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CSIRO and the Budget

10 May 2014

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quote marksThe ghost in the machine of the economy – indeed in the things we handle in daily life and work – is science. It can be channelled through private enterprise or through government funding. What example of leadership does this government provide if, even more than turning its back on science, it actively diminishes it?
The Age 20 April 2014

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It used to be that the “Budget process” was heavily shrouded in secrecy and the details of the Budget held closely until the CSIROTreasurer got to his feet at 7.30 in the House of Representatives on Budget night  (now the second Tuesday of May) to give the second reading speech of Appropriation Bill No.1 (“The Budget Speech”). There was quite an  uproar when renowned political reporter Laurie Oakes received a copy of the 1980 Budget Speech a couple of days ahead of time and was able to reveal all. Wasn’t that a quaint time?

The contemporary practice has been for the government of the day to drip feed key measures into the media in the weeks leading up to the Budget. This year, it hasn’t been so much a drip feed as a gusher, to the point that there’s even disquiet in government ranks about the extent of the backgrounding that’s going on. There seems to be little we don’t know about the broad detail, as the government sets about demolishing the “Age of Entitlement” and tackles the deficit and public debt: the debt levy, swingeing cuts to welfare programs (so-called “middle class” welfare) and likely cuts to education and health, increased charges, numerous agencies merged with their functions “absorbed” into the public service, while the public service itself is to be slashed (3000 jobs targeted in the Tax Office alone). It seems a monty that the extension into non-university higher education providers of public subsidies for fees (FEE-HELP) will be announced “in principle”, as will some degree of fee deregulation, and the government contribution per student reduced (that is, student fees increased).

And it will be a bad day for at least a couple of national icons. The ABC is bracing itself for a right financial bollocking and so too, apparently, is CSIRO.

Now one can understand (though not necessarily agree) with the Coalition government’s antipathy to the ABC, populated as it is by pinko greenie journalists and producers and with an audience of the same ilk (you know, the caffe latte sipping inner urban elite – just to set the record straight, The Scan’s preference is for tea or black coffee, at least before 6pm).

CSIRAC was Australia's first programmable digital computer, and only the fourth computer in the world. While it filled a room the size of a double garage and required enough electricity to power a suburban street, it had only a fraction of the brainpower of the cheapest modern electronic organiser. But it was a technological marvel of its time.

CSIRAC was Australia’s first programmable digital computer, and only the fourth computer in the world. While it filled a room the size of a double garage and required enough electricity to power a suburban street, it had only a fraction of the brainpower of the cheapest modern electronic organiser. But it was a technological marvel of its time.

But what’s the Coalition’s  problem with CSIRO?  It has made an incalculable contribution to national security and prosperity, since its modest beginnings as the first step towards a “national laboratory” nearly a hundred years ago  (in 1916 as the Advisory Council of Science and Industry;  it became the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – CSIR – in 1926; and it assumed its current identity as  the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – CSIRO- in 1948).

Think of some of these contributions: from the invention of everyday household products such as Aeroguard and Softly detergent to the plastic banknotes in your purse or wallet, to the reduction of the blowfly problem in Australia through the introduction of the dung beetle, the building of Australia’s first (and just the world’s fourth) programmable digital computer through to the invention of the  WiFi technology by which you are probably viewing this post.

A comprehensive list of CSIRO’s achievements can be viewed HERE.

There’s been a lot of noise and light around the razor job being prepared for the ABC, with the Friends of the ABC and the the Get Up! organisation swinging into action.  There’s growing concern developing about CSIRO but there should be a lot more noise about the impending  damage to Australia’s national laboratory.

Christopher Downes - cartoonist for The Mercury newspaper in Tasmania. Click image to see more.

Christopher Downes – cartoonist for The Mercury newspaper in Tasmania. Click image to see more.

 

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