Standing up for Canberra

CSIRO a national treasure

Yesterday I attended the CSIRO's briefing—Science for Breakfast: getting more from their science. Improved efficiency and sustainability in the way that we use our limited resources are crucial factors confronting many Australian industry sectors. This briefing was a fascinating insight into the CSIRO's cutting edge work that is focused on increasing efficiency and sustainability, and using innovation to improve productivity.

I am sure my colleagues who attended will agree that this briefing reiterated the fact that the CSIRO is a national treasure. We are incredibly lucky to have this world-class organisation driving science and innovation in Australia. So why is the Abbott government so intent on cutting the CSIRO and cutting science? The Abbott government has cut $878 million from science and research agencies, including almost $115 million from the CSIRO. The Abbott government proposes the biggest job cuts in the CSIRO's history: nearly 900 scientists—at least 500 at the CSIRO, 96 at Geoscience Australia, 64 at the ANSTO and 58 at the Bureau of Meteorology.

Last month CSIRO's staff and supporters rallied at regional and metropolitan CSIRO sites around the country. United in their white lab coats, this was an unprecedented show of support for science and opposition to the government's irresponsible cuts. I am sorry that parliamentary sittings prevented me from donning a lab coat to join these protests myself, but I look forward to visiting the CSIRO's Black Mountain site in the next few weeks to speak to staff about how these cuts are affecting their important work.

The scale of the funding cuts to CSIRO and other science agencies, the potential trebling of the cost of a science degree and the attitudes that drive this government amount to an extraordinary attack on science. This attack is both irresponsible and reckless, and will jeopardise Australia's future prosperity.

We all know that science drives innovation and new technology. The pride of the Abbott government's budget is a new medical research fund. Where does it think the researchers will come from if science degrees are unaffordable and research council funding is no longer available for higher degree research, and the CSIRO has fewer jobs to offer young scientists?

Members will have seen the open letter to Clive Palmer from Australia's state and federal forest industry associations in the The Canberra Times today. It called on him to oppose the government's plans to cut the CSIRO's 33 forest scientists. These scientists support the jobs of over 80,000 Australians who work in the forest industry, but the Abbott government is prepared to take an axe to forestry research, abandoning massive potential for advances in carbon storage, productivity, bioplastics and a range of new industries.

Labor values the work of CSIRO and Australian scientists and we will keep fighting to protect their jobs, in contrast to a government that does not even think that science is worthy of its own minister.

Download a copy of this speech.