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ECONOMICS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
31/05/2010
INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

CHAIR —Welcome to the CSIRO. Dr Clark, would you like to make an opening statement?

Dr Clark —I would, Chair. As you know, our people strive every day to make a difference on the things that matter to this nation and the globe. I want to just update you on a couple of the things that our people have done since we last came together. First of all, together with Delfin-Lend Lease and the Henley Property Group, we launched the first zero emissions home for Australia. That will really allow, for the general mass market of Australian homes, a completely new design.

Secondly, our astronomers have hooked up the first radio telescope in Western Australia, the first antenna, with our radio antennas in Parkes, Narrabri and Coonabarabran, with an antenna in New Zealand. This has really created a completely new telescope array which has 10 times the resolution of the Hubble telescope.

Our prawn researchers, working with industry, have successfully, for the very first time, closed the breeding loop for pawns. This means that for the first time that industry can have a sustainable future. Not only have they done that, but we have seen yield increases of two times and in some cases three times traditional yields in the ponds. That is both national and world record yields.

Lastly, we have joined up with Deakin University and the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing to create one of the world’s largest centres in carbon fibre research. This will produce new products for the biomedical, for the defence and for the manufacturing industries.

CHAIR —Thank you for that rundown of some of the new CSIRO initiatives.

Senator COLBECK —Can I go, firstly, to the closure of the Limestone Avenue head office and your environmental research site at Gungahlin Homestead in Canberra. Can you give us the reasons for the closure of those two facilities?

Dr Clark —Those properties were sold off some time ago. They are leased properties. We are currently consolidating under our property at Black Mountain.

Senator COLBECK —So that is at the entomology division?

Dr Clark —Our entomology division is housed at many of our sites. A large part of our entomology is already at Black Mountain. We do have other representations of the division at other sites around Australia.

Senator COLBECK —What will be the employment impacts of the merger?

Dr Clark —The purpose of the merger is to create both national and global scale in that area of sustainable environment. We are looking to bring the researchers together. We do not expect to see any reduction in our research effort. There may be some administration areas that are overlapped, but essentially it is bringing together the scale of both of those groups to produce something that is now at a global scale in the very important areas of ecology, biology, our environmental work and our work on insects. That, of course, is extremely important to our work on biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, ecology and the environment.

Senator COLBECK —So you see no impact on research effort but potentially some impact on administration.

Dr Clark —We will actually see an improvement in our research effort. That is why we are bringing this together. We have had a long-term approach, to build both national and global scale critical mass in our critical areas of capability. This is the reason behind that. It is really to build our critical mass and to make this kind of capability available to our flagships in the various areas. So the rationale behind it is a strategic one. It is not a rationale of headcount in any way. It is actually looking to augment our research effort and bring those teams together.

Senator COLBECK —I understand that, but can you give me any sense of the employment implications of the decision, from either side of the equation? If I hear you right, you have said that there will be no impact at the research level. I am just wanting to get a sense of the employment implications of the decision.

Dr Clark —As I mentioned, we are not expecting to see any implications in terms of reduction of effort with this merger at all.

Senator COLBECK —You have mentioned that it is something you have been planning for a period of time as an approach. How does that relate to the criticisms from the staff of lack of consultation with the decision-making process?

Dr Clark —Certainly this has been an ongoing trend not recently but over many years—in fact over many decades, so it is something that is quite ongoing. It is quite important of course, in a globe where we are seeing a lot of competition and a lot of fast moving in these areas, to make sure that we do have that kind critical mass, so we have had an ongoing program over many decades to do that. And of course it is very important to make sure we have clarity on that, and now our staff are working together on the merger and the details of that, so are fully engaged now on the details of how that will work, underneath the direction of one of our most esteemed leaders in Mark Lonsdale.

Senator COLBECK —So they effectively should have seen it coming because it is a process that has been going on for a period of time? The criticism that the staff have made about lack of consultation really doesn’t matter in that context because they should have seen it coming? You have no response to that?

Dr Clark —I just was not sure what your question was.

Senator COLBECK —The staff have made criticism of the fact that there was no consultation in this particular move. Your comment implies to me—and if I am wrong, I am wrong: tell me—that because there has been an ongoing approach—

Senator Carr —Senator, I think we should be clear about the process here. The decision to sell the facilities on Limestone Avenue was taken under your government.

Senator COLBECK —I am not questioning that.

Senator Carr —Just be clear about this: the decision to sell—

Senator COLBECK —I am just asking about the consultation on the decision.

Senator Carr —Hang on. The decision to sell those facilities was the previous government’s.

Senator COLBECK —There has been criticism in the media by the staff. I am asking Dr Clark to respond to that.

CHAIR —Senator Colbeck, could you just wait a moment.

Senator BERNARDI —Chair, you just interrupted Senator Colbeck while he was asking a question.

CHAIR —I have not said anything yet. I just want two people to stop talking over each other. I have not aid anything further than that. I have just asked for a little order. Is that okay with you?

Senator BERNARDI —If there is order. But you should have intervened and stopped the minister from interfering over Senator Colbeck.

CHAIR —Senator Bernardi, if I need your assistance with the chairing I will ask you.

Senator BERNARDI —You clearly do. I am just trying to assist.

CHAIR —Have you quite finished? Can we get along with the questioning?

Senator BERNARDI —If you want order, I am happy for Senator Colbeck.

CHAIR —Minister.

Senator Carr —The decision to sell the facilities was taken under the previous government and there has been a process of consolidation of units and divisions within the CSIRO now for some time. On the physical facilities at Limestone Avenue, I recall a long discussion with officers of the CSIRO when I was sitting on your side of the table, Senator. The process of consolidation of the organisational structure of the CSIRO is a longstanding position that has been taken in which the union has been intimately involved. In the case of the merger of the sustainable ecosystems divisions and entomology divisions that was announced on 6 April, my understanding is there were consultations with the unions about this matter. There was always going to be a subjective debate about the level of consultation: is it enough, is it too much? These are arguments that will go backwards and forwards. But there should be no question about the nature of the dialogue that has gone on for many, many years around these issues.

Senator COLBECK —Thank you for the history lesson, but—

Senator Carr —It is just useful to get a sense of perspective on this.

Senator COLBECK —That is fine. I said thank you. But there obviously was some surprise within the organisation when the announcement was made—

Senator Carr —There was a report in the Canberra Times, which is not a reliable source of information on this question.

Senator COLBECK —You have made the point on the public record. Let us go to the CSIRO Staff Association, which said:

This merger is going to further entrench a culture clash between management and scientists, by creating a massive top-heavy bureaucracy.

You might want to comment on the reliability or otherwise of the staff association, Senator, but I will ask Dr Clark to comment on that.

Senator Carr —I will comment on it. The union of course is going to make comments about this. I have never known a union that—

Senator COLBECK —Recognising that Dr Clark has said that they are now engaged, I am just trying to get a sense of the consultation in the lead-up to the announcement. That is all I am trying to do. It is not necessarily all that complicated, Senator Carr.

Dr Clark —I am very happy to do that. This of course is consistent with our stated strategy. Also, in March 2009, we set our broad direction setting. We also flagged this direction in that process, so the announcement was completely consistent with our strategy and the previously announced strategy for over 12 months. Following the announcement, it is very important that staff are fully engaged now in the implementation process and the decision making that will need to happen to make sure that all of those things are covered. It was certainly flagged well and truly in advance and is very consistent with our stated strategy.

Senator COLBECK —How do you respond to the assertion by the staff association about the balance of the organisation?

Dr Clark —Certainly as we look to bring our critical mass and our capability together there are opportunities to reduce the management bureaucracy there and make it simpler, so we would certainly see that as consistent with the feedback—and very constructive feedback—we have had from the staff association.

