In the news, for all the wrong reasons

The recent media reporting of the CSIRO recruitment freeze did little to clarify the decision itself.

A case of rubbery figures – with disputed numbers of the potential jobs on the line – was followed by a round of the blame game, with conflicting statements from the Federal Government and CSIRO management adding to the confusion.

The Fairfax media report – Razor taken to CSIRO – set the hares running. The story claimed some 1,400 term and casual jobs were at risk and also laid the blame for the cuts at the feet of the Federal Government, as part of a public-sector wide recruitment freeze.

While claiming the job losses would probably total between 500-600 non-ongoing positions, Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos did little to dispel the impression that the cut was part of a Government wide effort when he spoke to Sky News later that morning.

“These are judgements that have to be made across the whole realm of government activity… they do involve choices about the costs and benefits of doing various things and re-prioritizing how you use resources and the new Government has to have capacity to do that,” Senator Sinodinos said.

Meanwhile, CSIRO’s Craig Roy told ABC Rural that the number of jobs lost would be less than 300.

Criticism started to mount. ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver weighed in, claiming that “staff cuts put major hurdles in the way of future projects and that could cost Australia dearly in terms future productivity.”

Labor’s Tanya Plibersek also voiced concern. “The top quality international research that they (CSIRO) produce is threatened,” Ms Plibersek told AAP.

The Greens bemoaned the lack of a Science Minister. “There needs to be a champion for science within the Government,” said Adam Bandt MP, according to an ABC report.

By the time Tony Abbott fronted the Canberra gallery, the Prime Minister was distancing his Government from the decision to cut term and casual positions at CSIRO.

“We haven’t made any cutbacks to the CSIRO,” he said. “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,” reported the Canberra Times.

It wasn’t a good look for the PM, Guardian Australia reminded us, who only a week before had implored Australia’s top scientists to give his Government the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s been remarked upon that we don’t have a minister for science as such in the new government and I know that there are people in the room who may have been momentarily dismayed by that… I’d say to all of you: please, judge us by our performance, not by our titles,” the Prime Minister said.

The day ended with the blame being tossed around between the Federal Government and CSIRO management, scant clarity as to how many positions would go, what science would be affected or how long the restrictions would remain in place.

“We hope to keep talking to both the Government and CSIRO management,” Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski told Radio National’s Drive program.

“There’s a bit of buck-passing going on… the Government is saying this is CSIRO’s decision. CSIRO is saying this is in line with the Government’s directive to the public sector more broadly.

“It’s a very confusing space for staff,” Mr Popovski said.

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