Time to reveal the vision for CSIRO

Following a federal budget that failed to repair last year’s cuts to funding and jobs, attention now turns to Chief Executive Larry Marshall and the release of CSIRO management’s five year strategic plan, writes Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski.

IN RESPONSE to representations made by the Staff Association, Chief Executive Larry Marshall has agreed to release the draft strategic plan to CSIRO staff before the document is finalised by the Board and Executive Team.

Staff will be consulted

That’s a welcome development. The decision to consult staff prior to the finalisation of the plan represents a change in direction for senior management and may provide a useful precedent of meaningful workforce engagement.

Perhaps the low levels of morale and widespread disillusionment with senior management’s bargaining approach meant Dr Marshall had little choice than to reach out to staff.

However it’s important to note that the 2015-20 Strategic Plan will be an overarching document for the organisation that will map out the broad vision. Sitting beneath this, Flagships will produce their own strategies that will spell out the details.

It’s the details that often impact on our members and it’s critical that we get involved in the development of the Flagship plans. Achieving meaningful consultation with staff at this level in CSIRO becomes our next challenge.

Where to from here

There’s a fair bit of unfinished business hanging around from CSIRO’s ‘Annus Horribilis’ that needs to be dealt with.

Property and site plans must be revealed for starters. There’s still far too much rumour and uncertainty when it comes to the future of many CSIRO worksites, and staff deserve better.

The Commission of Audit revealed that CSIRO needs an additional $170 million just to keep existing facilities up to code. However it could be more than that – we don’t know if the audit team factored in the big ticket item – the 40 year upgrade for Geelong’s Animal Health Laboratory.

There’s a perception – if not a reality – that CSIRO’s senior leadership continue to be meek in advocating for the real capital and operational investments that CSIRO needs. This has to change.

Remember that even before last year’s cuts, federal funding of government laboratories had failed to grow – in real terms – for several decades. CSIRO continues to be an organisation in decline; with the publically funded R&D budget increasingly being directed to the university and business sectors.

CSIRO needs a prouder vision and a louder leadership.

Is science the new black?

It seems like science is the policy flavour of the month. That’s no cause for complaint – far from it – but as we know there’s no guarantee that this will translate into better outcomes for CSIRO.

The Staff Association continues to meet directly with politicians from across the spectrum and make the case for greater funding of CSIRO and public sector science. In our submission to the Senate’s innovation inquiry, we showcase the efforts of some of Australia’s most accomplished international competitors who are pumping big money into their own government laboratories. Our message is pretty simple: we’re falling behind.

Is the message getting through? There’s still much work to do. Labor is beginning to zero in on science and research, as demonstrated by Bill Shorten’s recent budget reply speech. The Greens have called for the restoration of CSIRO’s cut funding but both of the opposition parties need to start outlining policy details and be bolder.

As for the Government, it’s a mixed scorecard. The budget did nothing to repair last year’s cuts to CSIRO. The CRC program had its funding raided again and remains under review.  Our colleagues in the Bureau of Meteorology are set lose over one hundred additional staff.

On the plus side, we’ve seen the Government just announce their science and research policy and look forward to the release of the Chief Scientist’s national strategy for science.

However there’s still a long way to go before we have a set of policies that start to bridge the scientific literacy gap that former CSIRO Chair Catherine Livingstone drew attention to recently.

Dr Marshall’s vision for a vibrant and relevant CSIRO – the nation’s premier government laboratory and most diverse research organisation – will be an important piece of puzzle as a more coherent policy for science in Australia begins to emerge. It’s increasingly becoming a case of now or never.


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