Senator COLBECK —That was the point I was trying to get at earlier—perhaps it is just my questions—in respect of the staffing implications of the merger from both a research and a management perspective. Now you are indicating that there may be some staff savings, and I am trying to get a sense of the quantum of that.

Dr Clark —I am just saying, in terms of having groups separated, that when these groups need to work together obviously there are a lot of synergies. As I have mentioned, we are certainly not expecting any reduction of effort through the merger.

Senator COLBECK —From either a management perspective or a research perspective?

Dr Clark —Certainly I can confirm that there are no changes in our research. In fact, we would expect an increased research effort. I would be very happy, once we have concluded the details of the merger, which will be some time, to bring back the details of any synergies et cetera that we have achieved. At this point it is too premature to clarify those because clearly we need to go through quite a major consultation stage in that process.

Senator COLBECK —So the consultation with the staff has now effectively commenced post the official announcement?

Dr Clark —Exactly.

Senator COLBECK —And, during the process of that, you are suggesting that the research is effectively quarantined—or you are not expecting to see any reduction in research effort. Issues in and around management will be looked at and considered and the impacts will be determined as part of the consultation process going ahead on the details of the merger?

Dr Clark —Consistent with our approach always to look at efficient management of the organisation, we would certainly always explore those opportunities, as we do throughout our operations.

Senator Carr —Senator Colbeck, I must say that I am gratified to hear that the coalition has now discovered the role of unions in consultation within government agencies. I look forward to this being announced as part of your election commitment on an ongoing basis.

Senator COLBECK —Thanks, Senator Carr. I will not go to your comments in the Canberra Times, Senator Carr, where you—

Senator Carr —No, I would love you to! I would love you to, because I am still waiting for the Canberra Times to correct the report.

Senator COLBECK —Really?

Senator Carr —I am looking forward to it.

Senator CAMERON —I might have to ask you about them then.

Senator COLBECK —Senator Cameron can ask you a few dorothy dixers later, as has become his practice to utilise time.

CHAIR —Senator Colbeck, Senator McGauran has questions.

Senator COLBECK —Do you want to talk about this issue specifically?

Senator McGAURAN —Not the outrageous staff cuts, no.

Senator CAMERON —That is your staff cuts, is it?

Senator COLBECK —How many staff within the organisation are working on climate-specific project issues at the moment?

Dr Clark —In terms of our total investments in the environment area this year, we now have $229 million invested in that, an increase of some $10 million. We have increased our allocation to both the climate and the water space. Today with us I have Dr Andrew Johnson, who heads that particular group, who can answer any detailed questions that you have on any breakdown that you would require in the climate space.

Senator COLBECK —So that is $229 million?

Dr Clark —Yes, in the total Environment Group.

Senator COLBECK —How does that relate to staffing?

Dr Clark —I will just call Andrew Johnson, who has that detail. Actually, I would prefer to take that on notice. We do not have the numbers right at hand, unfortunately.

Senator COLBECK —Okay. Has that unit taken on any work that has come out of Land and Water Australia?

Dr Clark —No.

Senator COLBECK —Okay, no projects out of Land and Water Australia. Has the nature of the work that the unit is doing changed because of the government’s decision to shelve the introduction of the ETS?

Dr Clark —No, it has not.

Senator COLBECK —No change in any project focus at all. Can we confirm that the CSIRO is a sponsor of the Women in Climate Change national forum series?

Dr Clark —Could you repeat that?

Senator COLBECK —The Women in Climate Change national forum series.

Dr Clark —I am certainly not aware of that, but we would be happy to take that on notice.

Senator COLBECK —Did the CSIRO contribute financially to the series?

Dr Clark —As I have just mentioned, not to my knowledge or the knowledge of my officers, but I am happy to take that on notice and provide any further detail.

Senator COLBECK —Can you tell me what process you follow when you are considering whether or not to sponsor a particular event?

Mr Whelan —Typically the issue of sponsorship involves consideration of the alignment of potential stakeholder audiences with the CSIRO research program and also whether there would be value for money associated with the sponsorship and whether there would be CSIRO scientists or researchers associated with the program.

Senator COLBECK —Do you have a panel that considers those things, or is it done at an individual unit level?

Mr Whelan —Those decisions typically are taken at an individual business unit level.

Senator COLBECK —A copy of the brochure for that particular forum indicates that you were sponsors. You might have to take this on notice, but could you indicate how much was invested in that particular event?

Mr Whelan —Yes. As Dr Clark has indicated, we will take that the question on notice and we will provide you with advice on whether there was sponsorship and what the value of it was.

Senator COLBECK —Thanks. I want to go to the document State of the climate, the snapshot. Is that a regular publication? Is that something that is done on a regular basis?

Dr Clark —We certainly put out a number of reports and joint reports with the Bureau of Meteorology, but that particular report was the first instance of us jointly putting out a state-of-the-nation report. We have certainly had feedback that suggests we should make this a regular report to the nation, and we are considering that.

Senator COLBECK —Where would that feedback have come from?

Dr Clark —Following the release of the State of the climate report, we had considerable feedback from many of the communities that it was welcomed.

Senator COLBECK —I understand that you might have done that; that is fine. I am talking about the decision to instigate the publication in the first place. What was the process for instigating the State of the climate document in the first place?

Dr Clark —There was certainly interest in making sure that the facts of what was happening in this country were available to Australians. There was obviously a lot of work that we have that looks forward, but it was particularly important to present the information that was on hand at the five-decade level in a way that was clear, across a number of areas such as temperature, rainfall et cetera. There was no attempt to look at the forward models or to look at what might be or what could be. It was simply a statement from both the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology of the research that we have been jointly undertaking and of the observations made by the bureau in these particular areas. It was simply a statement of fact of what we have been seeing.

Senator COLBECK —So it is a snapshot in time, effectively. Is that what you are saying?

Dr Clark —It looks at the decadal trends and, as you know, there is a lot of information around—global data—that is available to the public. But there was very little aggregation of information that was relevant just to Australia, and we felt there was a desire for that. Consistent with our role and the bureau’s role to provide information to the Australian public, the report was released and, as I said, we are looking at a regular release of this type of report from the two organisations.

Senator COLBECK —You made a comment about not attempting to do detailed modelling. You made a comment about modelling in your previous answer, which led me to the question about a snapshot in time. Could you expand on that for me, please. I just want to get a sense of where that is at.

Dr Clark —Not a problem. We were looking to demonstrate what Australia has experienced over the last 50 years—for example, in the temperature.

Senator COLBECK —So you are not looking to be projecting that far out, as far as this document is concerned?

Dr Clark —No. As I said, it is really just a statement of what has happened and it was simply to inform the debate on the facts of what we have seen—not what we might see or could see, but what we have seen. We felt there was a thirst for that kind of information, particularly with the Bureau of Meteorology’s temperature information.

Senator COLBECK —What are the primary sources of the data that you have used in the document?

Dr Clark —The Bureau of Meteorology has some of the best records of temperature across the world. We also looked at the record highs and record lows shown over each decade. Every decade from 1960 through to our current decade has broken the records of the previous decade, and on average we have seen fewer cold days—really cold days—every decade. The rainfall data, of course, is sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology, showing the trends of a relatively steady, slight increase in rainfall over the past 50 years but showing major changes in where that rainfall is occurring. The sea level data is sourced from the CSIRO, showing the changes of sea level, and we reported the difference in sea level changes in different parts of the country. We also looked at the mean sea-surface temperature, which was sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology, and the atmospheric carbon and methane as well as the carbon dioxide measured at Cape Grim, which is a joint facility between CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Senator COLBECK —What is your reaction to the discussion in relation to criticism of Australia’s temperature records particularly because of the changes of methodology of capturing those records over time?

Dr Clark —Sorry, Senator, I did not hear.

