CSIRO has provided an update on the organisation’s ten-year property strategy, highlighting six major projects and outlining an additional number of locations and worksites set for sale or up for review by the Executive Team and CSIRO board in early 2021.
Citing the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Operating Officer Judi Zielke signalled a change in tempo for plans to manage the CSIRO property portfolio, currently valued at $1.68 billion.
“As we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and our changing work and operating environment, we are prioritising, and in some cases may accelerate, some of the elements of the property strategy in consultation with our people,” Ms Zeilke said in an email to staff.
The shift in approach comes three months following the release of an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report which was highly critical of CSIRO’s property investment strategy and made several recommendations to improve risk management, performance targets and governance arrangements.
Describing the “scientific and organisational needs” of CSIRO as a “key driver” of priorities, Ms Zielke outlined key features of the strategy.
“(This) includes a range of activities including consolidating sites in geographical locations where we have a ‘cluster’ of CSIRO sites; ending leases where properties are nearing their ‘end of life’ or aren’t fit for purpose any more, and leasing or building state-of-the-art facilities where we can enable great science through what we are calling Labs of the Future.”
“The overall aim is to have a property portfolio and facilities that meet current and future needs, so they are: safe, secure, vibrant, sustainable, and promoting innovation, collaboration, future growth opportunities and impact,” Ms Zielke said.
The six major projects are the Sydney consolidation and relocation to Western Sydney Aerotropolis, refurbishment and renovation of the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (formerly known as AAHL), sale and divestment of Ginninderra, relocation of Parkville laboratory to Clayton, development of the New Collections Precinct at Black Mountain and the consolidation of CSIRO sites in Perth.
Site reviews and divestments
One of the ANAO report recommendations included that ‘CSIRO establish effective governance arrangements for the management of divestment projects including establishing a consistent framework and undertaking detailed planning,’ and the property strategy now includes an Annual Implementation Plan which identifies sites earmarked for divestment or subject to review by the CSIRO senior leadership.
Sites identified for future sale include Alice Springs, Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane QUT, Gatton (UQ), Ginninderra East, Kensington (UNSW), Toowoomba and Yarralumla. CSIRO also expects to ultimately divest the Floreat, Parkville and Marsfield sites during the process of consolidation projects.
Those workplaces on the list for review by the Executive Team and CSIRO during the first quarter of 2021 include Cairns, Clayton (ASCC, Blackburn Road, Wellington Road), Cleveland, Defence Agency (SA), Notting Hill, SAMHRI, Sandy Bay, Werribee Sneydes and Yanco.
“The Property Strategy also features an organisational Sustainability Framework, which will embrace a new Sustainability Strategy and Renewable Energy Strategy, placing greater emphasis on current and emerging sustainability challenges,” Ms Zielke said.
However, improving the performance and accountability of the property strategy represent a more pressing challenge, given the scathing assessment of the Auditor-General.
The ANAO report sharply criticised CSIRO’s management of the property portfolio and operating costs. While the authors found that CSIRO had developed a ‘partly effective’ framework and arrangements to develop the property strategy, ‘CSIRO’s reporting to its Board on progress with the implementation of the strategy has not been appropriate… the reporting has not been regular, has not contained information requested by the Board and has not reported on delivering the aims of the 2012 Property Strategy including the realisation of costs and benefits.’
The report determined that CSIRO’s property operating costs rose by seven per cent in 2018-19 compared to those incurred five years earlier; despite the organisation’s stated aim to eliminate annual cost increases above 2012-13 levels.