In the media – The Dish seeing stars over budget cuts

From The Canberra Times – Staff Association President Michael Borgas quoted

One of Australia’s best-loved science icons – the Dish radio telescope at the Parkes Observatory – will have its budget slashed by 40 per cent to meet a $15 million shortfall in CSIRO’s astronomy budget.

The cut, which will see at least 13 skilled jobs lost at other facilities, comes less than a week after Australian astronomy gained global headlines, with Canberra astrophysicist Professor Brian Schmidt awarded a Nobel Prize for his research.

The Dish was used to broadcast more than two hours of live, televised footage of the Apollo moon landing to the world in 1969, after NASA officials decided the Parkes Observatory had the best quality images of the historic event.

The news of budget cuts, job losses and eventual winding down of operations at Parkes has shocked staff, coming just days after CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark and CSIRO astronomy chief Phil Diamond visited the observatory as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.

The cuts will also affect the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope project, with 10 skilled engineering jobs to be lost at CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility at Marsfield in Sydney. The project is part of a joint bid by Australia and New Zealand to host the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, the $2.5 billion Square Kilometre Array, in the West Australian desert. The CSIRO Pathfinder will be a key contributor to the international effort to design and develop the array. South Africa is also in the running to host the SKA, with a decision on the location to be announced early next year.

A spokeswoman for Federal science minister Kim Carr said the potential job losses at CSIRO would not affect Australia’s bid to host the international radio telescope.

”We do not comment on the internal operations of CSIRO,” she said.

”However, the jobs in question are related to the finalisation of the construction of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder project. This is a normal part of any construction project. It is not correct to state that this will impact on Australia’s bid to host the SKA, as all of the infrastructure being planned in support of the SKA is still being delivered.”

Dr Diamond confirmed staff were told of cost savings and job cuts via a video ”state of the nation address” outlining future directions for CSIRO astronomy and space science. The cuts reflected a 10 per cent blow-out in costs related to building the Pathfinder project in Western Australia.

Dr Diamond said there would be no job cuts at Parkes, but operations would be wound back, with the eventual aim of remote operation of the telescope. The operation of the Mopra telescope, near Coonabarabran, would also ”be outsourced”, most likely to a university, he said.

CSIRO Staff Association president Michael Borgas said there was ”quite a bit of anger at Parkes”, after staff were told the cuts were chiefly due to high labour costs in WA linked to the mining boom.

”We are not seeing real growth funding for CSIRO. What we are seeing is innovation and creative ideas constantly stifled by penny-pinching, and the shifting of any risk down on to staff, with inevitable job cuts.”