Senator COLBECK —Given the criticisms over the changes in methodology of capturing those records, particularly from changing to automatic weather stations in a lot of cases where there used to be individual personal stations and closures of lighthouses, for example, and the locational issues that come out around that, can you give us a sense of that? You talk about the fact that we have got a very long history, but there is some criticism and I would just like to get your analysis of that.

Dr Clark —Sorry, Senator, I did not mean to turn around while you were speaking. As I mentioned, the temperature data is sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology. I understand the Bureau of Meteorology has addressed those questions. It is a very significant and robust set of temperature data but—

Senator COLBECK —There is some debate about that adjustment in the scientific community, isn’t there?

Senator CAMERON —Lord Monkton I think it is.

Senator COLBECK —Actually that is not where it comes from and frankly I am not interested in one side of the debate. I am just trying to get a sense from another scientific organisation as to an assessment of that process. That is all I am trying to do.

Dr Clark —You are absolutely right, there is obviously considerable debate in this area. As we reported in the State of the climate report, we simply report the data that is available and the Bureau of Meteorology’s data. It is simply the factual records that we have.

Senator COLBECK —So it is based on the documentation you have been provided by that agency and you make no judgement about that?

Dr Clark —That is right.

Senator McGAURAN —Why then did you, when you had the available data, not put the methane levels beyond 1990 in the report?

Dr Clark —If you go to the graph, the methane levels are reported up to 2009. It goes all the way back as far as we can go from ice cores et cetera right through to 2009. In the original report you will notice there were no axis marks on the bottom and given that it was over such a long time we certainly got feedback that it would have been clearer if we had included the axis marks, which would clearly show that both of those data were included right up to 2009. We have now done that and in fact both the methane and CO2 data went right through to 2009 on that original graph.

Senator McGAURAN —But that was the criticism. You initially published this report that we were all meant to rely upon and left out a crucial element, an important graph. The criticism was that you stopped it in 1990 because you wanted your result in regard to methane levels and then you had to republish it, if you like. You could not even get it right the first time. That is the criticism towards you.

Dr Clark —Let me correct you. The original graph had the data right up to 2009 so that assertion was incorrect.

Senator COLBECK —That does lead me to the question I was going to ask about that. Effectively the adjustment to the document was to include the axis?

Dr Clark —No. We did not have the little marks on the axis showing exactly where 1990 and 2009 were. I thought it was a good observation that that would certainly make the graph clearer.

Senator COLBECK —Effectively the scale was not included on the graph?

Dr Clark —The numbers were included but the tick marks were not on the graph. It certainly was a clearer graph by adding that, which is what we have done. We made it perfectly clear that the data was included right up to 2009. It certainly clarified that point.

Senator COLBECK —That was an important clarification to demonstrate the divergence between methane growth and CO2 growth, which was the point of the criticism in the first place. Is that correct?

Dr Clark —I think the feedback to us was that it could have been clearer. Whilst the information on the graph is identical, we have certainly made it clearer and we thought the feedback was appropriate.

Senator CARR —Can I draw your attention to a letter in the Australian this morning that responds to the claims that were made by Terry McCrann—

Senator COLBECK —You have told us many times in question time that the Australian is not reliable. Are you going to rely on it today?

Senator Carr —I have often commented upon the accuracy of the Australian; that is true. On this occasion I am quoting a letter from Dr Clark, who I do know is very reliable. So I suggest you read the letter in today’s paper.

Senator COLBECK —So the editorials are not reliable but the letters to the editor are.

Senator Carr —The editorials certainly are not reliable.

Senator COLBECK —I am pleased we got that on the record.

Senator Carr —It might help clarify this issue. Would you like me to table the letter?

Senator McGAURAN —I get the Australian everyday religiously. I suggest you should too.

CHAIR —Thank you, Minister, please table the letter.

Senator Carr —That is a good suggestion, Senator McGauran.

Senator COLBECK —Have you issued an erratum to clarify that? Is there something that clarifies the fact that you have modified the document since it was published?

Dr Clark —The data, of course, was exactly the same. But we have clarified the access points on the graph. We also have provided feedback to Quadrant Online, who provided the feedback to us in the first place.  We have notified them that we have done that. So we have certainly clarified that.

Senator COLBECK —Who instigated the current housing and sea level rise survey being conducted?

Dr Clark —As part of our climate adaptation flagship we are looking at public attitudes to that.

Senator COLBECK —Who has instigated it? How was it instigated? What was the process for that?

Dr Clark —Our CSIRO flagship.

Senator COLBECK —What is the staffing allocation to it.

Dr Clark —I will have to take that on notice. I am happy to provide it.

Senator COLBECK —When is the final document—the project—due for completion?

Dr Clark —I will take that on notice.

Senator COLBECK —What can you tell us about the project? You cannot tell us how many staff, how much it is going to cost or when it is going to be completed. What are the terms of reference for it?

Dr Johnson —The project is part of a portfolio of research that is undertaken in our climate adaptation national research flagship. I apologise we cannot give you the details. As you can imagine, there are literally hundreds of projects going on in CSIRO but, as Dr Clark indicated, we will take the specifics on notice. My understanding of the project is that it is engaged in a consultation with local communities about their attitudes to sea level rise and the risk associated with that. That is useful for our research in terms of informing future adaptation strategies under scenarios of inundation as a consequence of sea level rise.

Senator COLBECK —Do you know who the partners in the project are?

Dr Johnson —I  know who the project leader is. I do not have the specific details that you are after for the particular project. As I have indicated, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of projects going on inside the environment portfolio at any one time. I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator COLBECK —Senator Eggleston may have some more detail but my understanding is that a number of the states have different projections for sea level rise. Is that something that the project will look at and try to clarify?

Dr Johnson —No, not to my knowledge.

Senator McGAURAN —We have a Prime Minister who said that over 250 houses were going to be flooded.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, I have you on the list. Senator Colbeck, have you finished?

Senator COLBECK —I am trying to get the sense of a fairly significant project. We have some information that indicates that the states have varying projections for sea level rise. I just want to know how that is consolidated, and what the basis for the project is.

Dr Johnson —As Dr Clark indicated, we have made our position very clear on sea level rises through the State of the climate snapshot report. I am not aware in detail of whether there are differences.

Senator COLBECK —I thought the State of the climate snapshot report was talking about a snapshot in time, not necessarily models and projections.

Dr Johnson —We made it very clear what the observations of the sea level rise are, Senator.

Dr Clark —You are absolutely right—we do see different sea level rises in different areas, as we reported in the snapshot—seven to 10 millimetres per year in the north and west but only 1.5 to four millimetres in the south and east. That is not immediately intuitive—certainly you would think that the sea levels would simply equilibrate instantly around the world, and that is actually not the case.

Senator COLBECK —I understand they do not.

Dr Clark —Also there is different equilibration from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. So, in terms of the observations, we have seen different rises in different areas as well.

Senator COLBECK —In terms of the snapshot, where does that sit with respect to projections? Dr Johnson was talking about projections. My understanding from you, Dr Clark, was that we were not talking about projections—we were talking about a snapshot in time. I just want to get a sense of where we sit with those two.

Dr Clark —On your question for Dr Johnson, which area would you like to delve into?

Senator COLBECK —It is probably more a question for you, Dr Clark. I am trying to get a sense of whether we are talking about projections in the snapshot section. I noticed that there is a heading that says ‘Australia will be hotter in coming decades’ as a general statement, and that section gives some detail in respect of that as far as projection is concerned. I am just trying to get clarification. Let us go to something else. What is the cycle that you are going to put this document out over?

Dr Clark —We are actually discussing that. Just going back to your original point, in the snapshot it talks about the sea level rises that have occurred, not the projections, and the temperature data given is of the temperature changes that have occurred, not the projections. Whilst of course we undertake modelling, the snapshot shows what has actually happened and the measurements that we have taken in the past. In that document they are not projections.

