes we made in CSIRO in 2015-16 to think much more deeply about the crises that Australia might face. As the world stops buying our coal and eventually stops buying our gas, we need something to replace those things with. We see hydrogen as a great alternative that could not only replace the export dollars and jobs but maybe even grow them bigger. We think there are at least 8,000 jobs and $11 billion in GDP to be had there. That was a very important mission for us, and a number of large Australian companies and federal and state government departments have come into that mission with us. It's roughly $67 million in external funding plus the funding that CSIRO is putting to it.

The other missions that are in development are around agriculture. We believe it's important for Australia to grow its agricultural exports from the $60-odd billion they are today to $100 billion by the end of this decade. As our contribution to that we're looking at three missions. One is around combating drought to improve the yield during drought conditions and help farmers to better predict. You may have seen some of the platforms and apps, like Graincast and Yield Prophet, that we've put out for farmers to do that. We've recognised that Asia, in particular, is really keen on non-meat protein, so we've developed a plant alternative to protein, which is grown in Australia at very high profit. We also created a company called v2food, which now has well over $500 million in market cap and was heavily supported by Woolworths and Hungry Jack's. That's growing a new export stream for Australia. The final one is trust and provenance. Customers in Asia trust Australian products to be clean and healthful, but a lot of those products are not really coming from Australia. We've been successful in demonstrating a method to prove that salmon comes from Australia, using DNA, and that cherries come from a particular farm in New South Wales, using the isotope in the water that the farm uses. We hope to expand that so Australians can guarantee that things being sold in Asia are genuine Australian products and not counterfeit. We think there's another $10 billion in export revenue that we might pick up by fully capturing the revenue of our genuine Australian products and preventing counterfeits. Thank you for that opportunity, Senator.

Senator WALSH: Thank you. And thank you for all the fantastic work that the organisation does. I want to go to how CSIRO sits in the federal budget, particularly the core research science funding profile. I'm referring to page 229 of the portfolio budget statements and looking at the research science funding. Obviously, as I'm sure you're very closely aware without looking at the numbers, it's at best very flat over the forward estimates and then we have a $100 million cliff towards the end of the period. It was addressed broadly by the secretary earlier that sometimes these cliffs at the end of the period might reflect the cessation of certain funding. Can you tell us what is going on with the funding line there? Are there particular programs that you're envisaging will cease over the next few years?

Dr Marshall : While I give our chief financial officer a minute, let me go back a step. When COVID happened we diverted a lot of resources to deal with the issues related to COVID. We took those from other projects that generate external revenue. In the last four or five years, CSIRO has generated record external revenue—well over $500 million. When we took those people off we created a hole of about $100 million in our external revenue in order to focus on COVID.

The federal government then gave us a safety net through the budget measure of about $459 million over the next four years, to give us an opportunity to make up for that lost revenue and to recover those customers. I think that might be what you're seeing in the tables, but the CFO here can give you a detailed answer if you need it.

Senator WALSH: Thank you.

Mr Munyard : The chief executive is right: that relates to the budget measure from last year's federal budget, in October—$459 million was provided across four years, essentially, for CSIRO to address the impact of COVID-19 on our commercial activities. That funding ceases at the end of the 2023-24 year. You'll see that reduction in the appropriation through to that following year.

Senator WALSH: Great, thank you. So that $94 million cliff, which it looks like at the moment, is related to a withdrawal of additional funding that was provided for a COVID response?

Mr Munyard : Yes: $98 million was the figure in 2023-24 that the government provided to us—yes.

Senator WALSH: Okay. And that funding is retained over the next couple of years?

Mr Munyard : We have another three years of support at the end of this financial year to support our activities, yes.

Senator WALSH: Dr Marshall just referenced the increasing revenue from external sources, or from independent sources. You project that going up by about $100 million over the forward estimates—is that right?

Mr Munyard : That brings us back to our pre-COVID estimates of our own-source income, yes.

Senator WALSH: Right. A considerable proportion of your income is now coming from partnerships and other external sources. I know it's something that has been discussed in this committee many times, but I wonder if you can point to what the biggest program areas are within CSIRO that this external funding is attached to?

Dr Marshall : I can give a high-level answer if you want to—

Mr Munyard : Senator, as I outlined, the funding has been provided essentially for us to address the impact of—

Dr Marshall : I think the senator is asking about where we get our external revenue from—which markets.

Senator WALSH: Yes, I've moved on from the COVID funding.

Mr Munyard : Oh, sorry.

Dr Marshall : We have been able to catalyse a number of transitions in Australian industry, and that's good. For example, agriculture has made a big shift towards what we call 'precision ag', using a lot more digital capability. You may have seen some of our drones, robots or the sensors that we put in the soil to measure the health of plants in real time. We've even developed technology which lets plants order their own drinks so that we can reduce water usage for farmers. There's also the use of apps to predict what the weather might be like in a particular month or year. That helps them to optimise their investment so that they lose less money in the bad years and make more money in the good years.

The other big one is that we've never worked with bankers before. A few years ago we did the Australian National Outlook, and that was supported by NAB—National Australia Bank. It's funny, but when we spent time with bankers we realised that they actually think very differently about the world to the way that scientists and engineers do. We learnt that a big problem for them was being able to quantify risk, which is the reason they find it hard to loan money during a drought. So, in partnership with them, we used our soil database and our agriculture yield database and came up with a way to actually help them to quantify the risk. That made it less than they perceived it to be, and that freed up more money to finance farms in drought. It was a really interesting lesson for both of us and a way to help unlock a bit more money to support Australia's farmers. So that's been a big area.

Digital has been big across the board, also hydrogen in our Energy Business Unit, Industry 4.0 in our Manufacturing Business Unit and developing new materials. In manufacturing—and you may have noticed the Modern Manufacturing Strategy—one of the things we learnt during COVID was if we were more clever about the way we design factories we could make them much more agile, meaning they could build a high-margin, high-value product in good times but very quickly shift to something that we needed sovereign supply of in bad times. Then, again, back in good times, if they could shift between products as markets changed they wouldn't get stuck. So they'd be able to be more profitable and more sustainable.

Senator WALSH: You just mentioned the Modern Manufacturing Strategy, and, for those of us who've been in the room for a while, we just all had a chill up our spine because of the number of questions that we've asked about it today. We also asked questions earlier of the department and the minister around the government's mRNA vaccine manufacturing strategy, which is in its early days. Is CSIRO involved or engaged in that in any way?

Dr Marshall : I personally sit on the COVID commission to advise Department of Health, as an industry adviser I guess, and then CSIRO itself is obviously always helps the department of industry wherever we can. Given there's manufacturing questions there, our manufacturing group is quite involved with that, as we were with the Modern Manufacturing Strategy itself.

Senator WALSH: What's the nature of the work that CSIRO is doing on that strategy?

Dr Marshall : Primarily for us for mRNA—I notice we all slow down because we don't want to say NRMA!—we were trying to see whether by bringing together existing smaller companies, if we get, say, three or four to collaborate, it would be possible to create a native capability to manufacture mRNA? That's been our work. CSIRO has about 3,000 customers, and they generally tend to be the more innovative companies, so we had a good discussion with customers to see what could be done, and that was one of the things we fed into the process for the department to consider.

Ms Zielke : To build on that, more recently we've participated on the tender panel in relation to establishing what the requirements for a facility in Australia would be and provided technical expertise for that activity. We are currently involved in the process announced by government to go out and seek a call for companies that are interested in manufacturing in Australia.

Senator WALSH: Yes. Government told us earlier today that they'd used McKinsey and spent, I think, a couple of million with them twice in this process, so they've done a report on market scoping to get ready to structure the bids and so on. I think they're using them for advice on the bids as well. Could CSIRO do that work?

Ms Zielke : CSIRO's been a member of that panel providing technical expertise for that. It's a much broader question though, than just technical issues; there's also commercial and how that fits within the system.

Senator WALSH: When you project your revenue from other independent sources forward, or when that's done in the budget, how reliable is that income? So, when we're looking over the forward estimates, is that already all booked in, if you like, or are they projections?

Dr Marshall : It varies. We do have some long-term contracts, especially for the big things. For example, things in hydrogen or agriculture tend to be over multiyears. Our relationship with Boeing in Australia is a five-year agreement, for example. But a lot of the work we do with SMEs, and we work with between a thousand and 1,400 SMEs each year, is quite short-term, and that does give a little bit of volatility to our revenue. Our CFO though, over the last three years, has developed an almost predictive financial model so we're able to tell fairly early in the cycle whether we're going to have a problem with revenue or not, and then we're able to adjust our expenditure to, if you like, land the jumbo on the postage stamp at the end of the year—which we're doing this month actually.

CHAIR: Senator Walsh, I fully understand you have more questions. However, we do have a large number of senators in the room. If you've got a lot to go, I will share the call and come back to you.

Senator WALSH: I think I've got one more, which I'm happy to just get an indication about and then put on notice if required.

CHAIR: Go ahead.

Senator WALSH: In relation to your staff, some are employed in ways that are largely attached to the government funding, and some are employed in ways that are attached to the independent funding. And some are employed, as I understand it, directly by you, and some are working on projects which could actually be located in the partner facility and may even be funded as part of your work but employed by the partner facility, and then you have some employees who are agency workers as well. So you've got a variety of ways in which your staff are employed and funded. Within that, some are researchers and some are other operational staff. Are you able to provide us with a breakdown that would make sense, within your organisation, of where your staff sit on that matrix I'm describing?

Ms Zielke : Yes, we could take that on notice and come back to you. We've provided a range of responses to questions like that previously. I think that's just a slight variation and we can accommodate that.

Senator WALSH: That could be broadly as at today and then also—

Ms Zielke : As at the end of May is probably what we can commit to. But it reflects the highly collaborative nature of what we do. People are brought in to meet the need, depending on what their capability and expertise is.

Senator WALSH: Yes. I understand you've provided this sort of information before, but some people are directly employed, but they might be on rolling contracts, for example, or on contracts, so if we could have—

Ms Zielke : Whether it be labour hire or whether it be non-ongoing or temporary arrangements as opposed to permanent?

Senator WALSH: Yes, all of that.

Ms Zielke : Yes, we can provide that.

Senator WALSH: Would you be projecting any change in that profile that you're going to provide for us on notice, as at May, for the next financial year?

Ms Zielke : No is the short answer to that one. We go up and down, like most organisations. Throughout the year, a major project might come to an end and a new one hasn't started yet—those sorts of things. But, no, we expect to remain the same.

Senator WALSH: Okay.

Dr Marshall : Senator, you mentioned working in other organisations. There's a CSIRO team of engineers working in CSL, helping them solve the manufacture of the vaccine, and another team in Boeing working on the return-to-flight initiative. In case they're watching, I just wanted to do a shout-out to them for their work.

Unidentified speaker: You can bet they are!

Senator WALSH: Fantastic, yes.

CHAIR: They've been waiting all day!

Senator WALSH: We'll put some more questions on notice. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Rennick.

Senator RENNICK: I'd just like to follow up some answers to the questions on notice I got last time from the CSIRO. I asked about Wien's displacement law, and the CSIRO confirmed that, effectively, the major band that CO2 emits in is at a temperature of negative 80 degrees. That was confirmed.

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator RENNICK: Yes. If CO2 emits at negative 80 degrees and the average temperature of the atmosphere is 15 degrees, that's not really heating the atmosphere, is it?

Dr Marshall : It depends where it's being absorbed—higher or lower in the atmosphere. As there's more CO2, the trapping of heat happens closer to the surface and there's—

Senator RENNICK: I realise that—

Dr Marshall : the possibility for it to displace.

Senator RENNICK: but we've just confirmed that, of certain vibrational frequencies of CO2, the major one is at 14.8 microns, and that emits at a temperature of negative 80 degrees. So that's not going to emit heat at a level that's going to heat the rest of the atmosphere, is it, given that it's only one in 2½ thousand parts?

Dr Marshall : I don't think that relates to the heating of the earth in that way, though. Sunlight hits the earth, our atmosphere tends to trap some of that heat, and what isn't trapped—

Senator RENNICK: Yes, [inaudible] visible light that's way above the infrared spectrum.

Dr Marshall : escapes back into space. Well, sunlight's infrared to ultraviolet. And, fortunately—

Senator RENNICK: True. But it's above 14.8.

Dr Marshall : not gamma rays, because the atmosphere stops us from them. Essentially, that equilibrium, if you like, that atmosphere, is a blanket around the earth. Some of that heat that's trapped is trapped high in the atmosphere, and that can leak into space, as you were saying, because of the Boltzmann law. Lower in the atmosphere, it tends to be much harder to radiate into space and it tends to be reabsorbed by other CO2 or water vapour in the atmosphere. That blanket is essentially what heats the earth. If we didn't have it, the earth would be would be very, very cold. So it's a good thing we have it. It protects us and gives us a good climate.

