HUNT’S UNFUNDED GRAND GESTURE

In light of the Liberals’ spectacular cuts to funding and jobs at CSIRO, Minister Hunt’s heroic pronouncements are simply more Turnbull Government gushing with no substance.

Minister Hunt says he wants CSIRO to become the “world’s premier public research organisation”  yet this can be no more than empty rhetoric coming after $3 billion in Liberal cuts from science, research and innovation since taking power.

The Liberals stripped $115 million out of CSIRO’s direct funding and took the jobs of well over a thousand scientists and support staff. The Government’s aspirations cannot be taken seriously while this situation prevails.

Furthermore, the vandalism wrought upon the rest of the science and innovation system cut CSIRO’s external revenues to the bone. CSIRO does not operate in a vacuum. It is deeply integrated into Australia’s innovation ecosystem, and highly dependent upon the wellbeing of other research institutions.

As late as last week the Liberals were seeking to shut down one of the CSIRO’s greatest sources of external revenue in the form of contracts coming from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). 

It was only the actions of Labor and the science community that saved ARENA and the vital research that the CSIRO undertakes for the organisation.  

This is just one example. The Abbott-Turnbull Government took $3 billion out of science, research and innovation all up, and only returned one-third of that. Coming after this massive defunding of Australian science and research, all this fine talk is just so much hot air.

Without a thriving and properly funded science, research and innovation system, CSIRO will never meet its potential and Australia’s prospects will continue to be held back.

The university system is another key element of the national research enterprise, yet the threat of some form of deregulation still hangs over our universities. The accompanying 20 per cent funding cuts are still banked in the Liberals’ budget. This attack on our universities must be stood down and foresworn.

The unedifying episode of the last three years of CSIRO mismanagement will not be healed by Ministerial proclamation. An independent expert inquiry into management and governance must still go ahead and its recommendations taken seriously by the Turnbull Government.  

The Minister’s statements will comes as little comfort for the best and brightest at CSIRO, hundreds of whom still face the chop as we speak. This is on top of the one in five scientists and researchers who have already lost their jobs under the Coalition, creating lasting damage to Australia’s international reputation.  

If the Liberals are serious about Aussie innovation, they will reverse their destruction of Labor’s investments in science and research, and devise an integrated, coordinated innovation policy that will underpin our national prosperity.

Labor stands ready to work with the Liberals to craft a long-term, bipartisan approach that builds genuine support for science, research and innovation, but the Government will need to be serious this time.


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