Senator COLBECK —Under item 5 it says:

Australian average temperatures are projected to rise by 0.6 to 1.5 ÂșC by 2030.

Dr Clark —Yes. Under the final part of the ‘What this means’ section, we include some information on the projections I was referring to.

Senator COLBECK —How often do you do intend to publish this now that you have had the feedback you have had?

Dr Clark —We have not finalised that with the bureau, but certainly there is an appetite for us to publish this regularly. I will be able to confirm at our next hearing our agreements on when we will do that.

Senator COLBECK —That is fine.

Senator PRATT —I also wanted to ask about the State of the climate snapshot—in particular, the implications of that report for Western Australia. I note that the snapshot found that about half of the observed reduction in winter rainfall in south-west Western Australia can be explained by higher greenhouse gas levels. I wanted to know the implications of the snapshot for planning an adaptation for climate change, particularly in Western Australia’s south-west.

Dr Clark —Certainly. Dr Johnson’s group covers both climate adaptation as well as water resources in the south-western part of Western Australia. Both of those questions—

Senator PRATT —I beg your pardon. Chair, I cannot hear the witness because of the conversation going on next to me.

CHAIR —Sorry. Please continue, Dr Clark.

Dr Clark —As I mentioned, Dr Johnson’s group covers both climate adaptation and sustainable yields in terms of water resources for the south-west part of Western Australia, and I am sure he would be comfortable to provide any further detail you require.

Dr Johnson —Thank you, Dr Clark. Senator, you are correct—there are significant implications for the state of Western Australia. As Dr Clark indicated, they span across a range of sections—water, land use, biodiversity and infrastructure. We have not published, to the best of my knowledge, any specific studies on those issues, with the exception of water, and I would be happy to provide you with that information if you would like.

Senator PRATT —Is that the study of water as part of the flagship’s research?

Dr Johnson —Yes. It was the sustainable yields assessment that was done as part of the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship national research program.

Senator PRATT —So the implications of looking at climate change and greenhouse gas levels have been incorporated into that flagship’s work?

Dr Johnson —That is correct. The study, like the other sustainable use studies, looked at a range of different land use scenarios and climate scenarios as part of its assessment of the likely future availability of water in south-west Western Australia.

Senator PRATT —What are the particular implications for agriculture in south-west WA? I suppose, having observed these debates over some years now, it does seem that we are slowly coming to grips with being able to translate climate change information into information that enables us to make decisions at a community level.

Dr Johnson —Obviously, if the drying trend and the trend for increasing temperature increase, that will have significant implications for agriculture. As part of the flagship, we are working very closely with the Western Australian government and farming communities to develop adaptation responses for the agricultural sector in Western Australia. They are quite extensive. I would be happy to provide that information to you if you would like.

Senator PRATT —Yes, that would be terrific. Thank you very much.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran.

Senator McGAURAN —I have one question on sea level issues and then I want to get on to a few other matters. In the State of the climate report you mention that the change in sea level is 1.5 to three centimetres. How are we to interpret that—with great concern, with triviality, what?

Dr Clark —Let me just correct that fact there. It is 1.5 to three millimetres, Senator, not centimetres.

Senator McGAURAN —Millimetres?

Dr Clark —Yes.

Senator McGAURAN —How is that to be interpreted? Is that a concern? Is that a climate change concern?

Dr Clark —It is certainly important just to have those numbers and those facts and those trends out there, I think, so that people can look at them and look at the differences that we are seeing in different regions.

Senator McGAURAN —If anyone interpreted that with concern, 1.5 millimetres, then they are beating up the whole climate change issue. Now, what I would like—

CHAIR —Thank you for your scientific opinion on that, Senator McGauran! Would you like to ask another question?

Senator McGAURAN —Yes, well, that is how much sea levels have risen in the last decade. What a joke. In relation to the staff cuts—which must have come as a great surprise and shock to you because you have a minister next to you who boasts about his CSIRO—is this the third budget in which CSIRO has faced cuts to its global budget?

Dr Clark —Let me correct you there. Our budget is actually projected to increase to $1,183,000,000. That is an increase of $15.2 million. In addition to that, we also have our capital increases, some $81.6 million next year, which includes the capital for the ASCAP in Western Australia, the telescope; for our replacement vessel; for the Pawsey centre, which is a supercomputer in Western Australia; and for our phenomics, which is around our plant biology area in Black Mountain, of around $1.7 million—

Senator McGAURAN —But you are facing what we believe to be 130 job cuts.

Dr Clark —We have, in our budget, looked at an average staffing level reduction of around 129. We are not expecting to see a major change to our research effort. We will certainly endeavour to maintain our research effort in our critical areas.

Senator PRATT —Why do you care when you don’t believe in the science anyway?

Senator McGAURAN —CSIRO is all about manpower, and to cut 130 jobs is a serious cut into their ability to research. In relation to bushfire research, first of all, are there any proposed cutbacks in that area; and what research is being undertaken at the moment?

Dr Clark —In terms of covering some detail in our bushfire area, I would direct that question to Dr Johnson.

Dr Johnson —Senator McGauran, we have an extensive engagement in providing research around bushfires. It could probably be divided into five, maybe six, categories. We have an extensive program of work describing, effectively, learnings from the past, and I would be happy to supply you with more detailed information. For example, we have a groundbreaking study on the survivability of cars trapped in firestorms, we have looked at a house vulnerability assessment tool for assessing assets in bushfire prone areas and we have looked at the robustness and the role played by residential centre systems and water storage tanks in bushfire prone areas. We have also been working with colleagues in Victoria to develop housing which is much more resistant to bushfires. We have just recently flame-tested a house constructed from steel and featuring a non-flammable roof cavity. We have done extensive work with the Country Fire Authority around fire tanker crew protection systems. We have also worked extensively with the Bureau of Meteorology to improve our ability to forecast dangerous bushfire weather.

Senator McGAURAN —And none of those extensive programs will be affected by these staff cuts?

Dr Johnson —To the best of my knowledge, no.

Senator McGAURAN —What about fire detection research? What are you undertaking there?

Dr Johnson —You would have to be more specific. Fire detection research in what regard?

Senator McGAURAN —Early warning.

Dr Johnson —I will have to take that question on notice. I am not aware of any, but that does not mean to say we are not doing it.

Senator McGAURAN —Does anyone else know? No? Okay.

Senator COLBECK —I have a question about the building research. When is the stuff you are doing in Victoria with fireproof roof spaces and things of that nature going to be published?

Dr Johnson —That work is currently being written up. It will feed into a process that relates to the Australian Building Codes, which is administered by Standards Australia, so my expectation is that the outcomes of that research will feed into a well-established and sophisticated process for bringing new knowledge to bear on Australian building codes.

Senator COLBECK —I was just interested in when we might be able to get hold of it.

Dr Johnson —I would be happy to supply you with a summary of the work to date if you are interested in it.

Senator COLBECK —Thank you.

Senator Carr —I would like to follow through on some of the outrageous claims that Senator McGauran has been making. He started his questions with a series of false accusations. I have heard no retractions whatsoever. What we have in this portfolio budget statement is an increase in appropriation funding of 2.6 per cent, a five per cent increase in external revenue, an increase of $21.4 million in investment in research and a 50 per cent increase in expenditure on scientific equipment. Within that context there is prioritisation of research activity. In the context of what is a very tough budgetary circumstance, I would have thought you would be congratulating the CSIRO on the way they have managed these circumstances.

Senator McGAURAN —Mr Johnson, I believe there is a program called FireWatch in which CSIRO are working closely with an organisation for early fire detection. Can I get some information on that and when the results of that study—

Dr Johnson —I would be happy to take that question on notice.