Senator RENNICK: We've had this discussion about blankets before; we keep coming back to blankets. CO2 is 2½ thousand parts, right? If I put a stamp on me, that's not going to keep the rest of me warm, is it?

Dr Marshall : The isotope of CO2 that comes from burning fossil fuels has increased by about 50 per cent since the seventies. That's our challenge. As humans, we emit CO2 when we breathe. Plants absorb the CO2 and give us back oxygen. It's a nice little cycle, but if we disrupt that cycle we start to see the temperature of the earth increase a little bit. The good news is it hasn't increased much—maybe a degree—so there's time to do something about it.

Senator RENNICK: I will put these questions on notice again. I had it confirmed with the CSIRO last time that CO2 emits at negative 80 degrees—that's the peak. I accept there are bands that come about as a result of conduction. But you've just contradicted again what I was told last time by the CSIRO. I will leave it at that.

A reply to one of my questions on notice—this was regarding heat loss—says that the atmosphere is not a closed system. This contradicts this whole 'blanket' statement again. The concept of a greenhouse is that there's a roof, and heat gets trapped because the glass blocks the heat, right? So you admit that the name 'the greenhouse effect' is not the right name to describe what happens with CO2, because, as we just discussed before with the Stefan-Boltzmann concept, heat emits in all directions. Heat doesn't get trapped, and it doesn't get trapped in the atmosphere either; it can go up, back into space.

Dr Marshall : It's definitely not a glass, and it definitely radiates into space. But what radiates into space balances what radiates into the earth, and that's what gives us the temperature rise. If we took the atmosphere away, we'd still have the same amount of energy hitting the earth but we wouldn't be able to preserve it, and the earth would be a very cold place. It's a good thing we have the atmosphere.

Senator RENNICK: I accept that, but it's not a closed system, is it, which is what the greenhouse term implies.

Dr Marshall : It's an equilibrium system.

Senator RENNICK: Which is driven by convection?

Dr Marshall : We have to feed the plants—

Senator RENNICK: I realise all that. I just wanted to confirm that. I want to come back to the issue of clouds and the confusion over heating and cooling. Given clouds would block visible sunlight, which is in the band between 0.3 and 0.7 microns, which is a much higher energy level than infrared radiation—

Dr Marshall : So 0.3 is ultraviolet.

Senator RENNICK: That's the edge.

Dr Marshall : You see it down to about 450, and longer wavelengths from 630 to 450.

Senator RENNICK: So, long story short, visible light is about 30 times more powerful than the infrared band, and CO2 has a peak in the vicinity of around—

Dr Marshall : No; infrared is heat. When you sit in front of a radiator, it's the infrared that's giving off heat.

Senator RENNICK: I understand that, but different molecules absorb at different bandwidths, don't they?

Dr Marshall : Yes. Water vapour absorbs around 1.2 to two or three microns, and then CO2 absorbs that at a longer wavelength.

Senator RENNICK: Coming back to clouds: if clouds block visible light, which has a much higher energy level than infrared, then, all things being equal, clouds would block more heat than they would trap.

Dr Marshall : The water vapour in the clouds will absorb infrared radiation as well.

Senator RENNICK: I realise that, but water vapour is not the issue; we're talking about CO2.

Dr Marshall : But that's what a cloud is.

Senator RENNICK: I realise that. Anyway, that's enough. I will put the rest on notice, because I'm getting confusing answers here.

CHAIR: We allow latitude in this committee, Senator Rennick, but we are in budget estimates.

Senator RENNICK: I realise that, but we spend billions on this.

CHAIR: Absolutely, Senator Rennick; I am happy to continue to discuss it.

Senator McKENZIE: I've got a few questions related to GenCost. I'm interested in the capital expenditure costs regarding two SMRs, particularly the 16,487 kilowatt figure, which is quoted—you're nodding, so I'm assuming you're all over it.

Dr Marshall : I'm not; Dr Mayfield is.

Senator McKENZIE: I note that the GenCost 2020-21 draft consultation, on page 37, states:

The current capital costs and assumed learning rates for nuclear SMR have not changed since the 2019-20 projections.

But GenCost 2019-20, on page 15, states:

The assumed current capital cost for nuclear SMR remains the same as GenCost 2018 …

Then we go back to 2018. This is despite, earlier in the same report on page 4:

CSIRO also received feedback on nuclear small modular reactor (SMR) costs that the source of GHD's estimated cost was not clear and that other estimates are lower. In reviewing this issue, we found that, while GHD's source was unclear, there is no hard data to be found on nuclear SMR.

If the original source for the capital expenditure figure is unable to be verified, why does the CSIRO continue to persist with this figure in its GenCost reports?

Dr Mayfield : As you would appreciate, SMR technology is in its infancy and being developed. The original cost estimates were done based on normal estimation techniques, with whatever data could be found. We look to update those over time as we get information on actual builds. The challenge we have—

Senator McKENZIE: Are you telling me nothing has been built since 2017?

Dr Mayfield : There is very little getting built in the world. There are a lot of things going through a licensing process and technical development, but there's been very little, if anything, built in that time that we can draw on and use. That's the challenge, and that's using all the resources of all the different stakeholders to GenCost. So at this point in time we don't have anything that we can say is solid information to do an update with. But we expect there will be a learning rate over time. By 2030, we expect that there will be units coming in.

Senator McKENZIE: You are expecting some data by 2030?

Dr Mayfield : We would expect so, and then you will start seeing a decrease in cost. But at the moment we don't have anything to base a change on.

Senator McKENZIE: I find that incredible, when there is data out there that does say that it's lower.

Dr Marshall : But not at scale. There's data for utility grade nuclear in the United States and in Europe, but not for small-scale reactors. You've got to scale this up to be a real power source for powering a city before you can really estimate the cost.

Senator McKENZIE: So far we're basing the figure that we're touting here—the people that came up with it say it's unclear and not very verifiable. That is what you're basically telling me.

Dr Mayfield : There is an engineering process. You have to start with some form of design and do a cost estimation against that. That's standard practice for large engineering companies, based on their expertise. So that is where you start. They will have a higher plus or minus uncertainty on them, and, over time, as you refine the technology you deploy it and get a better understanding. Until you go to tender on some of these items, you never know what the real cost is. You try to estimate it and get the best answer that you can, but it's plus or minus 40 per cent science at best. And that's the engineering part of it; that's not what CSIRO does. We've been using engineering companies that do this as their normal business. Then, as you go forward with the development and deployment of the technology, you can bring those costs down as you get real data points. We are looking for real data points. Sometimes there are announcements; people will put something in the press. But we are looking for the ones where there is actually a build going on and you can verify those costs, as opposed to announcements.

Senator McKENZIE: So you're saying nothing has been done in five years?

Dr Mayfield : We don't have anything that we've been able to find that has the attributes that we look for to do the update, but we have every expectation that, over time, those costs will come down.

Senator McKENZIE: Over a decade and a half. Of course costs come down; that's just basic economics.

Dr Mayfield : As it deploys, yes. The technology has potential, but, at this point in time, we don't have data.

Senator McKENZIE: Should you still be using that figure, then?

Dr Mayfield : People are trying to look for the ballpark that it's currently in. If you consider it a ballpark—

Senator McKENZIE: Wouldn't it be better if you had a range, rather than a ballpark?

Dr Mayfield : A lot of the data have been put in the figures with uncertainty bounds on them. There is an uncertainty to it.

Senator McKENZIE: Why was SMR technology not included in the scope of the Aurecon costs and technical parameter reviews for 2019-20?

Dr Mayfield : The current work is being done for 2020-21. I'd have to go back and find, on notice, what happened in 2019-20.

Senator McKENZIE: I'd appreciate that. I'd like to understand whether one of the reasons for not including SMR in such analysis was that we currently have a prohibition on nuclear energy in Australia.

Dr Mayfield : No, that's not correct.

Senator McKENZIE: Would that be a parameter that would stop you looking at this technology in those reports?

Dr Mayfield : No. In our technoeconomic outlook, we always try to look at all the relevant technologies so we've got benchmarks across the entire energy space. In the past, we included large-scale—

Senator McKENZIE: Even if they're prohibited in this country you'd still look at it?

Dr Mayfield : It's a desktop exercise to understand the relative costs of technologies. It's included, and it gives you a global understanding. These technologies are developed globally, and you're getting those benchmarks.

Senator McKENZIE: I know. Every G20 country has nuclear power except for us. It's incredible.

Senator Patrick interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: I know. I've been there. I used to be in charge of it, so I get it. That's why I'm—

CHAIR: Alright. It's late at night. You have a couple more minutes, Senator McKenzie.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. In terms of stakeholder engagement, has the CSIRO engaged with any vendors, such as NuScale, Rolls-Royce or General Electric, regarding the engineering cost analysis that they've undertaken?

Dr Mayfield : I'd have to take that on notice. That's something that Aurecon or GHD would have done. They had primary responsibility.

Senator McKENZIE: But if you're overseeing the work, I'd hope you'd check the specs.

Dr Mayfield : I'd have to talk to the team that have done the work.

CHAIR: The official can take it on notice, Senator.

Dr Mayfield : I don't look into every—

Senator McKENZIE: And if not, why not? I also note that in GenCost 2020-21: consultation draft you state:

These views have not changed and there have been no major developments worldwide in SMR.

Are you aware of such work on SMR technology being undertaken by other jurisdictions, such as the Canadian government, through their SMR Roadmap?

Dr Mayfield : We are aware of that work, and we've looked into that.

Senator McKENZIE: And so why—

Dr Mayfield : There wasn't merit, at that point in time, to add it because it's still road-map work. It's not for actual builds.

Senator McKENZIE: It's not construction work?

Dr Mayfield : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Okay, thank you. I'll put the rest on notice.

CHAIR: Senator Roberts.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you for being here again.

Dr Marshall : Thanks for having us.

Senator ROBERTS: It's not up to me, but I would welcome you anyway.

Senator McKENZIE: He requests you every time.

Senator ROBERTS: I've got a few preliminary questions.

CHAIR: Thou doth protest too much, Senator Roberts!

Senator CANAVAN: He'd have you here all week!

Senator McKENZIE: He'd have six CSIRO—

Senator ROBERTS: I'm staying tomorrow. I've got a few preliminary questions before the main question. Are you aware, Dr Marshall, that the federal energy minister now openly states he's afraid for our electricity supply, due to looming high energy prices, unreliability and grid instability due to intermittent solar and wind energy?

Dr Marshall : I'm aware that there are instabilities in the grid as a result of the intermittency of renewable energy.

Senator ROBERTS: My constituents are worried also. I'm asking on their behalf. Are you aware that the Howard-Anderson government, from 1996 to 2007, enacted policies such as the Renewable Energy Target, about which former Prime Minister Howard now expresses profound regret?

Dr Marshall : Again, these are matters of policy that are outside my scope.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm just asking if you're aware.

Dr Marshall : I can answer any question about CSIRO, but I really can't answer questions about policy.

Senator ROBERTS: Are you aware that, starting in 1996 and through to 2007, the Howard-Anderson Liberal-Nationals federal government jointly, with state governments, appropriated farmers' property rights and, in doing so, deliberately bypassed Australia's federal Constitution and avoided paying compensation to landowners, totalling what some say would cost farmers hundreds of billions of dollars?

CHAIR: Again, that is outside scope.

Senator ROBERTS: I can't see that, Chair, with respect, because that's just a known fact. I'm asking the doctor if he's aware of it. I'm not asking for his opinion on Howard government policy.

Dr Marshall : I can only testify on matters relating to the CSIRO—

Senator ROBERTS: That's what I'm getting to.

Dr Marshall : science, engineering and so on.

Senator ROBERTS: Are you aware of that?

Dr Marshall : Not policy.

Senator ROBERTS: Okay. Are you aware that in 2014, seven years after being removed from office in 2007, former Prime Minister John Howard publicly admitted to being agnostic on climate science? After doing all these policies he admitted he is agnostic.

Dr Marshall : You would have to ask him not me.

Senator ROBERTS: I have asked him. I'm wanting to know if you are aware.

Dr Marshall : I'll answer any question relating to CSIRO.

Senator ROBERTS: Are you aware that my own freedom of information request on CSIRO, in 2013, for documents sent to ministers between 2005 and 2013 revealed no correspondence at all on climate from the chief executive to ministers?

