Hundreds of climate scientists to lose jobs in Australia
4 February, 2016
Australian science body the CSIRO is expected to slash hundreds of jobs, according to multiple reports.
The departments bearing the brunt of the cuts are the Oceans and Atmosphere division and the Land and Water division, Fairfax Media reported. It is believed more than 100 jobs in each department with be lost.
The Guardian Australia confirmed the news was shared in an email to staff from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Chief Executive Larry Marshall on Thursday and put down to a strategic decision.
He wrote, according to the publication, the job losses were in line with the 2020 strategy for the organisation and that it needed to adapt to an "uncertain future."
"Digital technology will disrupt every Australian industry and each part of our business must reinvent itself to help Australia respond to this global challenge,” he wrote, while noting headcount would remain unchanged in two years. "As our business unit leaders work through the process of realigning their teams for the new strategy it is inevitable that there will be job losses."
Marshall is new to the CSIRO gig. After a successful career as a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and entrepreneur he took the top job in January 2015. It has been hoped his background in science coupled with his start-up mindset could help prepare the CSIRO for the future. In fact, in a statement released after news of the cuts broke, he compared Australia to a start-up.
"We must embrace change and turn it to our advantage if we want to flourish, predict what's coming rather than react," he said. "Indeed, just like a startup, our nation needs to re-invent itself (pivot) in order to navigate a new and uncertain future."
Australia's Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said in a statement emailed to Mashable Australia the decision is an operational one. "After an extensive review the management of the CSIRO have stated the need to re-organise the organisation to better fulfill its mission as outlined in its strategic plan," Pyne said.
Some are not convinced, with one scientist telling Fairfax Media the cuts will impact climate research directly. "Climate will be all gone, basically," the scientist said. "We understand both the Prime Minister [Malcolm Turnbull] and the [Science] Minister [Christopher Pyne] have signed off on the cuts."
Australian Academy of Science President Andrew Holmes said in a statement he was seriously concerned about the country's future ability to undertake climate and environmental research, along with monitoring climate change in the Southern Hemisphere.
"Our climate and environmental scientists are some of the best in the world. We wouldn’t stop supporting our elite Olympic athletes just as they’re winning gold medals. Nor should we pull the rug out from under our elite scientists," Holmes said.
"Australia is internationally recognised for its expertise and unique position in climate and environmental research. Realistically, there are no other countries in the Southern Hemisphere that are able to do what we do. We have a singular contribution to make towards global and regional climate knowledge, and with this role comes a great responsibility to the global community."
Many people expected Australia's new moderate Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to protect science jobs and invest further into climate research. In December, he announced a $90 million commitment to supporting an CSIRO innovation fund and increased funding by $75 million to the CSIRO's research unit, Data61. It looked promising for the science body.
It followed years of uncertainty for the CSIRO. In the 2014 federal budget, under former conservative prime minister Tony Abbott, millions of dollars of funding to the CSIRO was slashed, leading to hundreds of jobs being cut. When Turnbull, an entrepreneur himself, took the reins in September he was seen by many as an advocate for innovation and progressive policy.
It is yet to be seen how the latest cuts impact science Down Under, but many critics are certain it doesn't look rosy for Australia's involvement in climate research.