The Abbott Government’s second budget has done little to repair the state of public sector science and will instead entrench last year’s deep funding cuts to research; the union representing workers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has warned.
CSIRO Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski criticised both the lack of focus on science and innovation and the failure of the Federal Government to repair funding to the CSIRO following last year’s record $115 million budget cut to the nation’s premier research organisation.
Disappointing, do-nothing budget
“This is a flat and uninspiring budget when it comes to science generally and will do little to repair confidence in CSIRO and the organisation’s capacity to drive the next generation of Australian innovation.
“The dismay at last year’s deep cuts to CSIRO funding and jobs has been replaced twelve months later with disappointment at a do-nothing budget that does little to repair the damage already done to public sector research,” Mr Popovski said.
One extra job following the loss of 1 in 5 across CSIRO
Staffing levels at CSIRO have fallen to their lowest levels in several decades, with the budget papers forecasting an average staffing level of 4,971 for 2015-16; an increase of a single position from the previous financial year.
“Over a two year period, CSIRO has shed more than 1,300 positions equating to the loss of one in five jobs.
“One extra job is pretty cold comfort in the context of a twenty percent reduction to the workforce,” Mr Popovski said.
Funding with some funny numbers
The budget papers outline appropriation funding for CSIRO over the four year forward estimates totalling $3.08 billion, maintaining the reduced funding levels following last year’s record $115 million cut.
However when compared to last year’s estimates, the forecasts actually reveal a slight decrease in appropriation fundingeach year for three years before predicting an increase of $49 million in 2018-19.
|CSIRO Appropriation Funding from Government||2014-15 Estimated actual||2015-16 Budget estimate||2016-17 Budget estimate||2017-2018 Budget estimate||2018-2019 Budget estimate|
|Last year’s estimates||$745M||$751M||$762M||$774M||–|
|This year’s estimates||$745M||$749M||$759M||$768M||$804M|
“These numbers do not represent a funding increase for CSIRO in real terms. Rather these funding levels lock in last year’s cuts, further reduce funding over the next three years and then promise to make a small start on the repair job halfway through 2018,” Mr Popovski said.
“The Abbott Government certainly hasn’t done CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall any favours as he attempts to rebuild morale and deliver a new five year strategic plan.”
Funding certainty and infrastructure delayed
In an email to staff, Dr Marshall stated that he had recommended that negotiations with the Federal Government for a replacement quadrennial funding agreement – due to expire by July – be deferred for another year.
“Australians hear a lot from this government about science and CSIRO being at the heart of industry policy. Well the sentiment and the rhetoric simply isn’t being matched by resources or vision and that has to change.”
“We need real growth in science funding for the CSIRO and the public sector like never before. And it’s not just the challenge of increasing overall investment in research; there are important pieces of Australia’s scientific infrastructure in need of maintenance,” Mr Popovski said.
Geelong’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) – home to ground-breaking research into infectious disease and a national facility managed by CSIRO – is due for a once in forty year upgrade to maintain standards at the high-containment biosecurity facility.
Australia’s new $120 million Research Vessel Investigator – another national facility managed by CSIRO – while capable of 300 days a year at sea is only funded for 180 days, representing substantial unmet capacity and lost opportunity for research.
The Federal Government’s own Commission of Audit last year identified that $175 million in additional expenditure would be required simply to maintain CSIRO properties over the next decade.