CHAIR: There's no reason why Mr Marshall would be aware of that.

Senator ROBERTS: He's head of CSIRO.

Dr Marshall : I can speak for the period from 2015.

Senator ROBERTS: My point, and my reason for requesting whether or not you know, is that similar freedom of information requests on BOM have shown that no scientific evidence has been sent to ministers between 2005 and 2013. My recent parliamentary library request has failed to identify any documents from CSIRO to MPs and containing logical scientific points proving causation. I've asked a number of MPs and a number of ministers. None have been able to give me any evidence for the basis of their claims. The father of this Senate, Senator Ian Macdonald, in 2016 said that Australia's parliament has never had a debate or discussion about the climate science.

There are so many avenues I've tried and can't seem to find anyone who can give me the evidence. What I would like you to do, on notice, is to, please, provide a list of the documents in which CSIRO has provided scientific advice to ministers, including prime ministers, to MPs and to senators and containing logical scientific points proving that carbon dioxide from human activity needs to be cut.

Dr Marshall : I can give you some of that now, if you'd like.

Senator ROBERTS: I'd like it all comprehensively, please, with a time line.

Dr Marshall : This is the increase in CO2 as measured from our Cape Grim facility.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm aware of that.

Dr Marshall : This is the measure of the isotope of CO2—

Senator ROBERTS: I'm aware of that.

Dr Marshall : that's emitted by the burning of fossil fuels—

Senator ROBERTS: We've given you a response to both of them.

Dr Marshall : as measured by ice course—

Senator ROBERTS: We've given you a response to both of them.

Dr Marshall : and this is the data measured. The orange curve is measured by BOM, the increase in the earth's temperature, and the blue curve is measured by CSIRO, the increase in the temperature of the Southern Ocean.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm aware of that.

Dr Marshall : The data's pretty irrefutable, Senator. I'd happily table those for the Senate.

CHAIR: I think they've been tabled before, unless they're updated ones.

Senator ROBERTS: I'd like you to please provide a list of the documents that CSIRO has provided that include scientific advice to ministers, including prime ministers, to MPs and to senators and containing logical scientific points proving that carbon dioxide from human activity needs to be cut. I'd also like you to provide, on notice, CSIRO's specific formal policy advice on climate, and I need to know the basis for current policies already destroying people's jobs, livelihoods, lifestyles and cost of living.

To do my due diligence for my constituents, I also require the following: the type of document, whether it was a letter, report, reference, article, journal paper or email; the date that CSIRO provided the documents; the recipients' names and titles; the identification of documents provided, being title, date, authors' names and publisher; and identification, in particular, and the specific location of the logical scientific points upon which CSIRO's advice is relying. By logical scientific point, Dr Marshall, I mean the empirical scientific evidence within a logical scientific framework proving cause and effect. By location, I want it within a reference document—and I mean page numbers, sentences and/or data table, especially when your point relies on reference to another document, such as a UN IPCC report or State of the climate report. The last thing I'd like is the date range for documents from the start of the Howard-Anderson government on 11 March 1996 to the present.

CHAIR: Senator Roberts, with due respect, I'm happy for Dr Marshall to take that on notice but that's an extraordinarily large diversion of resources for CSIRO.

Senator ROBERTS: That's a very small diversion.

CHAIR: No, with respect—

Senator ROBERTS: With respect, I've checked through the Parliamentary Library. I've checked through the BOM. I've checked through CSIRO. In terms of CSIRO itself, the chief executive never sent a document to them between 2005 and 2013. So I would like these documents that detail the scientific, logical points proving that carbon dioxide from human activity affects climate.

Dr Marshall : I'll probably have to read through the Hansard to understand what I'm taking on notice before I can take it on notice.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm happy to put it to you in writing.

Dr Marshall : That would be great, if you wouldn't mind. That would be terrific. But, Senator, just one other thing: there is an assumption in your question. I think you're assuming that the basis of our advice to the Australian government in my time has been around whether climate change is real or the scientific basis of that. But that is not what is driving Australia's response to climate action. It's got nothing to do with the science. We can totally support the science; I'm not worried about that. But the rest of the world is going through a fundamental market shift which means our coal is at risk and our natural gas is at risk. The advice we're giving the Australian government is: what do we do about that? Surely you've seen the major shifts in Europe, the United States and even China.

Senator CANAVAN: There were still 37 gigawatts that have been sold last year.

Dr Marshall : I'm just looking at the global emissions here, Senator. I know you can't see Australia. We're very low down here, but China started to plateau—

Senator CANAVAN: You're talking about coal, so—

Dr Marshall : Europe tailed off over the last several years and the US tailed off—the US of course largely because they shifted from coal to gas and gas is much lower emissions than coal. But that's the nature of the world. So it's a market shift. This has got way beyond the science now.

Senator ROBERTS: So it's way beyond the science?

Dr Marshall : Way beyond.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm interested in the science.

Dr Marshall : Fine.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you for agreeing to do that, and I'll put it in writing so you can quote me.

Senator CANAVAN: Senator Roberts, can I ask a follow-up?

Senator ROBERTS: Sure.

Senator CANAVAN: Dr Marshall, I noted that you said earlier that the world will buy less of our coal and gas. The IEA in their latest projections—and I'm quoting here from analysis of the IEA's Stated Policies Scenarios—said that Australia 'is one of the few major exporters projected to increase coal production to 2040'. So why do you have different estimates or estimates that disagree with the International Energy Agency on Australia's coal? I'm not talking about global coal; I'm talking about Australia's coal exports.

Dr Marshall : I don't think the UK actually buys any more coal.

Senator CANAVAN: We don't sell any coal to the UK. Just to be clear: you said earlier that you felt the world would buy less of our coal.

Dr Marshall : Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: But the International Energy Agency projects that, under their Stated Policies Scenario, which is their central scenario, that we're one of the few major exporters to increase coal exports on the range of their projections to 2040. I'm just wondering where your estimates are coming from if they disagree with the International Energy Agency.

Dr Marshall : Looking at Europe's buying patterns—

Senator CANAVAN: We don't sell coal to Europe—well, not much.

Dr Marshall : China's buying patterns and the UK's buying patterns, the world market for coal is declining.

Senator CANAVAN: How much coal do we produce? How much of the world's coal does Australia produce?

Dr Marshall : I could give you that on notice.

Senator CANAVAN: You're making fairly strong claims about coal projections. I would have thought that, given those strong claims, you would know a basic fact like that. The figure is about five per cent. This is the issue: I've got no dispute with your projection.

Dr Marshall : Should we not be concerned, Senator?

Senator CANAVAN: Just to be clear here: I'm not disputing your projection that the forecasts are for global coal demand to fall, although only slightly in global terms, including Asia. But our coal, given its high quality, is actually projected to increase its market share under most scenarios. So why is your advice to government seemingly so different—indeed, diametrically opposed—to the major projections of organisations like the International Energy Agency? I wonder whether you actually have a deep understanding of global coal markets and our position in them.

Dr Marshall : I probably have a deep understanding of how market shifts work. As they say, 'shift happens'. We've seen this in the deregulation of telecommunications; we've seen it in the birth of the internet. Five years ago, when we dramatically increased our investment in hydrogen, there was very little interest in financial markets in hydrogen. When we made our breakthrough with the hydrogen cracker and FMG stepped in—

Senator CANAVAN: With all due respect, my question is not about hydrogen—

Dr Marshall : the year after that, global funding increased—

Senator CANAVAN: and it's not about telecommunications. You raised the issue of coal—not me.

Dr Marshall : so I think CSIRO's pretty good at seeing things before they happen.

Senator CANAVAN: You raised the issue of coal demand—not me.

CHAIR: Senator Canavan, I think—

Senator CANAVAN: I'm going to ask about coal. What analysis have you done separate or better or different from the International Energy Agency that gives you the confidence to disagree with those projections about Australia's coal exports? And not generalities. You're a science based organisation, and I would have thought you'd have done some scientific analysis of this if you're going to make bold claims about our second major export.

Dr Marshall : I'm in disbelief that you can't see the global decline in demand for coal.

Senator CANAVAN: Dr Marshall, I get pretty frustrated if you're going to misquote me. I said very clearly that I agree with you that the central projections are for global coal demand to decline. I said that, and I'll say it again. What we are arguing about, or we are discussing, is what will be the projections for Australian coal exports, because even in a declining market our exports could increase, as the IEA projects but you don't.

Dr Marshall : Our role is to use science and technology to solve Australia's challenges. It takes a while to cook science and technology, so a really important part of our role is looking ahead so that we're prepared. That's the reason that five years ago we invested against a possible pandemic and were able to be on the front foot when COVID hit. That's the reason that we're ahead on hydrogen—

Senator CANAVAN: My question has nothing to do with COVID!

CHAIR: No, Senator Canavan—

Senator CANAVAN: Chair, I'll conclude here, because we're not going to solve this issue. I'd just make the point that here in this estimates Dr Marshall is saying that the CSIRO has very clear projections about our country's second biggest export, with over 50,000 Australians employed, and he lacks, or his organisation seems to lack, a basic understanding and detail of coal markets. I hope that, given that, the government is not putting a lot of confidence in your estimates. I'd also note that the CSIRO advised the Australian government in the 1960s that there wasn't going to be enough coal in Australia to export to Japan. Luckily, at the time the government ignored the CSIRO and proceeded with the development of the Hunter and Bowen basins at the time. Perhaps the government should adopt a similar approach here, because, honestly, Dr Marshall, your advice does not seem to be extremely well informed about coal markets.

CHAIR: Senator Canavan, you've made your point. Dr Marshall, if you want to respond, I'd prefer not to prolong—

Dr Marshall : No, I won't, but I—

CHAIR: this conversation, because that's not what estimates is for.

Dr Marshall : I agree. Thank you, Chair. I was remiss for Senator Roberts. I had promised to give documentary evidence that we were in the top 0.1 per cent in our four core fields of science—that's this document I'm holding—and also that CSIRO puts Australia at No. 3 in the world for innovation organisations. We're the only organisation on the Reuters top-25 list and the only Australian organisation on the IEEE top-25 list. We rank seventh in Australia for academic excellence, but for innovation we rank No. 1.

Senator ROBERTS: Thanks, Dr Marshall. I'd like to respond to that.

CHAIR: I'll allow you to respond. Dr Marshall, is that answering questions that you'd taken on notice?

Dr Marshall : Last time, Senator Roberts challenged the veracity of CSIRO's science excellence. He demanded documentary evidence. I'm just providing that.

CHAIR: If that's a response to a question then we will need you to at least get the references to those documents sent to the secretariat. We don't need them tonight.

Senator ROBERTS: I don't believe I asked for references for that, but I'm happy to see them, because what it shows is that Dr Marshall is using an appeal to name and an appeal to authority instead of science. The only thing that decides science is not a claim that a certain scientist is amongst the world's top 10 per cent or one per cent. The core thing of science is empirical scientific evidence. I haven't been able to get it. CSIRO has promised, and now it has given me a time line of all their communications with ministers, so I'll wait for that. I've got some more questions.

CHAIR: I think you've had a good run, Senator Roberts. Senator Canavan, you actually had the call next.

Senator CANAVAN: I have some different questions. Are they on the same topic? Maybe if they're on the same topic.

Senator ROBERTS: A slightly different topic.

Senator CANAVAN: I'm in your hands, Chair.

CHAIR: You have the call next.

Senator CANAVAN: I want to ask about the report Edible insects, which came out recently from the CSIRO.

Dr Marshall : I thought that might have been where you were going.

Senator CANAVAN: You're aware of it, from your reaction. I'm very interested in this report. I'm sure you're aware—

Senator WATT: You've changed, Matt.

Senator CANAVAN: Yes, too much beef at beef week. I notice that on 29 April 2021 on your CSIROscope blog it says:

Four reasons insects could be a staple in Aussie diets, from zesty tree ants to peanut-buttery bogong moths.

I wonder if you could expand a little bit on what types of insects or bugs Australians are most likely to eat.

Dr Marshall : It's a good question.

Senator CANAVAN: It's your work.

Dr Marshall : If you'd seen the bug factory, you might be reluctant to eat any of it. In general, it's our effort to investigate the market potential for alternative protein sources, because we know we can't produce enough beef to feed the growing population of the world. We also know that a portion of the world will only eat plant based protein, not traditional meat based protein. Peter, do you want to—

Dr Mayfield : I don't think I could name particular species, but there was work that was done as a road map in conjunction with—it was sponsored by DFAT for Latin America.

Senator CANAVAN: For Latin America, did you say?

Dr Mayfield : Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: Why were we doing work for Latin America?

