Fairfax Media | 8 November 2013
The Coalition government’s commitment to science is being questioned after its failure to nominate a dedicated science minister (for the first time in 80 years) and subsequent decisions, including the closure of the global warming advisory body the Climate Change Commission, and revelations that Australia will not be sending its environment minister, Greg Hunt, or any ministerial stand-in to international climate change negotiations starting on Monday in Warsaw – and the failure of the Prime Minister to attend the Prime Minister’s Awards for Science. Now it emerges that Australia’s premier scientific research and development agency is facing swingeing cuts.
Almost a quarter of scientists, researchers and workers at Australia’s premier science institution will lose their jobs under the federal government’s present public service jobs freeze.
The blanket staff freeze across the public service threatens the jobs of 1400 “non-ongoing” workers at the CSIRO and could paralyse some of the organisation’s premier research projects, with a ban on hiring, extending or renewing short-term contracts effective immediately.
The freeze is part of the Abbott government’s plan to cut 12,000 jobs from the public service.
In an email to staff, CSIRO chief executive Megan Clarke said:
I announce an immediate recruitment freeze covering the following: External recruitment; and, entering into any new, or extending existing term or contract employment arrangements.
Catriona Jackson, the chief executive of Science and Technology Australia, the peak lobby for the nation’s scientists, said she was “concerned that cuts to the public service may fall disproportionately on scientists”.
A CSIRO spokesman said the number of jobs under threat had been exaggerated by the staff association, saying that “no more than 550 casual and ‘term’ workers [are] facing contract renewals this financial year.”
Nevertheless, CSIRO’s executive and senior staff have been frantically seeking explanations from government as to how the edict is to be interpreted.
Prime minister Abbott has denied that his government is s responsible for any potential job cuts at CSIRO.
We haven’t made any cutbacks to the CSIRO. The management of the CSIRO and the employment of staff inside the CSIRO and the management of contractors for the CSIRO is a matter for the CSIRO itself.