CSIRO braces for budget cut

14 Apr, 2014 06:57 AM
CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon. Photo: Jesse Marlow..
We’ll all be biting our nails in the lead-up to the budget
CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon. Photo: Jesse Marlow..

AUSTRALIA'S peak science body is bracing for a May budget cut of up $150 million, or more than 20 per cent of its total government funding.

Fairfax Media can reveal the CSIRO’s top executive team has been modelling a range of scenarios that would see the scientific agency lose up 20 per cent of its $757 million a year funding.

Some in the agency's upper echelons expect funding will be cut by 10-15 per cent or by $75 to $110 million. It is expected the federal government's Commission of Audit will recommend big savings.

CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon acknowledged the organisation was preparing its response to different budget scenarios. ‘‘We’ll all be biting our nails in the lead-up to the budget," he said.

It is understood the CSIRO has not finalised its operational budget for the next financial year and is waiting for the May budget in a further sign the agency expects a big hit. CSIRO receives about 60 per cent of its funding from the federal government.

Several sources said the CSIRO's 10-member executive team, led by chief executive Megan Clark is preparing for the worst.

On Friday, the agency announced 300 jobs would go in the next financial year. The move comes after the CSIRO axed 400 jobs last year.

The agency's executive management council, which includes the chiefs of the the energy, environment, IT, manufacturing and health sciences divisions, have been told by the executive team to put their divisions under the microscope.

One well-placed CSIRO source said managers had been told “We can’t do everything so we to have work out what we can do’’.

A second source familiar with CSIRO’s budget planning said managers had been told to identify areas of scientific research the organisation could “get out of”.

Mr McKeon, the 2011 Australian of the Year, told Fairfax Media it was impossible to know what the budget would hold for the organisation next month.

‘‘We have to wait until budget night to see what the marching orders are,’’ he said. ‘‘But clearly we are in an era where there is a likelihood of some belt-tightening.’’

Last week, Fairfax Media revealed Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane had been told to find up to $2 billion in savings in his portolfio, which includes science.

Deputy Greens leader Adam Bandt said a 15-20 per cent funding cut would "rip the guts out of CSIRO and accelerate Australia’s ‘brain drain’ and promised his party would fight the move.

"We can’t continue to produce world-class research if the government keeps threatening the research budget every May. Tony Abbott must rule out any cuts to CSIRO and research in the May budget,'' he said.

Labor science spokesman Kim Carr said the cut would be a travesty for science in Australia.

“The government is doing great harm to Australia’s national interest and putting us at an immense disadvantage in the highly competitive international science community."

Last year, Mr Abbott acknowledged the Coalition did not have a science minister but urged the country’s scientific community to judge his government ‘‘by our performance, not by our titles’’.

Former Victorian chief scientist Sir Gustav Nossal said he would be appalled if the cuts hit the organisation, which he described as a national icon.

‘‘CSIRO will produce research results that will sponsor innovation and help to create smarter industries which is what Australia needs after a mining boom,’’ he said.

And Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist Brian Schmidt said the government and agency needed to agree on a common vision for its role in Australia’s future.

"I would be very disappointed with the agency being restructured without a grand vision for its future in place first."

A spokeswoman for industry minister Ian Macfarlane refused to comment on the budget.

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14/04/2014 7:56:03 AM

CSIRO just needs to slim down its bloated head office (communications staff, performance managers, organisational specialists) to pre-2000 levels, and the saving is already achieved.
14/04/2014 1:30:32 PM

Not being sceptical of your argument, just curious: morrgo, what are the facts behind your claim? My impression was that in 2001, the Howard appointee Geoff Garrett became CEO, and that CSIRO became over-burdened with grey-suited management consultants and business theorists, to the detriment of the science. Plenty of dead wood to be chopped. But the present cuts seem to be aimed at research staff. Your views?
Rob Moore
15/04/2014 5:12:23 AM

Now that the MDBA and the AGW myths have been busted- we don't need the pallet loads of bs supporting documents from CSIRO. The Global warming UN scam has damaged their currency - so they deserve severe cutbacks for chasing shadows for political gain and deserting the real ground breaking work that they used to do prior to ex Politicians getting jobs running the show. A free lunch doesn't last forever. Let their airheaded disciples donate their money - like they do for Flannery these days.
15/04/2014 7:37:32 AM

"...is doing great harm to Australia’s national interest and..."... The ABC has been doing 'great harm' to Australia's interests. Oz spends more on the ABC then it do on the CSIRO. Think how profitable it would be to Australia if we sold the ABC and put some of the annual 1.2 billion dollars spent on the ABC towards science...
16/04/2014 8:42:01 AM

Rob Moore, you refer to a "global warming UN scam" as if it were a fact, rather than a fantasy. Or do you have evidence for your bizarre assertions? If so, please share it with us. I don't mean your political opinions, which are of no interest, but your notion that global warming is a "myth" or a "scam", presumably involving most of the world's scientists and most of the world's governments.
16/04/2014 10:20:29 AM

Australians should be most concerned about the lack of support by the government for science. Clearly, science is put on the back burner when we desperately need to develop industries to fill the gap as the miners recede. Thus we find that the government no longer has a minister for science in the cabinet - such ministry has been abolished ! Now it is slashing funds for R&D even though the current funding is woefully inadequate ! We now spend just 1.7pc of GDP on R&D . This puts at only the 17th highest country- the top five have greater than 3pc. The gov must remove its short term blinkers.
Sir Holy Moly
16/04/2014 11:34:48 AM

Google achievements of csiro, its realy quite amazing.I think we should double the funding.
Rob Moore
16/04/2014 11:39:36 AM

How much do you want Nico? Here is a few for you to google-Lindzen, Plimer, Carter Marohasy, Franks Moran Kininmonth,Lewin Darwall Delingpole Watts Steyn Lawson Monckton Michaels Nova, Bolt Roskam................ none of whom have a vested interest in perpetuating the scam....... No warming recorded , no sea level rise- you should be happy nico ..not sad or are you a rebel without a cause. There are real problems that scientists could sign onto .....
16/04/2014 11:48:52 AM

I would certainly cut all taxpayer funding to CSIRO which has any attachment to climate change, carbon dioxide taxing. and subsidized green energy programs.
leon tanner
16/04/2014 11:54:05 AM

It should be the ABC bracing for hefty cuts to taxpayer funding. As Sodbuster says, sell it and put the funds towards items of true value to Australians, or use it to cut taxes. We are today inundated with media outlets and news sources. putting my taxes toward another media outlet is a disgrace. Anyway, the ABC has lost almost all credibility over the last 20 years and particularly the last 6 years.
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