Dr Mayfield : I think it was part of our engagement with those groups around feeding people and stuff like that.

Dr Marshall : It's an export market opportunity for Australia. We understand that at this stage there are about two billion people around the world who have some form of insect in their diet. It wasn't common knowledge for me either. It's also been part of the diet of our First Nations people. So some of those things come into play. It's just looking at what the opportunities are. There are already 14 farmers in Australia who work in this sort of area.

Senator CANAVAN: I've noticed that in the past you've been very successful at pulling out different recipe books. Are you planning to do something similar? Are you planning to put out a recipe book out for insects and bugs for Australians so they know how to prepare the delicacies?

Dr Mayfield : I'm not aware of anything there. I'd have to take that on notice and ask.

Senator CANAVAN: You don't have information about what types of wines go with different types of bugs or anything like that for us? One of the benefits here apparently—you put it on your Facebook page—is:

Here's how eating insects is better for the environment.

Compared to conventionally farmed animals like beef, pork and chicken, insects produce fewer greenhouse gases.

Given that, and given that we all want to save the planet, did anyone here have bugs for dinner last night?

Dr Marshall : Not last night, but last week I did.

Senator CANAVAN: You did have bugs last week?

Dr Marshall : Balmain bugs, though.

Senator CANAVAN: Right. I'm not sure that fits into your category, consistent with saving the planet. So why aren't you eating bugs? Why aren't you following your own advice if you want to save the planet? No-one's consuming them. Why not?

Dr Marshall : I've had grasshoppers.

Senator CANAVAN: I have too, in China. More seriously, how much did this report cost?

Dr Mayfield : I don't have that. I'd have to take it on notice.

Senator CANAVAN: Take that on notice. How many people worked on the report in the CSIRO?

Dr Mayfield : It'd be the same: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator CANAVAN: On page 57 of the report, you had 16 people from the CSIRO listed as being thanked for their work on the report. Is that about right—about 16 people?

Dr Mayfield : I don't know, but with most of our work we would do it with a team of people where people make various contributions, from major to minor.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay. Please take on notice how many. In the report itself—I'm not seeking to denigrate any of your businesses here—you say the industry is only worth $10 million a year in Australia annually. How, Dr Marshall, do you decide the CSIRO's priorities here and put what seem to be significant amounts of resources—apparently 16 staff—into a report on an industry worth just $10 million a year?

Dr Marshall : There are probably three things to clarify. Firstly, CSIRO has, in a good year, well over $500 million of external revenue, so you shouldn't assume that we're using taxpayer money to do this work. You should probably assume we're using at least a good percentage of external revenue.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay. What's the detail?

Dr Marshall : Second, if we believe a market has good export potential for Australian industry, which we do in this case, we'd go ahead of the curve and do a bit more investment and investigation to verify that. So we did it in partnership, I think, with DFAT.

Senator CANAVAN: I struggle to understand the priorities here, Dr Marshall, when you have ripped out—or not you, I should say, but your organisation over the years—resources from regional Australia. You've left the Spyglass facility in Rockhampton. You don't have a presence, really, at all in North Queensland. We have a multibillion-dollar beef industry there. You do some good work with them, but you're putting resources into bugs, which is a miniscule industry. I'm not denigrating any of the people in here, but it's of miniscule importance and it's pretty hard to see the industry in a global context. You referred to two billion people. It's a $1.4 billion industry. That's nothing in the context of global food supply. What are the priorities? Have you lost focus here? You are meant to be the premier industrial science organisation of this country, and you're researching insects.

Dr Marshall : Just for clarity—

Senator CANAVAN: You're researching insects.

Dr Marshall : in the last five years—

Senator CANAVAN: It's a joke.

CHAIR: Senator Canavan!

Dr Marshall : We're more than the premier innovation agency in Australia.

Senator CANAVAN: It's a national embarrassment, Dr Marshall.

Dr Marshall : We're in the top 20 in the world.

Senator CANAVAN: It's a national embarrassment that you're spending money and resources as an organisation on insects and bugs—

CHAIR: Senator Canavan, you've made your point.

Senator CANAVAN: when we have beef producers struggling with changes in their export markets. It is just a joke.

CHAIR: Senator Canavan!

Senator CANAVAN: I don't want to hear any more complaints about funding the CSIRO when you've apparently got the resources to invest in insects and bugs.

CHAIR: Do you have any further questions?

Senator CANAVAN: Yes, I do. You probably have answered this question. I was a bit surprised to see the report had been translated into Spanish—and no other languages, I should say. I was wondering why that was the case. Is that because of this almost aid focus we had on Latin America?

Dr Mayfield : I believe the context is that it was part of DFAT's work with Latin America, and it was done as part of that, so that's why it was in Spanish.

Senator CANAVAN: Can you take on notice how many downloads of the Spanish translation you've had from your website?

Dr Mayfield : Yes, we can do that.

Senator CANAVAN: You may as well add how many downloads of the English version there have been as well, if you could.

CHAIR: You've probably boosted that!

Senator CANAVAN: I've downloaded it today. I note that in the report you hosted a three-day bug symposium in Brisbane in August 2019 as part of the work here. How much did that cost?

Dr Mayfield : I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator CANAVAN: If you could, take on notice how much the bug symposium cost and, also, where it was held. Also, if you could, take on notice any costs of catering—in particular, for individual events, and what was served at those events. What was the menu? I'd be particularly interested, of course, if there were bugs on the menu. Hopefully, there was no beef eaten at this three-day symposium! What is your view—we've already spoken a lot about carbon emissions and these things—do we have to reduce our consumption of beef to meet net zero emissions? Has the CSIRO done work on that?

Dr Marshall : Fortunately, Senator, we invented FutureFeed. Agriculture is one of the most difficult areas in which to reduce emissions, but FutureFeed does the seemingly impossible feat of almost eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from cattle.

Senator CANAVAN: What about from deforestation? As Senator Roberts was outlining well before, one other element of emissions from the beef sector is the use of pasture—or at least the way carbon accounting works in some seemingly illogical way. Grasses aren't counted but trees are. So you haven't looked at this? I've seen a lot of other people comment, saying that to reduce our emissions, especially to net zero, we'll have to eat less beef.

Dr Marshall : As I said—

Senator CANAVAN: You don't agree? We can continue to eat as many steaks as we—

Dr Marshall : All I'm saying is that, using science and innovation, we rank higher than NASA globally for our innovation and put Australia at No. 3 in the top 20 countries in the world—the only Australian institution to be in that list ever—because of our innovation, like hydrogen and like FutureFeed, which almost eliminates the emissions from cattle. Cattle, if they were a country, would be the third-highest emitter in the world, after the US and China. So it's a profound accomplishment.

Senator CANAVAN: Hopefully, we won't have to eat bugs.

Dr Marshall : It's great to see companies like Woolworths—

Senator CANAVAN: Yes, they're a great company.

Dr Marshall : and Minderoo getting in there and funding it and growing it.

CHAIR: Senator Canavan, how are you going?

Senator CANAVAN: Finally, are you doing any further work on bugs or insects in Australians' diets? Is there any additional work?

Dr Marshall : We do an enormous amount of work on bugs—for agricultural pests, breeding strains of resistant crops.

Senator CANAVAN: I'm just speaking about this as a food source. Is there a team of people in the CSIRO doing this work?

Dr Marshall : You've got me thinking though, Senator, that, if we're breeding crops to be bug resistant, we might actually turn it into a bit of a circular economy there.

Senator CANAVAN: There are plenty of those. You're not going to run out of supply. If you could, take on notice too what future work you're doing.

Dr Mayfield : I'm not aware on any major program of work around that.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Patrick, you have the call.

Senator PATRICK: I'd like to ask some questions about your COVID-19 challenge model. I think it's based around ferret testing that was conducted last year. I just want to understand a little bit about the program. I'm guessing its genesis was that COVID appeared on the radar and then you guys responded in some way and I'm just interested in what you did. I don't know much about those trials or that challenge, so I'm just interested in what you did there.

Dr Marshall : Yes. About a year before the pandemic, we'd partnered with CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness. Jane Halton, the former secretary of health here in Australia, is the chair of that. We'd done that in anticipation. We all remember SARS and, like with bugs and future markets for hydrogen, we were looking forward into the future and asking: what if Australia had a pandemic? We made a number of changes as far back as 2016 to prepare for it, but we did the CEPI deal the year before.

Our ACDP facility in Geelong, the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, is one of a very small number—five or six—that are global reference labs for these types of diseases, and they form a global network. Once the pandemic became apparent, those labs talked pretty much every day and shared data. So, pretty quickly, we got the genetic information on the disease; we got samples of the disease, thanks to University of Melbourne, who were able to extract some from a person in Melbourne who returned with the disease; and our team started working on questions like: how long does the disease survive on surfaces; how is it transmitted? We were worried that it might be airborne; it isn't, but we were very worried about that. We made the call to put it into PC4. PC4 is the highest level of biocontainment. That means people in it are wearing spacesuits. They're inside an airlock inside an airlock inside a building inside another building.

Senator PATRICK: This is because you didn't know anything about it at that point in time?

Dr Marshall : We knew a little bit about it because it's like SARS, but it's a new disease and we had to study it to understand just how dangerous it might be and what sort of methods we could use to protect Australia's population from it. And then CEPI worked with us to get access to a number of promising vaccine candidates—one from AstraZeneca, one from another US company. We also did work with the UQ vaccine candidate and we looked at the University of South Australia vaccine candidate as well. We looked at a lot of candidates.

Senator PATRICK: That's the Flinders one?

Dr Marshall : Sorry, it might have been Flinders.

Senator PATRICK: Because I think that's Vaxine Pty Ltd with Flinders.

Dr Marshall : It might have been Flinders, yes. So there were about 150 candidates around the world, and each day we looked at where they were in their cycle. We were able to work very effectively with the AstraZeneca vaccine, doing the ferret trial. The ferret model is regarded by the US as one of the most sophisticated in the world for testing these types of viruses. It's the closest thing to humans, so it's a very good proxy for a human. We did one of the world's first FDA-level standard trials, and then that data enabled AstraZeneca to more quickly get into an FDA trial and the equivalent of the FDA trial—the MHRA, I think it's called—in the United Kingdom. That then led to them going through phase II, phase III and then ultimate deployment into people.

Senator PATRICK: When you say phase II and phase III, that's of vaccine trials?

Dr Marshall : Yes. Vaccines go through phase I, II and III.

Senator PATRICK: Yes, I understand. So this was part of phase I?

Ms Zielke : We were involved in the preclinical.

Senator PATRICK: Sorry?

Ms Zielke : The candidate testing that we were involved in is preclinical. You use an animal model to test in the first instance before moving to human trials, which are phase I, II and III.

Dr Marshall : The key in those animal models was to answer questions like: if they have the vaccine, do the animals shed the virus? It's really important. And we were able to measure, with the AstraZeneca vaccine, that you don't shed the virus anymore, which means you can't spread it. Even if you get it, with the vaccine you can't pass it on, and then the vaccine teaches your immune system how to defeat the virus and is very effective, actually, at doing that.

Senator PATRICK: In terms of payments and benefits that flow from these, was it CEPI that funded it?

Dr Marshall : Yes, we have a partnership with the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness. CSIRO also put significant resources into that, as I mentioned earlier in the hearing.

Senator PATRICK: Can I find out, perhaps on notice, how much you put into that particular program?

Dr Marshall : Sure.

Senator PATRICK: How long did it actually run for?

Ms Zielke : In the first instance, the work that was being done prior to COVID was about 12 months worth of work, working on the previous SARS and developing and being prepared with an animal model. That was why when COVID arrived finalising the use of the ferret animal model was what they first worked on. Then, once that model was proven, they used that to do preclinical trials in relation to that.

Senator PATRICK: Is the model still being used at this point in time?

Ms Zielke : Yes.

Dr Marshall : We're trying to keep track of the various strains of the disease as they emerge.

Ms Zielke : We were also provided with funding by government to assist with some of that testing at the preclinical stage as well.

Senator PATRICK: Maybe you could just to help me out, because I'm interested in this. Describe the 12 months prior—what the funding was, what activity you did and then how that morphed as a result of the need to respond to something real. You mentioned a number of companies involved. Was it four or five you mentioned?

Dr Marshall : That was at—

Senator PATRICK: The initial stage?

Dr Marshall : Also during that time this was looking at the possibility of domestic manufacture of mRNA, which is not AstraZeneca vaccine.

Senator PATRICK: COVAX was one of them. Were the University of Queensland involved in this at all?

