HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
WHY MALCOLM TURNBULL SHOULD REVERSE THE DESTRUCTIVE, CLUMSY AND DUMB CSIRO CUTS
Historically, there have been two groups that have really been the heart and soul of climate science on the planet. This is one of them.
Those words about CSIRO, spoken by the chief adviser on carbon cycle science at NASAs Jet Propulsion Lab on the day the CSIRO 350 job cuts were announced, have since been echoed across the global scientific community.
The New York Times has not just written about the CSIRO cuts but also editorialised against them, attributing them to a deplorable misunderstanding of the importance of basic research into what is arguably the greatest challenge facing the planet.
A series of senate committee hearings last week has heard over and over again about the devastating impact of these cuts on CSIRO's ability to do its job properly.
Part of CSIRO's Marine and Atmospheric Division is in Aspendale in my electorate of Isaacs. Together with the Australian Antarctic Division, it is expected to bear the brunt of the Abbott-Turnbull Governments latest attack on Australia's world class science and research. The job cuts that have been announced will effectively gut CSIRO's Aspendale centre.
Established more than 50 years ago, it has produced some of the most important climate change research on the globe. Its scientists have contributed to the International Panel on Climate Change reports which are considered the benchmark of climate change science. It collects and monitors some of the cleanest air in the world from Cape Grim in Tasmania for the World Meteorological Association.
Every year this part of CSIRO produces state of the climate reports with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to measure the increasing effects of climate change on our country.
I'll be hosting a community forum on the importance of CSIRO's Aspendale Centre on 22 March, and it was not hard to convince the former chief scientist of Australia Ian Chubb and climate change expert Will Steffen to come along, such is the depth of respect for its work in the scientific community.
But CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall, brought in from Silicon Valley by Tony Abbott, believes all these projects should be de-prioritised in favour of climate change mitigation projects and CSIRO should turn its attention to work areas likely to be more commercially viable.
CSIRO is not a glorified consultancy. It is not a start-up looking only to maximise profit opportunities. It is one of the most important scientific institutions in the world with an obligation to do research that is in the long-term public interest, not just the short-term interests of the private sector.
But this is not about Mr Marshall. These decisions would not have been made without the $110 million cut forced on CSIRO in the 2014 federal budget (the one Mr Abbott describes as his badge of honour).
Prime Minister Turnbull can reverse these cuts.
The destruction of climate science expertise in Australia's premier research organisation is not clever, innovative, or agile. It is destructive, clumsy and dumb.
CSIRO cannot and should not exist as a purely commercially-driven organisation. A research rather than a profit focus has still enabled CSIRO scientists to produce some of the most successful scientific patents in Australian history, including Wi-Fi technology, one of the greatest inventions of the digital age. There's also extended soft-wear contact lenses, Aerogard insect repellent and polymer banknotes.
Commercially driven research and more general research for the public good are not incompatible areas of activity for CSIRO. In fact, the former can often flow from the latter. The nature of science is that we sometimes must fund projects that are exploratory without clear and precise objectives to see what they come up with and sometimes they come up with Wi-Fi.
It is only the Abbott-Turnbull government cuts that have turned this into an either-or situation. Restore the funding, and the balance can be restored.
Mr Turnbull seeks to position himself as a friend of science and a true believer in climate change. But he is leading a party which still, in 2016, is debating whether climate change is real just look at the NSW Liberal resolution last week to hold a series of debates questioning whether the science is settled.
If Mr Turnbull was a bold and decisive leader, he would reverse the cuts to CSIRO now and save Australia's climate research capacity and reputation for quality science.
Or is he too frightened of the right-wing, climate-sceptic opponents in his own party to do anything?
He needs to make a decision now not dither until the axe falls.
This piece was published in The Guardian.
WEDNESDAY, 16 MARCH 2016