Senator McGAURAN —I would like an update on calicivirus. Where has it been released? Will it also face research cutbacks? Minister, I noticed you said the overall budget had increased 2.6 per cent.

Senator Carr —I am waiting for you to congratulate the CSIRO on how they have managed the budgetary situation.

Senator McGAURAN —I notice that is below the current inflation rate, so they are losing.

Senator Carr —This is your chance. Come clean; congratulate CSIRO for what a good job they have done.

CHAIR —I believe we are in the middle of a question.

Dr Clark —It has been some time since we were doing active research on the calicivirus, but I would be very comfortable taking that question on notice.

Senator McGAURAN —The program for the release of the calicivirus is still being undertaken. Who undertakes that? It is the local state agriculture departments, I suspect.

Dr Clark —I will have to take that on notice. It is certainly not CSIRO. We will have to provide you with the information about which state and relevant authorities are doing that.

Senator McGAURAN —The one thing about the CSIRO budget that has been watched over the last three budgets and that has faced three consecutive budget cuts is the rural and regional sector—the farm gate research. The minister turns his back. As much as the minister wants to rant and rave that a below-indexation level of increase in the latest budget is something to boast about, I know that down on the ground at the farm gate the CSIRO not only has to a great degree lost its once shining reputation but is undertaking far less research. It is extremely disappointing.

Dr Clark —Let me provide you with the information. Our investment in the agricultural sector increased by $35 million this year—

Senator McGAURAN —But it was cut $50 million in the first budget.

Dr Clark —to a total of $315 million. As you know, I am on record being clear about the strength we have in that sector and the importance of the work that we do for this nation in our regional centres. Also of note is that CSIRO is one of the only institutions in this country that is in the top 10 in the world for three of its research areas. Plant and animal science is, of course, directly relevant to that sector, as is our agricultural and environmental research. In addition to that, we have seen an increase in support from the agricultural industry; our external earnings increased in that area as well. It is a very important area for us, as you point out, and it is one which we take very seriously and which is a very solid part of or foundation. It is one in which we are moving into the future and continuing to provide the sorts of innovations and developments that that sector needs to increase yields and manage the challenges that we see at the moment.

Senator CAMERON —I want to follow on from Senator McGauran’s questioning in relation to the number of employees in CSIRO. What is the total number of employees in CSIRO?

Dr Clark —Our total number of research employees is now at a decade high of 2,108. Our total number of employees is 6,698.

Senator CAMERON —Does that total head count include the research?

Dr Clark —Yes, it does.

Senator CAMERON —How many resignations do you have on an annual basis?

Dr Clark —Our staff turnover has fallen from 13.5 to 10.4, but our resignations have fallen from 5.5 to a low of 3.8 per cent currently.

Senator CAMERON —Your resignations would include retirements, resignations and people moving on for any reason?

Dr Clark —The total turnover that I quoted as reducing includes the retirement. Resignations are in fact just resignations.

Senator CAMERON —So each year you have come down, but it is roughly 660 if you equate that to your numbers?

Dr Clark —Yes. As I mentioned, those turnover rates are reducing. Of course, with resignation rates now at 3.1, they are at significant lows for the organisation.

Senator CAMERON —Given that Senator McGauran says that a cut of 130 is a serious cut, what are the implications for the CSIRO of a cut of 660 in one year and another 660 the next year, consistent with the announcement by the Leader of the Opposition to have a two-year freeze?

Mr Whelan —If we were not able to fill vacancies, we would see a substantial reduction in staffing. As Dr Clark indicated, we currently have 6,698 staff in head count terms. If that were to reduce by 660 a year for the next two years we would see a reduction of 1,300 in head count. Even though we have tried very hard over recent times, we would not be able to make sure that our overhead areas would be sufficient. That is where the bulk of reductions have happened in the organisation. It is hard to imagine that there would not be some implications for research as a result of that.

Senator CAMERON —Would you be able to fulfil your obligations under the act?

Mr Whelan —That is a difficult question to answer. The organisation’s resourcing levels have fluctuated over time and I am sure the management and the board have always sought to strive to meet their obligations under the act. It would be a long bow and I really could not comment on that.

Senator CAMERON —What about being able to continue cutting-edge scientific research for rural and regional areas? Would that have an effect there?

Mr Whelan —That is a hypothetical and it is difficult to forecast it, but the organisation uses a prioritisation process for the allocation of its resources and, subject to the circumstances applied at that time, we would seek to reduce resourcing to lower priority research. But I could not comment on what that would be at this point in time.

Senator CAMERON —How many graduates do you employ each year?

Mr Whelan —We do not have a graduate program per se, but the number of postdocs employed in the organisation is currently 332 and the number of PhD students we sponsor is 629, so you might put approximately a thousand into that category.

Senator CAMERON —If there were a staff freeze, would there be an effect on the contribution that you make?

Mr Whelan —We have been increasing the numbers in those categories over recent times. In 2004, we had 259 post-docs and we now have 332. In 2004, we had 464 PhD students and we now have 629. If there were to be a staffing freeze then clearly we would not be able to continue to increase those numbers.

Senator CAMERON —I come to the correspondence in the Australian from Dr Clark where she says:

CSIRO remains ranked in the top one per cent of world scientific institutions in 14 of 22 research fields …

If you had these cutbacks, do you think you could maintain your ranking?

Mr Whelan —Again you are asking me to speculate on the implications of this particular impact, and I am not in a position to do that.

Senator CAMERON —I continue on Dr Clark’s correspondence to the Australian. This is in response to an article by Terry McCrann. Is Terry McCrann a scientist?

Dr Clark —I could not tell you that.

Senator CAMERON —You are not aware of whether he is a scientist?

Dr Clark —I could not tell you that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Madam Chair, a lot of us have serious questions for CSIRO. On a point of order, CSIRO do not know what journalists’ backgrounds are, or they should not. I have serious questions to ask. Please ask Senator Cameron to confine himself to serious questions.

CHAIR —I am not sure that it is not a serious question, Senator Macdonald. We do put up with a little lead-in approach to questions from a number of senators, so I will let Senator Cameron continue with his line of questioning.

Senator CAMERON —I have not seen Mr McCrann’s critique, but I assume it is in relation to the State of the climate report. In the State of the climate report you indicate that according to the analysis you have done:

Australian will be hotter in coming decades … Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades … It is very likely that human activities have caused most of the global warming observed since 1950 … Climate change is … real.

Has anything been put to you this morning or since this report has come out that has changed your view on those assessments?

Dr Clark —No.

Senator CAMERON —So none of the criticism of the report has made you change your scientific analysis?

Dr Clark —The report was simply a statement of the facts and that record is there and published now.

Senator CAMERON —Thank you.

Senator Carr —I think Senator McGauran wants to apologise. Perhaps we should allow him time!

CHAIR —I don’t think that actually was the tenor of the approach. Senator Eggleston has the call at the moment.

Senator EGGLESTON —I would like to change the subject a little bit—

Senator CAMERON —I’m sure you do!

Senator EGGLESTON —Well, you know, we have to have some rationality, Senator! I want to go to the SKA array in Western Australia, near Geraldton. I understand the Yamatji Marlpa land council had made a land claim over the SKA review area. Is that the case?

Dr Clark —We are currently working with the Yamatji group on that.

Senator EGGLESTON —So there was a land claim, and there was a settlement, I understand. But there has been some criticism about the terms of the settlement. That is what I wanted to ask about. I refer to an article in the West Australian of 19 April, written by Paul Murray. He said:

The Barnett Government will pay a group of Murchison Aboriginals about $10 million to drop their native title objections to the CSIRO’s Square Kilometre Array telescope project.

He also said:

When the agreement was announced in November, the State Government, the CSIRO and the Geraldton-based Yamatji Marlpa land council released no details of the payments, despite a clause saying nothing should be treated as confidential.

