CSIRO climate change research has not been demolished but instead redeployed to focus on practical adaptation in areas like improved crop and beef production, government MP’s say.
The Coalition was forced to defend funding cuts to CSIRO research and resulting job losses last week, after $114 million was slashed over four years in the 2014 federal budget.
Labor Shadow Climate Change Minister Mark Butler accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of having signed-off on hundreds of CSIRO job losses which had “all but ended climate research at the CSIRO”.
Mr Butler said the Turnbull government was cutting 110 jobs in CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division, along with jobs in the Manufacturing division, Land and Water division and the newly created Data61.
“The Turnbull Liberal Government slashed CSIRO’s budget by $114m, resulting in the loss of one in five jobs – the biggest job losses in the organisation’s history,” he said.
“This is not agile or innovative from Malcolm Turnbull, this is a disgrace and he should hang his head in shame.”
Mr Butler said the cuts would have a “devastating impact” on CSIRO’s capacity to conduct research into carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency and prepare Australia for the jobs of the future.
“Malcolm Turnbull has talked a lot about his commitment to action on climate change but the reality is Tony Abbott’s anti-climate science agenda is continuing under the Turnbull Liberal government,” he said.
“Almost 1400 CSIRO employees have been shown the door since the Liberals came to government.”
But Queensland LNP Senator Matthew Canavan said CSIRO’s climate change research program was in fact being redeployed to help recalibrate the agency to serve its original purpose of supporting the commercial output of key industries like agriculture.
Senator Canavan said over the past decade the CSIRO had undergone “forays” into climate change research that Australian universities were better placed to conduct.
He said the CSIRO was being recalibrated to focus its work on climate change adaptation programs to serve industries like agriculture on a more practical level and assist with making commercial returns.
“CSIRO should focus on applied research like making better crops or improved cattle production but over the past decade has departed from its original purpose,” he said.
Former Assistant Agriculture Minister and Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck said the Coalition government wasn’t cutting climate change science but was realigning CSIRO’s priorities within climate change science, to adaption.
“Changes to climate and how it might affect our agriculture are things that we need to be studying and researching,” he said.
“So there’s no reallocation or change in the allocation of funding.
“It’s about allocation of priorities and how we can deal and manage climate change.
“I think it’s a really important thing that CSIRO are doing because it is researching actually how we manage the effects of climate change.”
But Australian Greens Deputy Leader and climate change spokesperson, Senator Larissa Waters said the Turnbull government’s “mass sacking of climate scientists is the enemy of innovation”.
“The Prime Minister’s speech in Paris about tackling global warming with innovation was all empty rhetoric – he is keeping Abbott’s climate policies and letting the Coalition climate dinosaurs rule.”
Former Australian Chief Scientists of the Climate Change Institute Professor Penny Sackett said she was “stunned by reports that CSIRO management no longer thinks measuring and understanding climate change is important, innovative or impactful”.
“The big question now, which underlies all climate adaptation work, is ‘how is the climate changing’,” she said.
“That answer will once again be determined by those scientists who gather climate data and model it.
“How can it be that our largest national research organisation chooses not to engage, indeed not to lead, the effort in finding the answer to that question?”
Australian Young Farmer of the Year 2015 Anika Molesworth warned Australian farmers feared severe job cuts at the CSIRO would make it harder for the agricultural industry to plan and cope with the climate change impacts.
After the 2014 budget, then Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane said that in a budget of $3.2 billion over the forward estimates, or about $800m per year, CSIRO’s net funding cut was about $45m per year.
He said the headline number was $114m but that was offset by the Coalition budgeting $70m into the CSIRO’s research vessel the Investigator.