Ms Zielke : CEPI contracted us to undertake clinical trials on some of those, and there was also some other work that we were contracted directly for. We can provide that information.

Senator PATRICK: Yes. If you could tell us the names of the companies involved I'd be interested. Obviously UQ then died off after a while. Did you say they were involved or not?

Dr Marshall : Yes. We helped scale up the UQ vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine. We also worked with CSL to figure out how to manufacture both in the hope that UQ was successful.

Ms Zielke : It was a different activity, though—

Senator PATRICK: I'm only interested in the ferret model and the challenge that you did. UQ were not involved in that?

Ms Zielke : No.

Dr Marshall : CEPI did not select UQ as a candidate.

Senator PATRICK: I understand MRFF selected something. There was also a paper that was put out by Dr Finkel which Dr Foley was involved in.

Ms Zielke : Yes. That was the RRIF. Sorry to use another acronym.

Senator PATRICK: I'm trying to compartmentalise what happened in that phase. I will honest: I'm trying to track COVAX and how it was scoring. You had another vaccine, from UQ, which was not involved in that trial, yet seemed to score quite highly with the RRIF.

Ms Zielke : Yes, at the time of that piece of work. I get your point now in relation to the timeline. CEPI, along with a numbers of others around the world, were responsible for trying to prioritise which vaccine candidates would be tested first. As a result of that, UQ's was one of those ones that was presented. It wasn't prioritised at the time, but at that stage it was looking good. Subsequently to the RRIF—

Senator PATRICK: That's one of the things that concerns me, actually. CEPI had not prioritised UQ's, yet COVAX was prioritised. That's the Flinders Uni stuff. It didn't even make it into the first RRIF.

Ms Zielke : Again, whilst I'll take that on notice, I think you will find—and I'm going from memory—that it wasn't as progressed as UQ's. So it was about at what stage it was in the process as well. The South Australian one was behind—

Senator PATRICK: How did it get a priority from CEPI to go into the ferret model if it was behind UQ?

Dr Marshall : That part you'd have to ask CEPI, not us. We do have some information on that. Let us see what we can get to you.

Senator PATRICK: Was anyone in CSIRO involved in the MRFF decision-making process that led to the grant that went to UQ?

Ms Zielke : No. I'll just clarify that we were initially going to partner with UQ to put forward an application together for the MRFF arrangement. We would have been a party, so of course we couldn't participate in the assessment. We didn't subsequently proceed.

Senator PATRICK: Why did you not do that?

Ms Zielke : I suppose I'd best take that on notice. I think it was more in relation to timing and use of our facilities, but I'll come back to you on that one.

Senator PATRICK: So you'll also give me all of the companies that were prioritised to go through that?

Dr Marshall : I don't think we had enough ferrets, to be honest!

Senator PATRICK: Sorry?

Dr Marshall : We didn't have enough ferrets to test another vaccine.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. I understand. So you had to prioritise them—

Ms Zielke : Novavax, not COVAX. I think now I'm realising that we're using—

Dr Marshall : COVAX is a consortium arrangement.

Senator PATRICK: Yes.

Ms Zielke : So Novavax, I think, is what we were talking about, not COVAX.

Senator PATRICK: Okay; that's the one from Vaxine Pty Ltd—Dr Petrovsky?

Ms Zielke : I need to check that.

Senator PATRICK: Just generally, in the broad, I'm really interested in what you did before COVID—the work you were doing—and then that period when Australia was selecting what it did, in terms of the UQ, AstraZeneca and so forth, and then perhaps, subsequent to that, what continuing work you have done since some of that initial prioritisation activity. I'm interested to see what you've been doing since—

Ms Zielke : We'll also confirm the bits of that where we were in the decision-making process and where we weren't—

Senator PATRICK: That would be really appreciated.

Ms Zielke : because CEPI's decisions were taken by CEPI, not by us—

Senator PATRICK: Sure.

Ms Zielke : but we'll clarify that.

Senator PATRICK: Good on you. That's very helpful.

Dr Marshall : You're very welcome to visit ACDP in Geelong, once travel opens up, and you'd probably enjoy seeing—

Senator PATRICK: Some Victorian senator said to me that Victoria is a bit like Hotel California, so I might not check in! Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: Good evening. I want to start with the Australian Climate Service announcement in the budget, as to which there was a joint media release in which it was welcomed by CSIRO, along with the bureau and the ABS. Was there extra funding received for CSIRO as part of the Australian Climate Service announcement?

Dr Marshall : It's shared funding between the four partners, but we'd expect it would lead to additional funding for CSIRO.

Senator RICE: You would 'expect it would lead to'? Is there any extra funding that is committed at this stage?

Dr Mayfield : At this point in time, we're working through the final things. ACS starts on 1 July this year, and we've done a lot of pre-planning work, as the four partners, and then we've got to do a final work-through with the stakeholders—Emergency Management Australia and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency—just to firm up the program. At that point in time, we'll be able to contract to it. We're just putting in place the agreements at this point in time. So I would expect that, over the next two months, we'll have all of that worked out, but CSIRO will get additional dollars, yes. So that's a given; it's just the quantum—we just need to work through that.

Senator RICE: So there's extra funding that was in the budget, but there was nothing specifically allocated to CSIRO in the budget?

Dr Mayfield : It was allocated to the activity itself, and the four partners are just working through the planning. It comes down to: what's required by the end-users and what's the right contribution from each of the four partners? We expect there to be substantive funding over the four-year period.

Senator RICE: It's $209 million over the four-year period. Based on your negotiations so far, have you got a rough estimate of extra funding that CSIRO will get out of that then?

Dr Mayfield : As a range, somewhere between $40 million and $60 million over the four years, we'd expect to see, for the work that we'd contribute.

Senator RICE: What's the involvement of CSIRO, by business unit, to the ACS?

Dr Mayfield : The two primary business units involved are our Oceans and Atmosphere business unit, through the climate work that gets done there, and the Land and Water business unit, where there's a lot of work around resilience and the systems risk reduction analysis that goes in with it, and the vulnerability analyses and things like that. So those are the two primary ones, but it also will draw on Data61 and possibly some of our Energy resources as well, given that it's a federation of a lot of data and activity coming into one space, so it's quite large.

Senator RICE: So you would expect the bulk of that extra funding—that $40 million to $60 million—would go to Oceans and Atmosphere and Land and Water?

Dr Mayfield : I think they would collect the lion's share of that, yes.

Senator RICE: When do you think that the consortium is going to be in a position to make an announcement of how much extra you're going to get?

Dr Mayfield : We're putting in place the collaboration agreement, which is the head agreement, at this point in time, so we hope to have that in place later this month, and then the subagreements on particular programs of work will happen in the coming weeks after that. There is already some work which is just happening on a 'get started' basis, but I would expect that, sometime around July or August, we would have a clear view as to what the first tranche of funding is and how that will be executed—

Senator RICE: Presumably, with that level of increase in the quantum of funding, you'd be looking at extra scientists being employed.

Dr Mayfield : At this point in time, we haven't looked specifically at how we'll resource it. There are some resources that we would want to redeploy to this space because we think this is a good application domain—

Senator RICE: What I want to go to is the increase overall. If you're looking at an extra $40 million to $60 million, you might be redeploying some staff into the ACS.

Dr Marshall : As a general rule, we try to partner where we can. You may remember that, with the National Climate Centre, we partnered with a number of universities—UTAS, UNSW. The reason we do that is that we want to work with the smartest people in the country—and they are not all in CSIRO, as much as I wish they were. Also, it gives us a bit of a buffer. As we know—as the senator asked earlier—our revenue goes up and down.

Senator RICE: Thanks, but is there an expectation that we will be able to employ extra climate scientists in particular, or environmental scientists, through the ACS extra funding?

Dr Marshall : We don't know. It's better to have a plan rather than speculate there.

Senator RICE: Where's the money going to go if you've got $40 million to $60 million and you're not employing new staff?

Dr Marshall : It's premature. Let us at least resolve the plan. We are happy to talk about it once we have a plan. Until we have a plan, what we tell you is hypothetical.

Senator RICE: But surely—

CHAIR: Senator Rice, that's a perfectly reasonable response.

Senator RICE: If Dr Mayfield is expecting to have an extra $40 million to $60 million coming into the organisation, surely you would have an expectation—or you haven't? You think that might come into the organisation and then go out and pay people and other organisations?

CHAIR: Senator Rice, the officials have answered the question.

Dr Mayfield : It's a matter of what we do internally versus what we do with partners, as Dr Marshall said. Until we've done the final project planning and activity, it's hard to make a hard call on it. But it's a good situation for us to be in, to work through this.

Senator RICE: I want to go to the issue of staffing and go back to the questions that have been asked at different estimates over the last couple of years about the use of labour hire and labour hire companies—and I know that you have provided information on the breakdown of that. How many labour hire companies does CSIRO currently have people employed through?

Ms Zielke : When I last looked, there were 12 that we were working with. But I haven't asked that question in the last few months. I'm happy to confirm it for you or update it.

Senator RICE: What's happened to the number of people employed through labour hire companies? Has it gone up, gone down or stayed much the same?

Ms Zielke : It's stayed much the same in relation to that. Our general figures in that regard haven't varied significantly of late. As at June 2020, we had 424—both labour hire and contractors. You might recall that we didn't have systems in place to be able to break that down. Since that time, we have managed to put a new system in place. As at the end of May 2021, we had 281 labour hire and 155 contractors. A contractor is a plumber, an electrician or somebody coming into the site to do work. In total, that's 436. It's slightly up on the 424 of last year but it is not significantly different.

Senator RICE: And how about those who are employed in the categories of research scientists and engineers?

Ms Zielke : We don't have scientists employed as labour hire.

Senator RICE: You did have a year ago or two years ago, when I last asked this question—and I knew one of them personally.

Ms Zielke : My apologies. I'll take that on notice. I thought our answer had been in the negative.

Senator RICE: Certainly. I looked through the tables. If you could take that on notice, that would be good. I want to go to the CSIRO engagement with the consortiums that put in bids for the NESP's—the National Environmental Science Program's—Resilient Landscapes Hub. I understand that CSIRO was part of the two. There were three consortiums, and the two leading bids were the UWA bid, which was successful, and the uni of Melbourne bid. I just wanted to ask about the differences in CSIRO's involvement with those two bids.

Dr Mayfield : We were involved in both of those bids, and that's part of the normal process, and we were quite transparent about that with each of the two parties. I'd have to take on notice exactly what the specific contribution to those bids would be from us. But, as with all our NESP work, we're happy to work with consortiums, and we do the same with the northern—

Senator RICE: The uni of Melbourne was very happy for their bid to be made completely public, and I have seen that bid. I haven't seen the UWA bid. We were told at estimates last week that the CSIRO involvement with the UWA bid was more significant than it was with the uni of Melbourne bid. Without knowing the details, do you have any information about the different levels of engagement?

Dr Mayfield : I personally don't have any real details for you today, but I'm happy to sort of—

Senator RICE: Okay, if you could take it on notice, then—and whether there was a material difference in the engagement that CSIRO was proposing to have. That's certainly what was indicated to us at estimates last week.

Dr Mayfield : I'm sure it comes down to the context of each of those bids as to what they were looking to deliver. It's inevitable that they'll be a little bit different, but I'd have to look into that for you.

Senator RICE: Thank you—and what the value of the CSIRO's contribution would have been.

Dr Mayfield : Sure.

Senator CHISHOLM: I've just read a media story on the InnovationAus website titled 'Shock cuts at Data61 put jobs, research at risk', from 28 May 2021. Are you aware of that?

Dr Marshall : Vaguely, but if you want to go to detail in the media I might need a copy.

Senator CHISHOLM: No, I was more going to go to some questions about it, rather than relying on the media article. It just sort of piqued my attention. Can you confirm whether there will be job losses at Data61 and, if so, provide a bit of detail as to why?

Dr Marshall : There'll be 100 new positions at Data61, but one of the challenges of digital is that digital is everywhere, and a risk in any organisation is that you boil the ocean. We spent a lot of effort trying to think about what Australia might need, what's most important and what the key priorities are for Australia. So, we've narrowed Data61's focus to really three key areas. How do you drive the adoption and development of artificial intelligence for Australia, and what are the key areas where we need it? We think Australia needs artificial intelligence for Industry 4.0 for our sovereign capability, for digital agriculture and to deal with environmental hazards. We're very good at using pretty good analytics to predict the behaviour of bushfires. We want to get better at that so that we can deal with them more effectively, and also the predictive capability around crop yields and variations in weather and so on.