I understand that the federal government report into native title payments last year criticised the amount of secrecy attached to such agreements. I just wonder why it is that the CSIRO and the government are not releasing details of this agreement.

Mr Whelan —It is not unusual for CSIRO not to broadcast every agreement it enters into. We would sign many thousands of contracts and agreements on an annual basis. We do not issue a press release or make a statement every time we sign one. There is no secret here. The journalist who requested a copy of the agreement was provided with one. It is a matter on the public record, so there was no secret or attempt to keep the agreement secret. The agreement was arrived at in good faith and was made available, and can be made available to anybody who would like a copy. There was no attempt to keep it secret.

Senator EGGLESTON —So you are saying that there was no inconsistency with the federal government’s report into native title payments last year criticising the amount of secrecy attached to Indigenous agreements?

Mr Whelan —As you have just heard, Senator, there was no attempt to keep the agreement secret—so, no, I do not believe there would be any inconsistency.

Senator EGGLESTON —That is interesting, because a few people, such as mid-west Aboriginal leader Sandy Davies, says the lack of accountability and, in effect, secrecy of the trust under which this has been set up, is a matter of some concern. It seems that this has been set up under a trust and that the details of the operations of the trust have been kept subject to a secrecy clause. I find that a little bit hard to understand, given the government’s policy on not keeping these agreements secret.

Mr Whelan —As I indicated, I do not believe the agreement has been kept secret. If you would like a copy, I could make one available to you.

Senator EGGLESTON —That is fine, but it seems that it has been set up under a trust and there is no obligation for the trust to make the details available to the local Indigenous people. I find that very curious.

Mr Whelan —Just to clarify: I do not believe the CSIRO has created a trust. It may have been that the other participants in the agreement created a trust, which would be a matter for them to disclose. But, with respect to the Commonwealth’s dealings and CSIRO’s dealings with those individuals, it is a matter of public record and the information is available to anybody who asks.

Senator EGGLESTON —Very well. Perhaps to the minister: was the minister concerned then if the actual mechanics of the operation of this grant as set up under a trust—

Senator Carr —Senator, what I am concerned about is that you are relying on unsound press reports—

Senator EGGLESTON —if I might finish, Minister, with respect—is that there is a degree of secrecy about it which I would have thought was inconsistent with your government’s policy on these sorts of issues.

Senator Carr —What I can advise you is that since you have asked me about the government’s position there has never been any intention or any reason to keep the details of the agreement secret. Upon request from the journalist, he was provided with the full text of the Indigenous land use agreement which included full details of the benefit package negotiated with the Wajarri Yamatji native title claimants. Now just because the journalist does not report that, might I suggest that it does not necessarily justify you regurgitating inaccurate and misleading information after the officers have advised you that that report is wrong.

Senator EGGLESTON —In fact we have to follow it through a little bit further to the creation of of this Wajarri People’s Trust—again quoting the journalist, I concede—which has been set up to operate ‘at the sole discretion of Geraldton accountant Abul Shahid’. It would seem to me—

Senator Carr —This is not our actual—

Senator EGGLESTON —It is, I think, with respect, the same matter, Senator. There is secrecy about this because one particular person, a Wajarri elder, Victor Mourambine, has complained about the fact that the operations of this trust are secret.

Senator Carr —Lots of people complain about lots of things; that does not necessarily make them true. You have been advised by the officers, and I have advised you on the basis of the advice that I have received, that the information was actually provided to the journalist who chose, presumably, given that you are quoting from a report—

Senator EGGLESTON —I am indeed—

Senator Carr —not to refer to that information that he has been given. I am advised that there is no reason why we cannot table the documentation, if that helps you. I trust it will clarify in your mind any questions you have about the nature of the agreement.

Senator EGGLESTON —It is a sequential matter though, with respect, Minister. It is known that you have paid $8 million, and that is public, but it goes into a trust which it seems operates under something of a cloud of secrecy over a 6-year period, and I would have thought that was inconsistent with the policy of your government to make such matters open and transparent.

Senator Carr —But what you are ignoring is the advice that the officers have given you, which is that the trust has not been established by the Commonwealth. I have understood that correctly, have I not?

Senator EGGLESTON —If you were listening carefully, Minister, what I said was that it follows through from the grant, and then I would have thought that your policy would have extended to all the subsequent developments regarding the disposition of that money and I find it a little hard to understand why it does not.

Senator Carr —The land use agreement was concluded in good faith between the native title claimants, the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments, CSIRO and the Aboriginal corporation. The establishment of the trust which you report, relying upon a West Australian newspaper report, is not a matter for the Commonwealth. That is the evidence the officers have provided you—

Senator EGGLESTON —The Commonwealth surely has a policy that such agreements should be transparent—

Senator Carr —We have said that to you.

Senator EGGLESTON —and if local Aborigines are complaining that they cannot get details of the operation of the trust, surely that must be a matter of great concern to you as a minister in the Rudd government.

Senator Carr —What is of concern to me is that you are seeking to rely upon an inaccurate report in the West Australian newspaper. The officers have provided you with advice. I have indicated to you that we are happy to have the documents actually tabled here. The journalist was provided with the documents. How the journalist chooses to use them is not a matter we can control.

Senator EGGLESTON —As I said, the details of the grant are known, the mechanics of its operations under a trust appear to be clouded in secrecy and I would have thought that would concern you as a minister in this government since you stated—

Senator Carr —I will just check to see if there is anything further I can add to that.

Senator EGGLESTON —that the government’s policy is to make these things transparent.

Senator Carr —I am advised that the advice I have provided you is accurate in all respects and there is not much more I can say.

Senator EGGLESTON —As far as you go—and it is limited advice; I am sure that is true—it does not deal with the issue of transparency on the ground for the local Indigenous people in the mid-west, with respect, Minister. But I will leave that matter there.

I would also like to ask about CSIRO’s involvement in the UWA Oceans Institute. Could you please tell me a little about what CSIRO is doing there and what kind of funding, if any, they have committed to it.

Dr Clark —We are certainly committed to working with both the University of Western Australia and AIMS on collaborating with our own marine research to create a national level of critical mass in that area. We have also entered into a memorandum of understanding with the University of Western Australia for our oceans research, and the head of our Wealth from Oceans Flagship will be located in Western Australia.

Senator EGGLESTON —Does this now mean that CSIRO will be involved in research on the west coast, in the north of the state, equivalent perhaps—or beginning to be equivalent—to their involvement on the east coast and tropical ocean research?

Dr Clark —We have, of course, been involved for a long time in research on the west coast. As you pointed out, we have a significant critical mass in Tasmania, working on the Southern Ocean, together with our partners at the University of Tasmania. Some 500 researchers are working on that effort. It is a very important area. It is an area where all of the researchers in the nation must come together and we must build that kind of level of critical mass, which is what we are endeavouring to do with our partners in Western Australia.

Senator EGGLESTON —Have you been involved to any degree in the progress of Ord stage 2 and the planning for it?

Dr Clark —Progress of Ord stage 2?

Senator EGGLESTON —Of the Ord River Scheme.

Dr Johnson —The short answer is no, although we have offered both the Australian and Western Australian governments our support should that be required, so there is a standing offer to both jurisdictions in that regard.

Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you very much.

CHAIR —Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ —Very quickly, if I may wish you well in the matter that was raised in the Australian on Tuesday, 18 May, ‘CSIRO takes on top US carriers’. I understand that they are the ones that have not come to the party and settled with the CSIRO, unlike others. Is that correct?

Dr Clark —We are certainly in active commercial and legal activities with that sector.

Senator ABETZ —I dare say, given that proceedings are underway, you cannot tell us much about it, so I wish you well in that. It would not be the Senate estimates of CSIRO unless I inquired about the cricket ball. Have we developed that any further? I missed out at last estimates, so I thought I had better get an update now.

