Why were the jobs of CSIRO scientists cut?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Senator RICE: I want to start off with some clarification on the CSIRO climate cuts. We have the Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship which has currently got 420 staff, approximately?
Dr Marshall: I think it is 422 but I will check with Mr Roy if you need exact numbers.
Mr Roy: That is indicative.
Senator RICE: Yes; ballpark. Within that, there are multiple programs, of which there are two core climate science programs, as I understand it, which are Oceans and Climate Dynamics and Earth System Assessment.
Dr Marshall: Correct.
Senator RICE: I understand that the staff in those two core science programs is around 140 FTE?
Dr Wonhas: Yes.
Senator RICE: Could you table the documents relating to your deep dive process?
Dr Marshall: Perhaps Mr Roy could briefly outline the criteria of the deep dives. That might help with the line of questioning.

Mr Roy: I am very happy to do that. The difficulty with us tabling documents in full is that a lot of them are commercial-in-confidence because they actually pick out target companies that we are seeking to partner with, target organisations. It is a little bit like a prospectus that we are asking these business units to come up with, in terms of what they were.
Senator RICE: Could we have redacted versions of them?
Mr Roy: We will take that on notice and check the basis of it. We also ask those leaders to comment on capability areas that they would expect to grow and shrink, and, given that they are evolving and go to informing discussion, where we have not gone forward with those changes I think it would be inappropriate to staff to share that at the moment given it is not an action that is going to play through. I think we need to be very careful. We will take it on notice though.
Senator RICE: We might put in an order for production of documents and then you will go through that process and work out what would be appropriate to share with us.
Mr Roy: We will follow the right process to do whatever we need to do.
Senator RICE: What was the level of cuts indicated for that deep dive process—the indicative level through that process with those two climate science programs?
Mr Roy: Just for clarification, are you saying what came out from the executive?
Senator RICE: Yes. After the deep dive process that you say was completed by December, I am just interested in what sort of level of cuts was being proposed to the climate science programs through that deep dive process?
Mr Roy: I would say, between the end of December and when the final decision was taken at the end of January, there was not a material difference in that particular part of the portfolio, from what the outcome has been. Dr Marshall released a net change of 65 people across that business unit.
Senator RICE: I am specifically thinking about the cuts—we have 100 FTE cuts approximately, I understand, to the existing climate science program. Perhaps you would jump forward and see that was what I understand was communicated to staff, that there would be 100 FTE from the existing climate science programs.
Mr Roy: Let me clarify there; we said approximately 100 across the whole business unit. You are correct; two of those programs are around 140 FTE; we do not expect all of those changes, the 100—and I will keep reiterating, it is a net 65—to be placed across those two programs of the business.
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Senator RICE: Diving back into the deep-dive review: specifically, I want to know whether the findings of that deep dive support a hundred-person cut to the climate science programs.
Mr Roy: Let me try and interpret a little bit around the question. My interpretation is, 'Was the proposal put forward by the oceans and atmosphere business unit the same as the outcome?'—was that the question?
Senator RICE: Presumably there is a bit of analysis in the review, and then you have findings at the end of it with the areas to be cut and growth areas.
Mr Roy: The findings coming out of that were that we would grow a number of areas and, specifically on the O&A, there would be a reduction of the order of 100 FTEs, with a reinvestment of 35. For the specifics at program level—you mentioned the programs within that business unit before—I would have to ask Dr Wonhas to talk to that.
Dr Marshall: Would it be helpful to describe some of the areas?
Senator RICE: No, that is fine. The results of that were, at the end of December, after that deep-dive review, you came to a position of cuts of 100 and an increase of 35 in other areas.
Mr Roy: Before Dr Wonhas picks that up, just to correct something: it was not the finalisation at the end of December. We were still at the options phase and we went back to a number of business leaders and asked them to do some more work on some of those options. We were still working up options at that stage, just to clarify the record.
Dr Wonhas: To add on another clarification, Senator, you were referring to a hundred-FTE cut in the climate science area. I should also stress that this is preliminary, because we are going through the process of consulting with both staff and external stakeholders on how we manage the transition. At the moment our hypothesis is that the two programs you referred to—ocean and climate dynamics and earth system assessment—reduce by half. That is not a complete cut, but it is a significant reduction. The remainder of the reduction will then come from the remaining three programs across that unit.
