CSIRO Announces Climate Research Centre Amidst Confirmed Job Cuts

26/04/2016 4:47 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: A sign marks the entrance to CSIRO headquarters, the Australian government's science research agency, in Canberra, Australia, on Monday, September 18, 2006. (Photo by Jack Atley/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The CSIRO has announced plans to establish a national climate research centre in Hobart.

Set to focus on climate modelling and Australian projections, the Climate Science Centre will employ 40 full-time scientists from existing CSIRO teams with a guaranteed research capability of ten years.

But the announcement comes with confirmation of 275 job cuts from the national science agency.

Greens Science spokesperson Adam Bandt slammed the announcement as a “sleight of hand manoeuvre" to draw attention from the CSIRO’s controversial cuts.

“The Greens welcome any investment in climate science and the CSIRO, however the motivations behind CSIRO management’s decision must be questioned,” Mr Bandt said.

“When you look at the detail of the announcement, the maths doesn't add up.

“Creating 40 new jobs while cutting 275 is still devastating for the scientists who will lose their jobs, the skills and the capacity of our national science organisation and our understanding of the climate.”

The CSIRO announced in February plans to cut 350 staff before re-hiring a similar number in other areas. The agency’s Staff Association later estimated that the toll was to reach 450 of the 5000-plus employees.

Chief Executive Larry Marshall informed staff of the recent changes in an email on Tuesday morning, announcing the drop in staff reductions from 350 to 275. The ‘Oceans and Atmosphere' branch -- set to host the new research centre -- will be hit hardest with around 75 cuts.

“To achieve this change, we won't be able to make as many new recruitments in the areas as previously planned,” he wrote.

“Our goal is still for our staffing numbers to return to the current level, but it will take us longer to achieve.”

The move to set up the centre is part of the CSIRO’s ‘Strategy 2020’ that has seen the controversial restructuring of its climate arm.

“As I indicated at the start of the CSIRO’s current broader change process, it is critical that we retain the capability that underpins our national climate research effort,” Marshall said.

“The announcement today is a culmination of the ongoing consultation and feedback that we've had from our staff and stakeholders, and this new centre is a reflection of the strong collaboration and support right across our system and the global community.”

Researchers will work alongside Australian universities and the Bureau of Meteorology, with plans to “deepen its existing partnership” with the UK Meteorology Office.

The centre will be monitored by an independent National Climate Science Advisory Committee to be set up by the Federal government.

Federal Science Minister Christopher Pyne welcomed the announcement and said the advisory committee will work across the research sector to provide advice on a “nationally aligned and integrated approach to climate science”.

“(The new panel) would boast collaboration and its advice will be important to both operational and future policy decisions,” he said in a statement.

CSIRO Fellow Dr John Church said the positives from the announcement are “the decadal commitment and the formation of a national committee”.

“The negatives are that only 40 staff is way below the capacity we previously had. Although a step forward from losing essentially all staff, it will be very difficult for such a small group to be able to deliver meaning results.”

Scientists and senior CSIRO staff alike continue to remain suspicious of the CSIRO’s efforts to shift the focus of its climate science program in lieu of the deep cuts.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, an ARC DECRA fellow at the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, said the quality climate research undertaken at CSIRO continues to be “seriously compromised”.

“This goes deeper than people losing their jobs -- the cutting-edge climate projection tools that underpin Australian adaptation and mitigation to climate change will almost certainly suffer, meaning that all Australians will suffer too.”

According to a Lateline report, the CSIRO is also at risk of losing millions of dollars in international grants due to the changes being implemented.

CSIRO chairman David Thodey is expected to front a Senate committee in Canberra on Wednesday. Fairfax Media has been told Mr Thodey has asked for the session to be held on camera and that he not be joined by CSIRO management.

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