Mr Whelan —No, there has not been any progress. CSIRO provided a proposal to Cricket Australia to do some work on that.

Senator ABETZ —So the ball is with Cricket Australia, if I can use that terminology!

Mr Whelan —That is correct.

Senator ABETZ —All right. Thank you. I put a question on notice on 22 March 2010 in relation to the disclaimers used on climate change papers. I am just wondering where we are at with that question, given that it is now somewhat overdue. I can understand that a lot of work would be involved in it, so I do not want to be overly critical. But, if we could be provided with a time framework, that would be helpful.

Dr Clark —We have provided the answer to that question to you already.

Senator ABETZ —Aha! When was it tabled?

Dr Clark —I am just trying to check that. Can we take that on notice? But we have provided that answer.

Senator ABETZ —We will not delay this process any further. If an answer has been provided, I would be much obliged to you if you could let my office know.

Dr Clark —I would be happy to do so.

Senator ABETZ —I do not seem to have it as yet. It was sent to the Table Office on 23 March; that is the one. There is a Senate question, No. 2588, to which you answered:

Given the preliminary and limited nature of the research, there is insufficient data to support publication of any results.

Have we got any further with the research so that we are now in a position to publish results? Once again, if I may, I will leave that with you on notice.

Dr Clark —Thank you.

Senator ABETZ —It is question No. 2588. In response to a similar question in relation to the carbon footprint of electric cars, SI-23, from the October estimates, I was told:

CSIRO has done some preliminary modelling to understand the relationship between electric vehicles and the source of electricity used to charge them and how this compares with various fuels in terms of carbon footprint, but results from this work are not yet ready for publication.

How close are we to publication?

Dr Clark —I understand we have provided an answer on that, but we are not planning at the moment to publish anything further. But we have provided to your office an answer to that question.

Senator ABETZ —No, what I just read out was the answer, which was fair enough at the time—so there is no criticism of that. I do have an answer to SI-23, but it says that your research has not gone far enough, so it is not ready for publication. I am just wondering: since October 2009, in the last six months, has there been further study undertaken which now allows you to provide us with any information that is ready for publication?

Dr Clark —My apologies. My understanding is that we are not planning to publish anything further at this stage.

Senator ABETZ —Oh. Possibly some of my concern—no, I will not say why it is not going to be published, but thank you for that answer. Without delaying the hearing, is Dr Fraser with us? No. But he is still with the CSIRO?

Mr Whelan —Are you referring to Dr Paul Fraser?

Senator ABETZ —Yes, Dr Paul Fraser.

Dr Johnson —Yes, my understanding is that he is still employed with CSIRO.

Senator ABETZ —I understand that there has been a war of words between Dr Paul Fraser and Mr Des Moore. I have been provided with a copy of the letter from this Mr Des Moore, who is very much on the ‘anti’ side of the global warming debate. He wrote a three-page letter to Dr Fraser on 27 March 2010 making a number of assertions. I do not want to take sides in relation to this debate, as a self-declared agnostic, but I am just wondering whether it is Dr Fraser’s intention to respond to that correspondence. I do not know if you know anything about that, Dr Johnson.

Dr Johnson —No.

Senator ABETZ —But if that could be taken on notice—

Dr Johnson —I am happy to take that on notice, but I am not aware of that correspondence.

Senator ABETZ —Could I inquire as to whether anybody in CSIRO has read Dr Garth Paltridge’s book called The Climate Caper, or a section of it—

Senator Carr —Anyone? There are 6,500 people. Has anyone read that book?

Senator ABETZ —and, if so, whether the CSIRO would like to respond to the suggestion that was made in the book in relation to the pressure put on certain CSIRO scientists to adhere to a particular line, which I suppose is a follow-up to the Dr Spash position, albeit Dr Paltridge makes it as a generalised claim as being part and parcel of his experience, keeping in mind that he devoted his lifetime of expertise to the study of climatology.

Dr Clark —I know we discussed this issue the last time that the committee met. We have had no further updates in this area. It is difficult to understand exactly which area you want me to explore here. There is not really any—

Senator ABETZ —I would have thought it is not difficult, with respect, other than for the fact that I have not been sufficiently articulate. So allow me to restate it: this is a general statement made by somebody who has a worldwide reputation in relation to intimidation and pressure on CSIRO scientists, which would suggest that there may be some cultural issues—I will put it as conservatively as I can—in the CSIRO. I would have thought that when somebody who had such a long engagement with the CSIRO makes such an assertion, it might be worthwhile for the CSIRO to come out and publicly accept it, to do a mea culpa or to say, ‘Absolute nonsense, of course he is wrong and there is no such culture.’ But I would have thought when somebody such as Dr Paltridge makes such an assertion there may have been a response from the CSIRO to protect its reputation.

Dr Clark —It was a long time ago, and before my time. But we do have a very consistent process for how our publications are reviewed. It is a process that is both endorsed by our staff union and our staff, because it makes it clear. It also allows staff to maintain our independence and our role as trusted advisers. We have been very clear about that process, and I think it has a lot more clarity than in the times when Dr Paltridge was part of the organisation which, as I said, is a long time ago.

Senator Carr —It was 1990! This fellow has not worked for CSIRO since 1990.

Senator ABETZ —He is still considered an emeritus professor. He was the foundation—

Senator Carr —His advice to you is predicated on his experiences from 1990.

CHAIR —Senator Abetz, I have three other senators on the list: Senator Macdonald, Senator Heffernan and Senator Milne.

Senator ABETZ —If I may; I was about to finish there, but this is an outrageous comment in relation to Dr Paltridge. Many people retire from their official positions, such as Mr Whitlam, yet still continue to comment on issues of public policy. Do we say that Mr Whitlam was sacked in 1975 and, therefore, for 35 years we should not have been listening to any comment he makes?

Senator Carr —You are accusing this organisation of intimidation! If you want to know about outrageous comments—

Senator ABETZ —That is an outrageous and silly—

Senator Carr —You have accused CSIRO of intimidation—

Senator ABETZ —No, I have not.

Senator Carr —based on the advice of someone who worked there in 1990!

Senator ABETZ —No, I have not. Chair, I have made no allegation—

Senator Carr —Of course you have!

Senator ABETZ —No.

Senator Carr —Don’t get cute with us—of course you did!

Senator ABETZ —I have asked about the allegation made by somebody else and whether the CSIRO has seen fit to respond to the allegation and, if so, how they have responded to it. I make no allegation; as I said previously, as a self-confessed agnostic in this debate—

Senator Carr —Don’t be so smarmy—of course you are accusing the organisation of intimidation!

CHAIR —Minister!

Senator ABETZ —No, I am not.

Senator Carr —Of course you were!

CHAIR —Dr Clark, do you have any further response?

0Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator Carr —That is a separate question. That is the clear intent of his question.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I am next.

Senator ABETZ —No, I do want an answer—sorry.

Dr Clark —Since that time, we have been very clear about our process and public comment, which does help our—

Senator ABETZ —Since what time?

Dr Clark —Since Dr Paltridge’s time in the organisation—

Senator ABETZ —No, I was referring to his book The Climate Caper, which was only published last year. So this is fresh—

Dr Clark —I understand that. I am just trying to explain what we have done to make sure that one of our strongest values, which is the integrity of our excellent science, is held right through the organisation, and that our officers have a very clear process for public comment that allows them to maintain their independence and their scientific integrity.

