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Transcript of interview with Michael Brissenden: ABC AM: 4 August 2016: CSIRO

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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science


4 August 2016




Topics: CSIRO

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Minister, good morning.

GREG HUNT: And good morning.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Why have you, as a Government, changed your mind on this?

GREG HUNT: Well, climate science is important, it's significant, it's critical to our long term planning.

It's something that both the Prime Minister and I have clear and strong views on.

And we have clearly but respectfully made that known to CSIRO and they've embraced and endorsed the direction.

And so climate science will be a bedrock function for research of the CSIRO, which is really one of the world's great institutions.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So, it's an acknowledgement, is it, that the decision or the decision to change the emphasis, to switch the emphasis from research on how climate is changing to one of solely mitigation, that that was wrong?

GREG HUNT: Look, it's a decision that the Prime Minister and myself have taken.

It's a new government and we're laying out a direction that climate science matters - and that's both the science relating to the long term trend, the long term influences, where the impacts are, as well as mitigation.

So we have taken a view about the overall direction and the overall importance, and that's the clear decision and the direction we've taken, and it's been embraced by the organisation.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And will the climate scientists who lost their jobs, or who have been made redundant or about to be made redundant, will they be reinstated?

GREG HUNT: So obviously, we take the organisation from where it is now.

We'll be adding 15 new jobs, about $3.7 million of overall climate science research both in terms of salaries and additional support a year - 15 new jobs now and that adds up to $3.7 million or about a $37 million injection in climate science over the next decade.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the 15 new jobs don't replace those that have, those that have gone thought do they? They're not the same amount.

GREG HUNT: Well there’s been a climate science capacity of approximately 100. At the end of this process it will now increase to 115.

And I think it's also important to note that the CSIRO's overall budget will increase over the next three years by approximately $100 million, and its overall staffing levels will increase by over 200, as opposed to where they were expected to be this year.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Hasn't real damage to the organisation already been done though because I'm sure as you're aware the international reaction to that initial decision to cut the climate research was swift, it was pretty harsh too.

Many of those who worked for CSIRO in this area are considered world leaders in this sort of research and many have already decided to go.

GREG HUNT: Well one of the things that we're doing in conjunction with the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, who really is an extraordinary global talent in some many areas, is putting together a National Climate Science Research Centre or a national climate centre in Tasmania, in Hobart.

That will be an attraction for scientists around the world.

That will coordinate climate science research across the government.

It's been an initiative of the Prime Minister, myself, the Chief Scientist - and so that actually takes the existing strengths - not just within CSIRO but when you look at the Antarctic Division, the Bureau of Meteorology, then the work in our universities - consolidates them and helps guide them and helps make Australia a centre of global climate science research and a critical part of the architecture at an international level going forwards.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But this is a very different emphasis, isn't it, from the one that the Government was presenting when this initial decision was first announced?

GREG HUNT: Well, this is the clear emphasis and policy decision of the Prime Minister and myself…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Sure, but it's different than it was.

GREG HUNT: ...we are both former environment ministers and we have laid down a position of a new government, a new focus, a clear focus, and a clear support for CSIRO growing, clear support for climate science as a bedrock choice.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You would have to concede though that this confusion, this chopping and changing, has come at some reputational cost and also some loss of, it has to be said, some fairly brilliant people in this area?

GREG HUNT: Well, I would say this - that we are starting from where we are. We are expanding by 15, in terms of numbers, but also 15 per cent, the capacity, creating a national climate centre which will attract people from around the world.

We have a great reputation as a nation in terms of science and as a nation in terms of climate science.

But our goal, the Prime Minister and myself, is to strengthen the science and to strengthen the reputation - clearly, categorically, absolutely.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: I know, but you're not really answering the question. Has this done our reputation some damage?

GREG HUNT: Look, I don't accept that but I do accept that our job is to take where we are now and to strengthen the science and to strengthen our reputation, to attract great scientists from around the world.

And a national climate centre, which we want to be one of the pillars of the global climate science architecture over the coming decade, has that capacity, has that function and will add to Australia's ability, but will add to our reputation in this space.

So this is a clear direction from the Prime Minister and a new Science Minister in this space.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And the previous decision was taken by the new chief executive of CSIRO, Larry Marshall. Is his position still tenable?

GREG HUNT: Yes, absolutely. I think his is one of the outstanding science leaders, not just in Australia but around the world.

And under his leadership what we've seen is a plan to grow CSIRO with support from the government.

And this organisation, CSIRO, is over 5,000 people, expanding by over 200.

But most significantly, it is fundamental, we're investing in a new $200 million CSIRO innovation fund. That's $100 million from the Government, $100 million from the private sector.

It's taking some of the breakthroughs - whether it's in medical science, whether it's in digital communication, whether it's in animal health or climate science - and where they can be appropriately be taken from the lab to the community and commercialised, this new fund does that.

And he's been very much an architect of that concept.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, Greg Hunt, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.

GREG HUNT: Thanks very much, take care.