Thirty-five jobs saved and half of remaining 75 to 80 climate scientists to go to new centre in Hobart
April 26, 2016 — About 35 climate science jobs at the CSIRO have been saved from initial cuts of 110, as part of a restructure that includes the establishment of a new climate science centre in Hobart.
Of the organisation’s remaining 75 to 80 climate scientists, half will go to the Tasmanian centre.
The federal science and environment ministers welcomed the move but senior climate scientists in the CSIRO said it still represented a large cut to Australia’s climate science capability and expressed concern for the future of those scientists not moving to the new centre.
In a statement released on Monday evening, the CSIRO said the Hobart centre would employ 40 scientists and have funding secured for 10 years.
On Tuesday morning, the CSIRO’s chief executive, Larry Marshall, announced that 75 positions would be cut from the oceans and atmosphere business unit rather than the 110 originally announced.
More details were expected to be released after a meeting of the unit on Tuesday afternoon.
The CSIRO also announced the establishment of a national climate science advisory committee, which would report at a ministerial level.
Senior climate scientists in the CSIRO told Guardian Australia they first heard about the changes from the media, including details of the meeting. One said the changes were a “fig leaf” designed to mute the issue as the election approached.
“They’re trying to get it off the front pages of the newspapers because the Labor party decided to make an election issue out of it,” he said. “They’re going to say – we’ve given you what you want, take it or leave it.”
It was unclear whether the positions that were not part of the new centre would survive further cuts, he said.
“It’s a con,” another senior CSIRO climate scientist said. “What happens to those other jobs? Are they prepared to cut those?”
Scientists also questioned why the centre would be based in Hobart, suggesting it might be politically motivated.
Internal emails released to the Senate earlier this month had referred to the political implications.
On 28 January the director of the Oceans and Atmosphere unit, Ken Lee, said he would continue to work on ways to “minimise impacts on Hobart”. He said any cuts “need to address loss of employment in Tas (a regional political issue)”.
A senior scientist in CSIRO said the question of which jobs would be made redundant should be based on what capabilities were needed, not where the scientists were based.
The federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, told ABC radio on Tuesday the government had helped to “broker” the new arrangement.
“From what was frankly a difficult situation we worked to engage with the organisation and to get I think the longest, deepest national climate science program that Australia has ever had,” Hunt said.
Scientists who spoke to Guardian Australia flatly rejected that suggestion. The centre would hold the remnants of a severely reduced climate science capability in the CSIRO, they said. Funding for climate science was severely reduced when the Coalition cut the Australian climate change science program after the 2013 election.
Labor’s research spokesman, Kim Carr, said the move was nothing more than a political fix. He said the move showed the government was happy to intervene, but was not interested in saving “the jobs or CSIRO’s international reputation”. He called on the government to put the changes on hold until staff were properly consulted.
“This announcement is a marginal seats strategy, not a science strategy,” he said.
According to internal CSIRO documents seen by Guardian Australia, the new centre will house the organisation’s climate modelling and measurement projects. Many scientists had feared the modelling capability would be lost but the documents suggest the CSIRO will continue to invest in it.
The centre would “sit alongside key collaborators and CSIRO’s science and engineering capability supporting the Marine National Facility, the RV Investigator”, the documents say.
Andy Pitman, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW, said there were not enough details in the announcement to judge whether Australia would maintain an adequate climate science capability. He said if the 40 scientists in Hobart were required to maintain the climate measuring, the model development and climate projections, there simply wouldn’t be enough people.
“This is a good news story relative to the initial cut,” he said. “This is a catastrophic story because Australia is significantly cutting its capability.”