We have a very clear process and we also have a very clear guiding principle and goal in our organisation that our journey and science are guided by our integrity of excellent science. We can go through the detail and letter of that process on public comment, if you care to, but we have certainly made a lot of clarity around that to assist our staff in this area. As you can imagine, many of the complex issues that we deal with now are challenges that face both this nation and the globe. They are interconnected and they involve all aspects of society, so it has been very important for us to make sure that our scientists are protected by a very clear process of which they are very much aware and adhere to

Senator MILNE —I notice you say your merging of the entomology and sustainable ecosystems you say will cut costs and duplication of technical support services which therefore are being regarded as overheads. Can you tell me who is going to pick up the technical functions that are being cut as overheads in this merger?

Mr Whelan —I am not sure of the exact source of that quote, but, as Dr Clark indicated earlier in the hearing to questions on the matter, the intent of the merger is to increase the critical mass of researchers working in this broad field of environment and ecology. It is not the intent of the merger to reduce the scientific effort associated with that work. There may be some changes to the management and overhead arrangements of the division. For example, we will go from two chiefs to one chief. There probably will be some rationalisation at the deputy chief level. So there may be some management changes in divisions, but as far as the conduct of science is concerned the purpose of the matter is to increase critical mass, to drive synergies and, if those synergies do exist, to reinvest the gains from those into further research.

Senator MILNE —So we are not going to see technical functions, so to speak, cut.

Mr Whelan —I am not sure of the source for the reference to ‘technical functions’. Some people might regard the management division as a technical function. I think the focus in the merger will be on driving our efficiencies in the management structures. It is not meant to be targeting the research itself.

Senator MILNE —Can you tell me about the move to Boggo Road in Queensland? I am told there might be a few problems with that.

Mr Whelan —I am not aware of any problems. The development of the site is on schedule, on budget. Planning is advanced for the relocation of CSIRO staff to that site. We will end up with, I think, about 1,000 people—probably the largest consolidation of environmental scientists and policymakers in the southern hemisphere. I think about 270 CSIRO staff will be based there. Plans are advanced and on track for that move.

Senator MILNE —When do you expect that move to be finalised and for them to be in there?

Dr Johnson —We expect the move to commence this calendar year. As Mr Whelan indicated, the relocation task is currently in preparation. I would anticipate that there would be CSIRO staff physically located in the building this calendar year.

Senator MILNE —What about the wireless and computer access?

Dr Johnson —Yes, there will be computer access for all staff there. Is there a specific question in that regard?

Senator MILNE —I just want to make sure there is going to be wireless and computer access and enough storage for everyone.

Dr Johnson —There is a comprehensive process of engagement between CSIRO and the Queensland government. There is a specific committee that is planning to ensure that we have absolute best-of-breed telecommunications and information technology in the building. So there will be wireless there.

Senator HEFFERNAN —In view of the global food task and the doubling of it by 2050, is the CSIRO, given that agriculture is well and truly off the radar in terms of research—we have fallen below critical mass—interested in modelling the future of the global food task? I ask against the background of the phenomena we now have of the Arab states, China and India going into other agricultural lands—the poorer countries with the best agricultural land on the African continent—and buying up the best of their land. And I am talking about the same thing happening in Tasmania with our dairy farmers, and New Zealand’s 17,000 cows in one go. Is anyone in the CSIRO—you say there are going to be God knows how many people in some bloody office up there—going to be interested in the global food task and modelling it so we can give ourselves some sovereign protection?

Dr Clark —As I previously outlined, the agricultural sector investment of CSIRO is increasing. We have increased it by $35 million this year.

Senator HEFFERNAN —All right, I do not need a long answer—we do not have much time. Are you going to model the global food task unit to give advice to the government?

Senator Carr —It is unfair for you to make assertions against the officers—

Senator HEFFERNAN —No, I am not at all. That is enough answer—

Senator Carr —Give them a chance to answer.

Senator Heffernan —This is such an uncivilised bloody process! You get two minutes to ask the most important questions about the future of Australia’s agricultural task. It is under the radar.

Senator Carr —You should talk to your colleagues about how they use their time.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Will you be modelling the future of the global food task to give advice on Australia’s sovereignty?

Dr Clark —We are absolutely looking at food security. We are looking at sustainable agriculture.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But will you model the global food task? For God’s sake, if there is anything you should do, it is that.

Dr Clark —As part of our work in both our agricultural sustainability area and in our food futures we do undertake work looking at the food demands, the market changes, and of course the issues of food security and the relevance, both the opportunity and the challenge, to Australian agriculture. So it is certainly part of the work that we do.

Senator Carr —For clarification, Senator Heffernan asserted that there was a cutback to agricultural research by the CSIRO. My information is that that is not true.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I did not say that at all. I said that there is a serious falling off the base in agricultural research right across the institution in Australia, and that is true.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I was going to suggest and move—although I am not a member of the committee—that we do extend this by 50—

CHAIR —We have.

Senator Carr —No.

CHAIR —If you would like to ask your questions.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do not want to interrupt. Mine are serious questions. They are not hypotheticals and political things like Senator Cameron was asking—

Senator CAMERON —You are not running away from your budget position, are you? You want to decimate CSIRO as if it is not important—give us a break!

Senator HEFFERNAN —We just want to make sure that when you go to Coles or Woolies there is some bloody tucker there, mate.

Senator CAMERON —It is your policy. It is not hypothetical.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Perhaps if I ask my question, we can come back to Senator Heffernan. Dr Johnson, out of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce report, what work is CSIRO currently engaged in in pursuing the recommendations, or doing work that the recommendations touched upon, whether they are doing that as a result of the recommendations or not? I am interested in what work CSIRO is currently doing in the general area of northern land and water.

Dr Johnson —As you know, Senator, the task force recommendations are still with government. We obviously do not know how the government will respond to the taskforce’s recommendations. As I have indicated at previous hearings here—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is why I asked the question the way I did.

Dr Johnson —we have nearly 260 staff in Northern Australia who are conducting work across a range of sectors—agriculture, the environment, Indigenous livelihoods, ocean research and water research. Without having seen what government’s response to the taskforce would be, my view is that all our research investment in the north is entirely relevant to the issues that the taskforce identified and, as CSIRO’s Dr Clark has indicated here as well previously, we will continue to support high-quality work in the north.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Dr Johnson, what I am really asking for is—and perhaps you can even take it on notice—a list of the projects that you are doing at the moment. I prefaced my question by saying that I appreciate the government had not responded, but I am aware that even before the taskforce was set up, CSIRO were doing a certain number of projects related to the north.

Dr Johnson —We have been working in Northern Australia since after the Second World War, so we are happy to provide that listing of projects to you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Okay. The only other question I have again relates Northern Australia—very much so because mining is a very, very big driver of activity and infrastructure and people in northern Australia. Has CSIRO been asked to do any modelling in relation (a) to the mining tax or (b) to the advertisements in relation to the mining tax?

Dr Johnson —No, Senator.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You have not?

Dr Johnson —No.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Do any of the programs in Northern Australia that CSIRO are currently involved in have a direct or even major indirect relevance to the mining industry in the north?

Dr Johnson —CSIRO has an extensive engagement with the mining and minerals sector in Northern Australia both in your home state, Senator, in Queensland, but also in the Pilbara, and increasingly in terms of the potential expansion in oil and gas in the North West Shelf and the Kimberley Browse Basin. So yes, we have an extensive engagement through a number of our national research flagships with the mining sector.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —From my association with CSIRO and from previous estimates, I know that you have not only what we normally think of as ‘science scientists’ but also ‘social scientists’ and ‘business scientists’. Are any of those projects looking at the profitability or otherwise or at the impact that mining activity in Northern Australia is having upon infrastructure, people, jobs and Indigenous employment—that sort of thing?

Dr Johnson —I am aware through our Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship that we are engaged both in the Surat Basin and in the Pilbara in working with industry and local communities around how to maximise the full value that the sector delivers to regional Australia.

CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Macdonald. And I thank the officers of the CSIRO for attending today.

[11.51 am]