Media report reveals new flagship identities

More detail of CSIRO’s proposed restructure – specifically the names of the nine flagships – have emerged in a report from Fairfax Media.

In an email to staff, CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Megan Clark announced the broad overview of the proposed new structure which aims to replace divisions with nine new flagships, effectively collapsing the Matrix. The email did not provide any detail on the identity of the new flagships.

However, Fairfax are now reporting that the nine new flagships will be agricultural productivity, future manufacturing, digital productivity and services, energy, mineral resources, oceans and atmosphere, food and nutrition, land and water, and biosecurity.

CSIRO staff are still waiting for management to formally confirm the details of the new flagships. The Staff Association is committed to representing members and protecting jobs throughout the transition to the new structure.

Speaking to the Australian Financial Review’s Verona Burgess, Dr Clark also admitted the new structure would go beyond streamlining existing arrangements.

“It’s time to collapse the Matrix,” Dr Clark said.

The full text of the article appears below.

Management have agreed to regular fortnightly meetings with Staff Association as the restructure process moves toward implementation.

Staff Association members are encouraged to contact the union with issues for clarification and questions to raise at these meetings.

All CSIRO employees seeking representation but are not yet union members are welcome to apply for Staff Association membership.

CSIRO chief Clark’s swansong a full makeover
Verona Burgess
Australian Financial Review

Advanced manufacturing and hi-tech innovation being the latest economic buzzwords, Australia’s premier applied scientific research institution, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, better known as CSIRO, is facing its largest upheaval for a decade. And there will be some pain.

The organisation whose research brought you Wi-Fi, gene shears, atomic absorption spectroscopy, the dung beetle, the microwave landing system, over-the-horizon radar, polymer bank notes, Aerogard, carbon nanotubes, the permanent pleat for fabrics and many more inventions is regrouping.

Two controversial national research flagships and 11 research divisions will be axed by July 1, their work absorbed into a new, streamlined structure that has been rolled out to staff this week across Australia.
There will be nine flagships (there are currently 11) after an overarching, intensive review that has been going on behind the scenes.

This means that after a decade, CSIRO is abandoning the much-hated matrix management that straddled the traditional research divisions and the multidisciplinary flagships, in favour of a fully multidisciplinary team approach.

The flagships that will go are climate adaptation (dubbed by some scientists as “the research that dares not breathe its name”) and preventative health. The nine new flagships are agricultural productivity, future manufacturing, digital productivity and services, energy, mineral resources, oceans and atmosphere, food and nutrition, land and water, and biosecurity.

This is the swansong of the outgoing chief executive Megan Clark, who told The Australian Financial Review with characteristic bluntness that she was completely confident the new structure was the right way to go, after intensive testing with focus and reference groups.

The change will enable CSIRO to focus on the biggest challenges that face Australia and differentiate it nationally and globally.

It would also “absolutely fully empower” the frontline research teams who would no longer have a complex management structure above them. But it also means saying goodbye to the 11 divisions that, in various numbers and permutations, have produced so much science over many decades in a combination of fundamental and strategic discipline-based research.

It might also renew fears that basic research will be the baby thrown out with the bath water.

Clark said firmly: “It will be simpler, easier and … is laying the foundation for CSIRO to be sustainable as a global organisation for the future.”

She also said (tactfully) that the matrix structure, introduced by her predecessor Geoff Garrett, was appropriate when the flagships received 15 per cent of research funding but now that was up to 65 per cent, it was no longer effective. “It is time to collapse the matrix.”

Originating in 1916, CSIRO was given its full name in the Science and Industry Research Act, which established it as an independent statutory authority in 1949.

Its legislation gives it two premier functions. The first is to carry out scientific research for assisting Australian industry, furthering the interests of the Australian community, contributing to the achievements of Australian national objectives or the performance of the national and international responsibilities of the Commonwealth, and any other purpose determined by the minister.

The second is to encourage or facilitate the application or utilisation of the results of such research.

Budget cuts

Last year’s budget set the average staffing level to be reduced from 5715 to 5550 by June 30 this year.

That has been achieved. Dr Clark said the hard decisions were taken in 2013.

In cash terms, $721.8 million was budgeted for employees this year, rising to $763.9 million by 2016-17.

CSIRO has been abuzz for weeks with speculation about the future of the divisional chiefs, some who are highly regarded scientists and others researchers, on “soft”, short-term external funding. The devil, as they say, is always in the detail.

Dr Clark admitted there would be a few more job losses from cutting duplication in management loads “right to the top”, but the restructure was not, she said, about jobs.

According to the budget papers, CSIRO received approval to operate at a loss from 2012-13 to 2015-16, largely due to escalating unfunded capital depreciation expenses. She said it would continue consolidating its sites in the capital cities.

CSIRO’s total net resourcing is $1.3 billion this financial year – $757 million from government and $548.2 million from external sources.

It has several business lines.

The national flagships were budgeted to receive $755.9 million this year, up from $594.3 million; core research and services $332 million; and science outreach (education and scientific publishing) $34.6 million.

The national facilities (the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, the Australia Telescope and the Southern Surveyor marine research vessel) and collections (the Australian national fish, insect and wildlife collections and the Australian National Herbarium) got $154.1 million and the Science and Industry Endowment Fund received $23.6 million.

CSIRO remains a highly productive national treasure. However, there is no news about what the National Commission of Audit might have in store for its quadrennial funding.

Let’s hope it isn’t a shocking sting in the tail.

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