AAO staff uncertainty set to continue

The future of Australian Astronomical Observatory staff attached to the telescope facilities at Siding Springs in New South Wales remains unclear; with government officials unable to release details of changes proposed in the Federal Budget two months ago.

Science Minister Senator Arthur Sinodinos announced $26.1 million in new funding to optical astronomical research and instrumentation including the establishment of a ten year strategic partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) from 2018.

“ESO is a world class international optical astronomy consortium operating the world’s most comprehensive suite of optical telescope facilities located in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one of the premier sites for optical astronomy globally,” Minister Sinodinos said.

As part of the initiative, Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) operations of the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) will be transferred to a consortium of universities led by the Australian National University.

However questions remain regarding the future of AAO staff involved in the research and operation of the AAT, CSIRO Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski said.

“The Staff Association have a significant amount of members likely to be affected by this proposal and the amount of information provided to date is inadequate.

“Despite assurances from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to ‘remain focused on the need to ensure stability and continuity of existing research and instrument development operations at the AAO,’ there isn’t any definitive information available and that’s fuelling staff concern,” Mr Popovski said.

The most basic information – such as whether staff will be subject to a machinery of government change or transfer of business provisions – is unclear, Mr Popovski said.

“Other issues such as AAO staff participation in relevant steering committees and site working groups are not defined.”

“It’s also unclear whether contingency plans are being developed to safeguard AAO staff and resources if future funding targets are not achieved.”

Mr Popovski said that the Staff Association would take up the matter with the Department and – if necessary – escalate staff concerns to the office of Minister Sinodinos.

“We’ll also be communicating with members of the Australian astronomical community directly to highlight the concerns of AAO staff and seek their colleagues support.”

“We need the best outcome possible for staff and for optical astronomy in Australia,” Mr Popovski said.

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