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Science funding actually slashed

Fairfax Media | 29    May 2014

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research4Science and research have been big losers in the budget, veiled somewhat by the proposed creation of the medical research fund of $20 billion, the purpose of which has been queried by a number of commentators.  As a result of Commonwealth government’s budget cuts, CSIRO is closing several research sites and scaling back research in a number of areas, particularly related to climate change and the environment. Meanwhile, a Coalition backbencher – a scientist, no less – has queried the “coherence” of Coalition science policy.

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An annual direction statement, written by CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark details significant internal changes to research as CSIRO enacts the cuts and offsets lower expected commercial revenue.

The organisation will cut key research areas such as geothermal energy, marine biodiversity, liquid fuels and radio astronomy and close eight sites across the country.

The Abbott government cut CSIRO’s funding by $111 million budget cut over four years in this year’s federal budget, which will result in 500 job cuts at the nation’s peak scientific organisation.

The CSIRO Staff Association says closure of some sites was expected as a consolidation of property in capital cities but others were surprising.

Staff association president Michael Borgas said plans to close the irrigation research laboratory in Griffith came as a shock to staff.

The Mopra Telescope near Coonabarabran in NSW will also close.
Also as a result of the cuts, and to respond ‘‘strategically to national priorities’’, CSIRO will overhaul its research efforts.
For example in its energy program unconventional gas and mining it to get a boost, while low carbon technologies and liquid fuels will be cut back.

The directions statement, marked commercial-in-confidence, says as research and development in unconventional gas – such as coal seam and shale gas – has the potential to ‘‘create significant value for our nation’’ CSIRO will grow research in the area. It will also implement its new mining strategy focusing on activities ‘‘that help to significantly enhance the productivity of this vital sector.’’

But elsewhere in low emissions energy technologies: ‘‘To adjust to the more difficult operating environment, we will stop our geothermal work and reduce other activities, especially in CO2 capture and efficient energy management.’’
In other sectors, neuroscience and colo-rectal research will be cut, unless it relates to nutrition. So will bioscience and nanoscience.

In environmental sciences the document says the organisation will be placing ‘‘special emphasis’’ on supporting industry, such as technologies to boost the resilience of natural and built assets including efforts to support the sustainable development of the offshore oil and gas industry

Another focus will be providing information to speed up project assessments and approvals, especially in northern Australia and the resources sector.

But other areas of environmental research are in the gun. Urban water research will be reduced. And overall investment in terrestrial and marine biodiversity will be lower.

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