That's a big focus for us—really putting digital at the heart of Australia's resilience and recovery as we kind of build back. We think digital has accelerated maybe five or 10 years in the last year because of COVID. How do we take advantage of that for Australia? Again, Australia can't be good at everything, but we think that if we just pick two or three areas where we could be world leading there'd be a better chance of us being successful. The third one is going to sound a little bit far-fetched, but we think that artificial intelligence has the potential to completely turn science on its head and reinvent the scientific method itself. So, we're experimenting with that.

In terms of the markets, I mentioned those already. But, because of that focus, some of the people working in other areas—because Data61 was very broad—may not be able to retrain to work in the new areas. With those 100 new positions there are about 70 people in the organisation currently who may not be able to transition. I don't think it will be that many. About 70 we need to retrain. Our people are very attractive to universities and to industry and often they find a better opportunity for themselves in industry. Generally that's good for us because it means CSIRO ends up working with the company they go to because of the relationship.

Senator CHISHOLM: I want to be clear about that. Potentially 70 jobs will go. Is that because a division or a section has been abolished? Potentially some of those will be retrained or given other opportunities. You say 100 jobs have been created. What sort of time frame are we talking about on that?

Dr Marshall : It generally takes a year or two for that to happen. It generally takes a year or so for people to either retrain or move out of the organisation. You might also be thinking of the team that years ago developed the kernel for mobile phones. I think that was also in the article. Is that where you were going, Senator?

Senator CHISHOLM: I was just asking if it is 70 jobs from one section.

Dr Marshall : No. As I said, Data61 was quite broad. It's going to be a little more focused and narrow going forward, particularly around focusing on artificial intelligence. Those 70 people are in areas that aren't necessarily related to that direction. Sometimes they can be retrained and other times they will choose to go elsewhere.

Senator CHISHOLM: Did consultation occur with management and staff of Data61 prior to the cuts being announced?

Dr Marshall : There was extensive consultation. You may not be aware, but the way we did the CSIRO enterprise strategy in 2015 and the way we do most strategies is by using crowdsourcing, so every employee gets involved in the strategy process. It's a great example of how digital can really harness a lot more leverage off capability.

Senator CHISHOLM: Have any staff who will lose their jobs been advised of that already?

Dr Marshall : Generally we notify people who may be impacted. That number is always much larger than the people who actually are impacted. It's because of the question of when they can retrain or move to another business unit or another part of the organisation. Generally it's a notification and then we work with staff to go through that process.

Senator CHISHOLM: So no-one has been told definitively at this stage that they've lost their job?

Ms Zielke : No. People have been advised what positions won't be continuing under the new structure, but then at the same time they're being given information progressively about what the new roles are so that they can make a decision about whether they'd like to move to one of those new roles or look at roles in other areas of CSIRO in regard to it. It's quite some time between advice in relation to whether the position is continuing or not and when somebody might want to accept a redundancy as a result of that, for example, rather than take another role.

Senator CHISHOLM: Why has CSIRO announced it will discontinue funding for the world-leading Trustworthy Systems team?

Dr Marshall : I thought that was what you were referring to earlier. This is the team that developed the seL4 kernel, which is a microkernel that's very good for security of mobile phones. That breakthrough was made back in the early 2000s by NICTA and UNSW. The team that you're referring to is actually on campus at UNSW in Kensington. Unfortunately, that technology was licensed to I think Qualcomm—don't hold me to that—for a one-time fee. I say 'unfortunately' because that technology has gone through two billion mobile devices. Unfortunately, there was no ongoing royalty arrangement with the deal that was done at that time. NICTA did spin out a company to try to commercialise that technology—OK Labs—but it closed its doors in 2012. The NICTA team continued to develop the seL4 kernel from about 2009. When we acquired NICTA we continued to work with them.

There is a challenge with that technology. It's very mature and it's open source, so it's difficult to see an opportunity to build an industry in Australia or to derive a national benefit from that technology. Given our priority is artificial intelligence, we chose to pursue that and focus our resources where we thought we could derive greater national benefit.

Senator CHISHOLM: Are there any outstanding contracts requiring the ongoing services of that team?

Dr Marshall : That team has a number of contracts, which is good, because it made it easier for UNSW to work with them based on that external revenue. It would be great if they continued to do that and even better if they were able to figure out how to create a company around that. That would be a great outcome. Our conclusion was that that's not really feasible in Australia, which is why we chose to discontinue the work.

Senator CHISHOLM: Okay. AI has been identified as a sector that is going to be really important in autonomous cars and so forth. What funding is being directed to ensuring that we have a system that's safe from hackers and is robust, I suppose, in its use?

Ms Zielke : We could take on notice what work, if any, we are doing specifically in that area at the moment and come back to you with advice in relation to costs, value et cetera of that work.

Senator CHISHOLM: Okay. I have one final question, which will probably be on notice as well: can you provide your staffing numbers for Data61 from 2015 onward?

Ms Zielke : Yes, we can.

Senator ROBERTS: Dr Marshall, your agency's advice to government, and what it needs in terms of science to make sound policies, is important to me and to our constituents. I want you to discuss what government pays to its science agencies and the nature of the science. Let's start with a few things to clarify. Do you understand that, when government policies claim to be based on science, government needs to have an objective, empirical scientific basis quantifying specific relationships between factors to be managed in the policy?

Dr Marshall : I can't talk about government policy, but I can talk about science and engineering and CSIRO matters.

Senator ROBERTS: I wasn't talking about government policy; I was talking about what you need to provide for them to develop policy.

Ms Zielke : Senator, would you like us to explain our process in relation to establishing strategy and priorities for CSIRO and therefore where we invest our funding?

Senator ROBERTS: No, that's not what I am asking. What I want to know is how you present your science to the government so that it can make good policy.

Dr Marshall : Generally, it's the data. Generally, data makes for good policy.

Senator ROBERTS: I would agree.

Dr Marshall : Our role is to provide the data.

Senator ROBERTS: At last we have something we agree on. The data would have to be within a logical framework that proves causation—correct?

Dr Marshall : It depends on what we're talking about.

Senator ROBERTS: Let me just say: if there's a factor like human production of carbon dioxide that's claimed to be affecting climate, we would need to know, per unit of carbon dioxide, the effect on various climate factors, wouldn't we?

Dr Marshall : I think so, but didn't we already cover these data and the temperature?

Senator ROBERTS: No, we haven't.

Dr Marshall : Well, it's pretty clear.

Senator ROBERTS: I would have thought that, as a scientist, you would understand that we need to prove that, for a unit of carbon dioxide, we have a certain effect. What is the specific effect of the units of carbon dioxide on temperature, ocean temperature, rainfall, storm severity—

Dr Marshall : It's pretty clear to me Senator: when carbon dioxide accelerates there, temperature goes up in the ocean and in the air.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm glad you're saying it's clear, because what I need to know is: for each unit of human carbon dioxide, what is the effect on temperature, rainfall, ocean temperatures and alkalinity? These are the things I want to know—specific cause and effect.

Dr Marshall : As I said earlier, BOM measures the temperature of the land. CSIRO measures the temperature of the ocean. That's these two curves here.

Senator ROBERTS: So you can't provide it to me.

Dr Marshall : I have provided it to you.

Senator ROBERTS: It's basic. Surely you would understand, Dr Marshall, that for government to make a policy saying we need to make sure temperature doesn't get above a certain amount—or ocean alkalinity or storm severity—we would need to know the effect of carbon dioxide so that we can do two things: cut the carbon dioxide and assess the costs. Surely Senator Canavan, as an economist, would understand and verify that. We need to understand the costs.

Dr Marshall : We can talk about the increase in temperature of the ocean and how CO2 is causing that. Absolutely we can talk about it.

Senator ROBERTS: Can you tell me the specific quantified effect of carbon dioxide from human activity in Australia on ocean temperature?

Dr Marshall : Human activity in Australia is very small. Australia's emissions are one per cent of global emissions. It's not Australia that's causing the issue.

Senator ROBERTS: So why are we gutting our agriculture sector, our transport sector and our mining sector?

Dr Marshall : It's the rest of the world that's causing the issue.

CHAIR: We are getting into a policy debate, which is not really the purpose of this forum.

Senator ROBERTS: Let me ask one more question and then I'll finish. So you can't tell me what the specific effect—quantified effect—of human carbon dioxide from Australian production is on climate factors like temperature of the atmosphere, temperature of the oceans, alkalinity of the oceans, storm severity and frequency, drought frequency and duration, flood frequency and severity? You can't tell me the specific basis that is needed for climate policy and energy policy by our government?

Dr Marshall : I've told you this before. Climate change is a global impact. Australia is a very small contributor.

Senator ROBERTS: So you can't tell me?

Dr Marshall : It's the global CO2. Unfortunately, when someone emits it in China or the US or Europe, it ends up in the Southern Hemisphere as well. So I can absolutely tell you—

Senator ROBERTS: So are you saying that, when China quadruples its coal production, we have to pay the price? Did you hear that?

CHAIR: Senator Roberts, we have been through this a number of times over a series of Senate estimates. I am sure we will come back here again.

Senator ROBERTS: I want to put in on the record, Chair, that Dr Marshall cannot provide me with the specific effect of carbon dioxide quantified on climate factors—not one climate factor.

Dr Marshall : That is a different question, Senator.

Senator ROBERTS: No. That's the question I have been asking for this whole bracket.

Dr Marshall : No. You asked the impact of Australia's emissions—

Senator ROBERTS: Correct.

Dr Marshall : which I said are very small.

Senator ROBERTS: Correct.

Dr Marshall : But what you said then was about the impact of CO2—not just Australia's CO2 but global CO2—

Senator ROBERTS: Australian CO2, that's what I want to know.

Dr Marshall : which is this data here.

Senator ROBERTS: Can you quantify that for me? Because it's never been quantified by anyone anywhere in the world. I want to know the specific effect of carbon dioxide on climate factors, including atmospheric temperature, ocean temperature, ocean alkalinity, storm severity and frequency. I want to know the specific quantified effect.

CHAIR: Dr Marshall, do you want to take it on notice, or do you want to say that you have already answered that question?

Dr Marshall : I think I can dig up a letter that we already sent you but I'll happily take it on notice and send it to you again.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. Because you have never done it.

CHAIR: Senator Canavan.

Senator CANAVAN: I have a slightly different question. It is of relevance, given recent reports. I'm sure you are aware, Dr Marshall, that in April last year there were some reports—I'm looking at one here from that time in the Daily Mail:

Two Chinese scientists who worked for the Wuhan Institute of Virology studied bats in a CSIRO facility as part of researched funded by both the Australian and Chinese governments.

The report also stated:

A spokesman for CSIRO confirmed bat research took place with international partners in Geelong.

The spokesman said: 'CSIRO undertakes all research in accordance with strict biosecurity and legislative requirements …

What exactly was the research done in Geelong with the Chinese scientists? I think this is Shi Zhengli, otherwise known as 'Bat Lady' in some reports. What research was conducted in Geelong by the CSIRO?

Dr Marshall : While Ms Zielke gets that information for you, for context, there was a disease called hendra in horses in Australia, which we believe came from bats, and CSIRO became quite good at researching bat-borne disease. That is why there was a capability there already.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay.

Ms Zielke : Senator, at the time that that article appeared, CSIRO made a statement in response. Twenty-eight April is the date that I have on this, so I believe it's the article you are referring to.

Senator CANAVAN: Yes.

Ms Zielke : In that statement we noted that don't undertake research on live bats at ACDP. We made that clear in our statement. We noted that we did rely on research from overseas in relation to bats, to undertake zoonotic research in that regard. So we are happy to provide a copy of that statement to you. You also asked about the researchers—

Senator CANAVAN: That's fine. I don't need that. What other work have you done with scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the last few years?

Ms Zielke : I would need to take that on notice. I don't believe it's a lengthy list.

Senator CANAVAN: If you could take that on notice.

Ms Zielke : Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: Has the CSIRO ever been involved in research into coronaviruses of any nature?

Ms Zielke : The SARS virus that we were talking about previously. So we can take that on notice.

Dr Marshall : They are similar but not the same.

Senator CANAVAN: What are the provisions or restrictions or guidelines around any CSIRO work on gain of function?

Ms Zielke : We do not undertake any gain of function activities.

Senator CANAVAN: Is there something specific in writing in the CSIRO which prohibits researchers—

Ms Zielke : We don't undertake it, yes.

Senator CANAVAN: Sorry. Can you just answer that specific question: do you have a written prohibition within the CSIRO against gain of function research?

Ms Zielke : I'll come back and confirm that.

Senator CANAVAN: You can take that on notice. If you do have such a written prohibition, please take on notice when that was made—if it does exist.

