CSIRO Protest Takes Over Parliament Front Lawn

24/02/2016 6:57 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Fairfax Media

CANBERRA -- The wife of a late top CSIRO scientist, who died just days after deep cuts to the agency's budget were announced, has savaged the government during a protest on the front lawn of Parliament House.

The CSIRO -- the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the federal science research agency -- announced in an email to staff earlier this month that 350 jobs would be slashed in a cost-cutting exercise. Jobs are expected to go in the areas of climate modelling, oceans and atmosphere monitoring, and land and water divisions.

On Wednesday morning, more than 100 employees and supporters assembled on the wide lawn in front of federal parliament in Canberra to protest the news.


Protestors outside Parliament on Wednesday

One of those was Andrea Leuning. Her husband, Ray, was a well-respected and influential member of the CSIRO for many years, holding the position of chief research scientist when he retired in 2012. After a long battle with a brain tumour, Ray died on February 12, just days after the cuts to his former employer were announced; but not before putting in an angry call to the top echelons of the CSIRO to complain about the cuts, despite being bed-ridden.

"To cut the heart of the climate scientists is an outrage," she told The Huffington Post Australia.

"If we take climate scientists out of Australia, who is working on it in the southern hemisphere?"

According to Peter Briggs, a CSIRO scientific programmer and data analyst who was also a friend of Ray, had the answer.

"Absolutely nobody is," he claimed.

"So many organisations in Australia are tied to the CSIRO and its climate research. We are the main output for the entire southern hemisphere. Nobody else will do our climate science for us."


Briggs said he held grave fears for Australia's future if the cuts were to go through as outlined.

"It is an issue of national security, to be making these cuts. It is sending us blind into the future, with no capability to understand what's going on or to respond to it," he said.

Another CSIRO scientist, Eva Van Gorsel, said she worried the CSIRO would no longer be able to make world-class breakthroughs -- such as its past innovations in wi-fi internet -- after the staff layoffs.

"We going into this opportunistic, short-term innovation stream, but this is not how science works. It's not how we did wi-fi," she said.

"It's taking the foundation out of the CSIRO. An organisation like this has to do the long term science. This is going to have a big impact."

Andrea summed it up even more simply.

"You can't just ignore half the globe," she said.

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