As CSIRO management’s proposal to cut hundreds of jobs continues to be unveiled, several laboratories located in Northern Australia could be at threat of closure, the union representing CSIRO scientists and support workers has warned.
The CSIRO Staff Association has received reports from concerned staff at several sites that a management review of CSIRO laboratories in Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory is underway, with the process kept quiet so far to minimise political repercussions during the election campaign.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that CSIRO Executive Larry Marshall cannot guarantee the future of regional laboratories in Northern Australia if he proceeds with his plan to cut these essential jobs and research,” said Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski.
Cairns, Atherton and Alice Springs laboratories at risk
“The Staff Association has grave fears for the future of CSIRO research in regional Queensland and the Northern Territory, especially sites in Cairns, Atherton and Alice Springs.
“We’re concerned that the local communities where these laboratories are located – and their elected representatives – are being kept in the dark by CSIRO Executives ahead of the 2 July federal election,” Mr Popovski said.
Far North Queensland
The Staff Association has received reports that staff at both the Cairns and Atherton laboratories have been informally advised by CSIRO management that the future viability of both sites are under review.
“We’re hearing that staff at both Cairns and Atherton are being quietly consulted on the future of these sites and have been asked to make a business case for their continued existence,” Mr Popovski said.
“The Staff Association understands that some of the options being canvassed include closing one lab and transferring staff to the other or to close both sites and relocate to Townsville.”
The Cairns and Atherton sites primarily focus on research into Land and Water; an area expected to bear much of the brunt of the latest proposed cuts. The Townsville site – located within James Cook University – also specialises in similar research plus some agricultural science.
The proposed cuts are expected to cost the jobs of the last researchers remaining at CSIRO’s Desert Knowledge Precinct in Alice Springs. Three of the four staff based in the Alice Springs laboratory are impacted by the proposed cuts.
“Unless Larry Marshall’s planned cuts to public good science are abandoned, the Alice Springs laboratory is certain to close,” Mr Popovski said.
“The site has received little to no direct appropriation funding from CSIRO over the past decade to do research and these job cuts – if enacted – will be the final nail in the coffin for desert research in Australia’s red centre.”
CSIRO’s Berrimah Laboratory in Darwin is expected to remain open, but unique research with an important local indigenous community is at threat.
“There are concerns that job cuts in Darwin will come at the cost of research with the Tiwi Islander community that, among other things, seeks a better understanding of the role and contemporary lessons traditional practices, such as fire management, can teach us,” Mr Popovski said.
CSIRO strategy to minimise political scrutiny?
Mr Popovski expressed concern that the federal election campaign was being employed as cover by management to advance plans to reduce CSIRO’s footprint in Northern Australia.
“The Staff Association believes that voters in Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory should be concerned. With the current policy focus on developing Northern Australia, communities should expect an increase in local science and research, not a decrease.
“This process is sorely lacking in openness and transparency and has the potential to do great harm to the organisation’s reputation in regional Australia. Local communities deserve better, and the CSIRO Executive should come clean on their future plans for Northern Australia sites immediately.
“Given the information available, the Staff Association believes that the constituents of Leichhardt (Cairns), Kennedy (Atherton), and Lingiari (Alice Springs), should be particularly concerned,” Mr Popovski said.
CSIRO and the public good
“This latest news on Northern Australia comes at the same time as threats to the future of astronomy research have been exposed, particularly the potential closures of Parkes – location of the Dish – and Narrabri in regional NSW.”
“Where is CSIRO’s commitment to regional Australia and to research in the public good? CSIRO’s Executives have fundamentally failed to articulate the value proposition to government for CSIRO to remain relevant and vibrant in our regional communities,” Mr Popovski said.