Ms Zielke : Okay.

Senator CANAVAN: Given your research into viruses, including things like hendra, have you been asked at all to look at the specific characteristics of the COVID-19 virus and whether or not it possibly is a man-made virus?

Dr Marshall : We were curious ourselves. We weren't asked to do it but we were curious. I think I answered this question earlier in the session. It takes years to answer a question like that definitively. But, in general, there are usually signs in a virus if it has been engineered, and we have not seen such signs.

Senator CANAVAN: You haven't seen such signs?

Dr Marshall : No.

Senator CANAVAN: But—and I'm not asking you Dr Marshall, but the CSIRO—are you confident to dismiss the idea that it could be man-made?

Dr Marshall : To be certain, it takes years to really be sure and, as we said earlier, it took years to confirm that the original SARS virus actually came from a bat.

Senator CANAVAN: Are you conducting any more work on this issue at the moment in consultation with other scientific organisations around the world?

Dr Marshall : We do talk to the other five or six reference labs around the world. But our focus has been keeping up with the different strains of the virus to make sure that the vaccines are still effective against it.

Senator CANAVAN: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your time tonight and we wish you all the best for your journey home.


CHAIR: We will move on to our final official for the evening, the Office of the Chief Scientist. Dr Foley, how are you?

Dr Foley : I am good. Thank you.

CHAIR: Welcome along again. I would love to ask you to make some opening remarks but I would be very frightened you would say yes.

Dr Foley : No. I don't have anything today.

CHAIR: Excellent. Great answer. Senator Watt.

Senator WATT: Dr Foley, thanks for coming back. I think last time was your first time at estimates; wasn't it?

Dr Foley : That's correct. Yes, here I am again.

Senator WATT: You're an old hand now. I don't have too many questions for you. I just want to talk about the take-up of STEM in the community. Will you be releasing an update to Australia's STEM workforce report?

Dr Foley : There's nothing planned at this stage.

Senator WATT: Would you like to comment on the state of the STEM workforce in Australia and what the key issues are that we are facing?

Dr Foley : The STEM workforce report that came out of the Office of the Chief Scientist, run by Dr Alan Finkel at that time, looked at a whole range of aspects, and it is available on our website. The headlines are that people who have STEM degrees have higher salaries and higher employment levels, and that we have quite strong differences between gender in the STEM workforce and their experiences. I'm not exactly sure what sorts of things you are looking for.

Senator WATT: I suppose what I'm particularly looking at is whether we have enough people with STEM training and whether we have shortages in STEM related fields.

Dr Foley : Okay. So, at the moment, what I would rather do is, instead of referring to that, look at where the opportunities are, in the future. AI, hydrogen, quantum technologies, synthetic biology and those sorts of areas are showing that there is a strong forecast for jobs in those areas, and I think what we are seeing from the forecasts is that there's a need for more engineers in particular, and also a need for more domestic students doing graduate work so that they are able to transition into industry.

Senator WATT: Those are opportunities—they're growth areas?

Dr Foley : That's correct.

Senator WATT: Yes. I'd also appreciate you reflecting on where we're facing some shortages. Presumably, they're in those fields, but are there other areas where there aren't so many opportunities for growth but where there are still shortages?

Dr Foley : Sure. The main area is probably data scientists and digital. At the moment we have great growth in opportunities for roles there, but the rate of graduates going into that area isn't catching up.

Senator WATT: What do you think we could be doing to improve take-up of STEM in our schools, TAFEs and universities?

Dr Foley : It's an issue that we don't have enough of our young people doing maths and science in the last years of high school. This is a personal opinion: I think that at the moment if you ask a young person what they're going to be when they grow up, they'll know what a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant might do and what the career pathways are. Their ideas about scientists and engineers are often not quite so clear and therefore those aren't necessarily encouraged as jobs in the future. They think an academic pathway is the only pathway. One of the things we need to do is look at showing the broad range of opportunities for where the future jobs are—especially the highly skilled jobs. We should make sure we have clarity and transparent information available so that those going through school see what the opportunities are in areas where there are future jobs with a STEM basis.

Senator WATT: How is the provision of STEM education and training being impacted by the pandemic, if at all?

Dr Foley : If you look at university enrolments in STEM subjects, they've gone up. You'd have to say there has been an improvement, so that's a good thing. I don't have those numbers for the school level on me.

Senator WATT: And what about the mode of delivery and things like that? Has there been any sort of impact from the pandemic?

Dr Foley : That's probably more to do with the department of education. They'd know more about those specific aspects.

Senator WATT: Okay. Could you provide, maybe on notice, some figures about the number of STEM jobs that are available in the current and future labour workforce? Could you tell us the number of people currently employed in STEM related fields and what the current level of vacancies or shortages is—however you want to define that? And what are the projections for the future?

Dr Foley : Sure, we can do that, but it's probably something to take on notice.

Senator WATT: Thanks. And maybe you could identify what the gaps are in the future, comparing how many we'll need versus how many we're expecting to have, based on current trends.

Dr Foley : Sure.

Senator WATT: Thanks. I want to turn to commercialisation of research. What's your assessment of how good Australia is at commercialising Australian research?

Dr Foley : At the moment we have a real push towards that. I think there has been a significant uptake in commercialisation and research translation since 2016. The introduction of the ON program, that CSIRO set up under the NISA program, particularly allowed us to see recognition, from a researcher's perspective, of what it means to commercialise something. It created a stronger entrepreneurial spirit across the country. That was the first step. As a consequence, we're beginning to see an increase in startups coming out of the university sector, as well as public funded agencies and also people who are setting up deep tech companies.

The government is setting up a task force looking at commercialisation of research, and it will be interesting to see where that lands. I think it will add some of the support that's needed for what's often called the 'valley of death'. Universities tend to do research at the low-TR levels—going from discovery, which is technology-readiness level 1, up to technology-readiness level 3. To make it commercial, industry usually needs it at level 7, 8 or above—that's when they like to invest. We're seeing an emergence of how we might do that and also programs being put in place to support that. We're not there yet; I think we still have a way to go in developing maturity in understanding how to pass the risk from universities to the level of government taking the risk, because they fund the research. As we go up to commercial, where it should be something of business funds and the risk is taken by people who'll make money out of it, I think that transition is something we're still working on.

Senator WATT: Where do we rank in comparison to the rest the world on commercialising research?

Dr Foley : I'd have to check on that. It depends on what measure you use. Can I take that on notice? It's a very technical question.

Senator WATT: That's fine. What do you think we could be doing to improve on commercialising research?

Dr Foley : At the moment, the government has got the commercialisation of university research—that task force which is going through its paces at the moment. It's gone through a lot of consultation and it's working its way through to a plan there. There have been a number of programs which I've had some involvement with—setting up something like the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which is allowing industry to engage with researchers. We have seen Main Sequence Ventures, with its second round of funding, which has been a very successful venture capital take-up.

Senator WATT: Rather than going through existing programs and policies, I'm interested in what you see as the gaps that could be filled to improve the commercialisation of research.

Dr Foley : What have proven to be the steps are that you create a new concept that you think is interesting. You then go through an accelerator program, such as the ON program, and see if there is a market there and the exposure to what the business model might look like. What's needed next is to figure out what is often called the killer experiment—to be able to identify whether your idea or your potential product actually meets the market need. And then you need to go through that scale-up process, and also develop the right business model and get the investment, and then take it through its paces. Probably the area we are weak at, and which is being considered at the moment, is from that discovery point and the scale-up.

Senator WATT: How important is resourcing our public science and research institutions in promoting commercialisation?

Dr Foley : Do you mean the publicly funded research agencies, or the university sector?

Senator WATT: Both.

Dr Foley : They actually have quite different roles. The university sector is there to educate our future workforce and also to do research. They have done that brilliantly, and we've got fantastic science metrics that demonstrate how well they are doing that. If you look at what's coming out of universities, there has been an increase in the amount of commercialisation. But I think there is still a great opportunity to see more, and some work is being done to look at that. When you are looking at publicly funded agencies, whether it's the TGA, the Bureau of Meteorology or AIMS, they all have different purposes for why they exist. ANSTO and CSIRO are the two main ones that look at having a clear commercialisation path. They have had things from startup hubs through to commercialisation arms, where they are looking at being part of that vehicle to help see research become commercialised.

Senator WATT: Funding was announced in the budget this year for the Square Kilometre Array. What are the practical applications of research gathered through that?

Dr Foley : The Square Kilometre Array is an astronomical tool to help us answer some of the great questions we are asking about the heavens and being able to understand the universe. The reason for its existence is for us, as humans, to understand the world better. However, what we do know is that, by pushing the boundaries of science in the fundamental area, you get serendipitous outcomes which lead to things such as wi-fi, which happened with radio astronomy leading to the development by CSIRO of something that we would all agree has absolutely revolutionised modern society.

SKA is going to be gathering data at such a rate it will be giving us an early entre to being able to handle enormous datasets. In my previous role, we saw the appointment of science leaders in astronomy as being early entry into handling massive datasets and algorithms and the ability to use, at the moment, high-performance computing to turn that data into information. At the moment, that's what I see as potential applications coming from the SKA—as well as the design of new antennas and the ability to have future communications. You are dealing with different wavelengths of frequency bands, so you can develop the electronics that go with that. There will be quite a few spin-offs as we see it evolve.

Senator WATT: As Chief Scientist, do you agree that the Square Kilometre Array could aid in the search for extra terrestrial intelligence?

Dr Foley : I don't know for sure. I'm not an expert in that. Usually, the SETI is done by a whole lot of telescopes, at different stages, in their off time, going through signals and looking then at the analysis of it, using a range of different distributive processes. I don't know whether the SKA is designed for that. It's really designed to look at deep space.

CHAIR: I think at this point it is appropriate to quote Monty Python: 'I hope we find intelligent life somewhere up in space, because there's bugger all down here on earth!'

Dr Foley : I'd like to say that there is intelligent life—and here we are!

Senator WATT: Was the Office of the Chief Scientist consulted in the development of emissions reduction and new investments under the Technology Investment Roadmap in this year's budget?

Dr Foley : Sorry, I didn't quite understand—is this the Modern Manufacturing Initiative—

Senator WATT: Sorry, I'm speaking fast to try and get through it! Was your office consulted on the emissions reduction and new investments under the Technology Investment Roadmap that was announced as part of this year's budget?

Dr Foley : No. That was started by the previous Chief Scientist, and he is moving to a different role.

Senator WATT: You and your staff have not been consulted?

Dr Foley : Not since I joined the organisation.

Senator WATT: Do you have a position on the emissions reductions that are projected to be achieved from the $1.6 million in funding?

Dr Foley : It isn't my role to have a position on that. My role is to provide information to the government so they can make good decisions. In this case, they haven't asked me to provide that information.

Senator WATT: So you haven't had any involvement in this at all?

Dr Foley : No.

Senator WATT: From the research that you have undertaken in this role or in your previous roles, do you have a view on the economic benefits of building new gas-fired power stations in Australia? Is that something you've looked at?

Dr Foley : So far, I haven't been asked to give the government any advice on that. At this stage, it has not been part of my job in this role.

Senator WATT: Sovereign capability in mRNA production capacity—are you able to comment on our ability to produce mRNA vaccines in Australia?

Dr Foley : Sure. mRNA is a potential therapeutic—it's sort of the next generation of therapeutics—and Australia has quite some research going on. Being able to manufacture that will really provide a new industry opportunity for the country. We have more than 300 projects been funded by the NHMRC and about 10 laboratories—for example, at ANU, just down the road here—working on mRNA opportunities, not just for COVID but for other areas. mRNA type therapeutics can be used for heart disease, Alzheimer's and diabetes. Can we manufacture them in Australia? Absolutely. We've got the potential for that. mRNA drugs are already being used in veterinary areas, but that doesn't require the same level of cleanliness and what's required for human use. So we do have the capability; it's now just about looking at where the opportunities are. As you know, there is a process underway now.

Senator WATT: I've read that an mRNA vaccine is better placed to adapt to variants in the COVID-19 strains—is that correct?

Dr Foley : The development of mRNA is something where you've got the ability to make changes. You only need a small volume when you're making the vaccine that can then provide the molecules that are needed. It's highly diluted in that process. It means that you're able to scale up quickly once you've made those modifications. At the moment, though, I don't have enough detail on whether the mRNA is better than any of the other material or any of the other vaccines.

Senator WATT: What steps do you think we should be taking to build sovereign capability in this space?

Dr Foley : We know that the government has already identified that it's planning to manufacture mRNA in Australia. I think that's something which will be of benefit, particularly creating the ability to have research done in Australia—having a real clear pipeline and process, seeing the development of benefit in the country and creating new jobs, as well as good medicines for us.

Senator WATT: I have some questions about your resourcing. What's the current level of funding allocated to the chief scientist in 2020-2021?

Dr Foley : That's actually something for the department to answer, because I'm actually not part of the department. I'm in the department, not of the department. It's part of the departmental budget.

Senator WATT: Are you able to look it up, Mr Williamson?

Mr Williamson : Sorry, I don't think I have the numbers with me. I can take it on notice. But, yes, as Dr Foley said, the department provides funding for a small unit for the chief scientist—a staffing contingent, travel and other costs. From memory, that's at about the same level as it has been for the last couple of years. But I'll come back to you on notice on that.

Senator WATT: Thanks. Could you provide the funding allocated to the office for 2020-2021, 2021-2022 and over the whole forward estimates?

Mr Williamson : Happy to.

Senator WATT: Thanks. Can we also get how many staff resources the office has for the 2021-2022 financial year?

Mr Williamson : Sure.

Senator WATT: And how that compares to 2020-2021? Dr Foley, were you or your office consulted about the funding that was allocated to you as part of this year's budget?

Dr Foley : I wasn't consulted, but the office may have been.

Senator WATT: Can you take that on notice, to find that out?

Dr Foley : Sure.

Senator WATT: Horizon scanning reports include:

… economic, social, cultural and environmental perspectives to provide well-considered findings that inform complete policy responses to significant scientific and technological change.

What's the next horizon scanning report about and when can we expect it?

Dr Foley : At the moment, we're actually looking at the process to provide the best evidence and information to government on science and technology. There are none planned at the moment, but we're in the process of formalising the different ways of providing evidence to government. There are none planned at the moment because we're in the process of designing a clearer and more transparent process so that government has an obvious route to ask for information.

Senator WATT: Thanks. That's it for us.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Watt. Senator Roberts?

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Dr Foley, for being here tonight. We're under a time deadline at the moment so I'll just give you a bit of background to understand why I'm making the request I'm making.

You just said that the chief scientist's role is to provide evidence, presumably scientific evidence. I've asked chief scientists as far back as Dr Penny Sackett for evidence on climate and I had a presentation from Dr Finkel to me in 2017—that was in the company of Senator Arthur Sinodinos, the then science minister. Dr Finkel talked for about 20 minutes and then we asked him some questions. Dr Finkel then said, 'I'm sorry, I'm not a climate scientist and I don't understand it so we'll have another meeting later.' He asked me if he could bring a scientist. Keep that in mind, and the fact that I've done freedom-of-information requests from BOM and CSIRO, and I've had Parliamentary Library information from CSIRO. I haven't found any agency that has given me the empirical scientific evidence which proves that carbon dioxide from human activity affects the climate and needs to be cut. This shouldn't be an onerous task for you and your group, because not a lot has been sent to the government.

I'd like you, please, to provide a list of the documents in which the Office of the Chief Scientist has provided scientific advice to ministers, including prime ministers, to MPs and to senators and containing logical scientific points proving that carbon dioxide from human activity needs to be cut. Take it on notice, and I'll put the requirements I specifically need, in terms of a time line, on that. I'd like the date range for documents to be from the start of the Howard-Anderson government, on 11 March 1996, to the present. I'd like that list of documents, please.

Dr Foley : I'm not sure how we'd go about that, but I'll take that on notice.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. Chair, I have other questions but you've already said that you'd like us to wind up, so I will.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Roberts. I really appreciate it. It's just that we have been keeping the officials here for a long time.

Senator ROBERTS: I'll put the other questions on notice.

CHAIR: Senator Patrick, see if you can beat Senator Roberts in speed.

Senator PATRICK: I might be able to, I don't know!

Senator ROBERTS: It wouldn't be by much.

Senator PATRICK: I want to go to what is referred to as a Rapid Research Information Forum briefing on the most promising vaccines for COVID-19. It is a Chief Scientist's document. I know it was written before you were in this position, but, thankfully, you were also involved in the writing of the document so I'm hoping I can get some information about that.

Dr Foley : Not about that particular document.

Senator PATRICK: I'm just looking at the document. It has your name in it as a contributor to it.

CHAIR: Let's ask the questions and see where we get to.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. Appendix B of that document—I'm happy to table it—has the lead author as Professor Anthony Cunningham, and contributing authors—

Dr Foley : What was the question? Each RRIF had a question. Which particular one was this referring to?

Senator PATRICK: I'm just identifying the document and suggesting that you will have knowledge of it because you are a contributing author to it.

Dr Foley : I'm just asking what the title is.

Senator PATRICK: The title of the document is: The most promising vaccines for COVID-19.

Dr Foley : That one? Yes.

Senator PATRICK: So you're comfortable that you were a contributing author?

Dr Foley : I wasn't a contributing author. I was one of the people who helped orchestrate contacts into getting the people who are the experts to be able to refer to that.

Senator PATRICK: Do you know why they would have put you down as a contributing author?

Dr Foley : I'll have to go back and check that.

Senator PATRICK: I'll table the document, just for your benefit, if that's okay.

Dr Foley : Sure.

CHAIR: Nobody's distrusting the fact that—

Dr Foley : I know the one you refer to. Just ask the question and I'll see what—

CHAIR: Dr Foley took it on notice to answer that part of your question.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. This just raises a new question. If you're not a contributing author, I don't think your name should be on the document.

Dr Foley : I need to check just exactly what that meant. I need to have a look at that.

Senator PATRICK: Alright. There were two versions of this document. One of them was dated 10 May. It was released by the Australian government Chief Scientist on 11 May. There was a second document, a second version of it, released on 17 June. I'll check to make sure that you were still named as a contributing author, whatever that means. That particular document went from 10 candidates to 11.

Dr Foley : That's correct, yes. I remember that. It had 'vaccine' added.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. What I'm trying to understand tonight, and I'm just seeking your help on this, is how we got to a point on the document that was released on 11 May where a promising vaccine was not in that particular report. This is noting, again, that you were labelled as a contributing author. You would have been aware of the ferret trials that would have been taking place inside CSIRO.

Dr Foley : That's correct. That particular vaccine, at that time, was a MERS or a SARS vaccine being developed by the Flinders University and there would be no published work or some well-known information that was, potentially, going to be a COVID vaccine. So at the time, in May last year, there was not a recognition of that. It was brought to the attention of the Office of the Chief Scientist—Alan Finkel at the time. All the RRIF questions are constantly changing as we get new information, and you'll see there's another one of the questions which also had an update. That's good science: as you learn more, you go through and make corrections and improvements. That's what happened then.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. Going back from that, we have just heard some evidence from CSIRO that they had been working on their ferret model for about a year as precautionary or perhaps predictive science.

Dr Foley : Well, it was looking for potential viruses that might attack the lungs and—

Senator PATRICK: And then, when COVID came along, they quickly switched—

Dr Foley : That's correct, yes.

Senator PATRICK: to looking for COVID-19. Indeed, COVAX—or Vaxine Pty Ltd—immediately started working with CSIRO. I saw you as a link. I would have presumed you would have known about that activity, because it would have been a focus. Noting that the pandemic was coming upon us, I thought you would have had at least a focus on that trial and may well have known about that. But you say you had no knowledge of what they were doing.

Dr Foley : No. I was the Chief Scientist of CSIRO at that time. I'm here answering questions as the Chief Scientist of Australia at the moment.

Senator PATRICK: Sure.

Dr Foley : But I'm not exactly sure what you're aiming to understand.

Senator PATRICK: I'm trying to understand how it was that, when you were the Chief Scientist of CSIRO—and, I thought, a contributing editor to this document based on the prima facie list of people presented in the document—you were unaware of the Vaxine Pty Ltd option, noting that it was being tested in your ferret program.

Dr Foley : This is the vaccine one from Flinders University?

Senator PATRICK: That's correct.

Dr Foley : That wasn't being tested at CSIRO at that stage. But I must say, being here as Australia's Chief Scientist, that it's probably not appropriate for me to be reporting on things when I was Chief Scientist of CSIRO.

Senator PATRICK: Well, it is a document that belongs to the Chief Scientist.

Dr Foley : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: In that context, I think it's reasonable for me to include it here.

Dr Foley : Okay, if that's the case.

Senator PATRICK: I just indicate to you that there are precedents in place that the Senate can ask a witness at the table about their previous roles.

Dr Foley : Okay, if that's okay.

Senator PATRICK: So you don't get to shift on without the Senate having the power to look into what you might have done back then.

Dr Foley : Okay.

CHAIR: But Dr Foley did at least attempt to answer your question.

Senator PATRICK: I understand that.

CHAIR: If she needs to go away and seek more detail, she is perfectly entitled to.

Senator PATRICK: I don't mind that, Chair.

Dr Foley : I don't actually know what the question is yet. You said that there were ferret tests which were done. They were done under the CEPI requirements, and there were two. One was the AstraZeneca one, and the other was an American based one. That was using up all the ferrets that were available at that time. There was also a desire for the University of Queensland to line up, and I understand Flinders University did ask about this, but the pricing was not one that fitted their budget, and therefore they went overseas to have any of their animal trials done. But at that stage I don't know. I'd have to go back and look at the details.

Senator PATRICK: Sure.

Dr Foley : But that particular work was really focused on SARS and MERS, and then they had been changing towards a COVID response for a vaccine, but the process that they were taking wasn't done in a way which really had the clarity to allow easy ability for funders to fund it. Since then, my understanding is that the Flinders group have been able to obtain funding from, I think, either the health department or MMRF, and as a consequence they've now got significant funding, about $1 million, to continue their work.

Senator PATRICK: They tell me they have not drawn on a cent of that.

CHAIR: That can stay there!

Senator PATRICK: The reason I was pushing back on the Senate issue was that you started to say, 'Hang on, that's my previous role and I don't want to talk about that.'

Dr Foley : Well, I was instructed that I should be answering only on matters since I've been in the Chief Scientist role.

Senator PATRICK: That's cleared that up. Thank you. Back in that time there was also an MRFF proposal put forward—I think it was for up to $2 million—

Dr Foley : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: which eventually went to UQ. Firstly, were you involved at all in the MRFF?

Dr Foley : No, I wasn't involved at all in any of the assessments of those applications. That would have been done by expert panels, and they would have been looking for a number of things. As with any way of assessing, particularly when you're giving out significant amounts of money, you would be looking at a number of things. One is invention and novelty; the next one is solving the problem at hand; another is the quality of the plan and the research program; and then there's trust in the group that they can deliver the program of work that's being put forward. My understanding is that Flinders, at that stage, didn't put forward one which was as competitive as the others. But in time they got feedback and they obviously made improvements, which is not uncommon, and I understand that they have now got some funding to continue their research.

Senator PATRICK: Yes. I don't think they've drawn on that funding. But really my line of questioning is this. The MRFF made a decision on the best option, which was UQ. There was a recommendation to go with UQ. In fact, they recommended two vaccines, but the top selection was basically a $2 million proposition and, in the end, that was what was selected. The recommendation of the MRFF was made on 3 April. Did you have any knowledge between 3 April—there was a letter that went to Dr Somi—

Dr Foley : No. These probably are now questions that really should be aimed at the department of health, who manage that program.

Senator PATRICK: These are questions about your knowledge.

Dr Foley : No, I have no knowledge about that.

Senator PATRICK: I apologise. I came with an honest view that you were a contributing author. So you had no knowledge, from 3 April through to when this paper was published? Clearly that particular proposal had been examined, and it was clear that there was a vaccine from—

Dr Foley : Applications for MRFF would be confidential, so they wouldn't have been available to the committee that was answering that particular RRIF question. As to contributing authors, I am listed on that because—there was a lot of work going on at that time; I can't remember the detail—it may have been that I wrote one sentence in that. It's only 1,500 words, so it was very tightly done and it was relating to work that CSIRO was involved with.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. So you've taken on notice what your contribution to that might have been?

Dr Foley : I'll be able to provide that on notice.

Senator PATRICK: Alright. I think that's probably it for me. Thank you very much.

Dr Foley : That's alright.

CHAIR: Dr Foley, thank you once again for appearing. We shall see you in the future. All the best for a safe journey back to wherever you're staying tonight—hopefully home! On that note, the committee will conclude its hearing today. The committee's consideration of the 2021-22 budget estimates will resume tomorrow at 9 am with further examination of the industry portfolio. I thank Minister Duniam and officers from the industry portfolio department and agencies who have given evidence to the committee today. As always, I thank Hansard, Broadcasting and our secretariat.

Committee adjourned at 20:24