Senator RICE: Thank you for that. Was the chief of the Ocean and Atmosphere Flagship, Ken Lee, consulted with in the process of reaching that decision to cut 100 staff from his flagship?
Dr Wonhas: Dr Lee, as part of that already referred to deep-dive process, put a suggestion forward to the executive team, as Mr Roy has explained. He was then asked to make a more significant reduction in his business unit for reinvestment into other business units.
Senator RICE: When was he asked to do that?
Dr Wonhas: I spoke to him—I would have to look up the precise date for you—and asked him, prior to Christmas, to explore options for how that would look if a more significant cut was asked for. He then responded to me and that information flowed into the discussion of the executive team at the end of January.
Senator RICE: Regarding the 100 cuts and the reinvestment of 35, what proportion of those coming from the climate science programs went to the executive team?
Dr Wonhas: What went to the executive team was an indication from Dr Lee that, given the criteria that we are applying for the deep dive process, a large share of those reductions would come from the climate area.
Senator RICE: 'A large share' meaning—
Dr Wonhas: A large share of the 100.
Senator RICE: The 65 that you are looking at at the moment, or more than that?
Dr Wonhas: At that point in time we did not quantify that in detail, because, as you appreciate from the discussions that we are having now, it is very difficult to do that because it requires consultation and drawing on a lot of sources of information. But I think there was an awareness that it would be a significant reduction.
Senator RICE: Were specific research groups identified to be cut?
Dr Wonhas: No, that was not the information that went back to the executive. Mr Roy: This was an evolving process that happened. To categorise the discussions with Dr Lee and the deep dive: he was accompanied and supported by his broader executive team. I would hate to couch the picture that this was purely the work of the leader. There were some proposals in there about what we thought was important. Chair, if you comfortable, I am happy to go through some of those key criteria that we used. I think it is important for the committee to understand. There were proposals that we needed to make some changes to the climate area of CSIRO They came from the business unit. As Dr Wonhas put into evidence, the executive team then asked Dr Lee, as the leader of that team, to say, 'If we went a bit further than what you are saying, what would the consequences of that be and what would that option look like?' The overarching criteria we use is relevance—the relevance of CSIRO and what we deliver to the strategy, and the relevance of what the nation asks us to do and the impact we derive from that. There are six key areas that we examined across the whole nine business units we have. There is the impact value that comes from the investment in the science that we do: that it has clear, significant value to the Australian economy, society and/or the environment. Customer need and market attractiveness is the second area. That talks about: where are the customer needs going based on where the science is today; what is the market attractiveness; and are we seeing changes in the market—whether it is manufacturing, agriculture, climate research or health research, for example. The third area is how competitive are we globally—this is clearly one where we rated very strongly in the—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Who would the customers be for climate science research?
Mr Roy: That is a very good question. Because much of the science is foundation science it provides a platform for others to leverage, so it could be Australia's agricultural sector or the global agricultural sector that takes the underpinning science and then provides informed advice to that particular sector on how they might work on a seasonal or longer term basis, or how we might have to adapt some grains or stocks. It might be the building sector. It might be a range of different sectors. It could be public policy, as well. There are a range of potential customers, and we were looking at what interest those customers had in advancing where we are now. The fourth criteria is the performance of the particular business unit against what its normal performance indicators are. This involves financial attractiveness—we live in a real world, as you would fully understand— and what is the value that is created from a financial standpoint. We need to be able to fund the business. What is the financial investment required by CSIRO on a whole-of-cost basis to the organisation? Because, again, we were looking at this very important part of the business in the context of all things we do. Whether it is the examples Dr Marshall used before around the marriage of health and 3D titanium printing or whatever else, these are big responsibilities—to try to weigh up the various options—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is there any public good science associated with this? I am not being facetious.
Mr Roy: We understand.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Customers of climate change research are not just human beings; they are whales, penguins and all sorts of things that we study. How do you factor those into your considerations? Dr Marshall: The notion of a 'customer' is a new one for many scientists. It is an important cultural shift for CSIRO. Last year that was another one of the really thorny discussions hotly debated, because you are quite right: sometimes the customer is the environment or plant life. The idea of a 'customer' is more to instil a notion that it is our responsibility to always understand that we are not doing the research out of curiosity. We are not doing the science for entertainment reasons. We are doing it because we have a mission and an objective to deliver value. So there are really three questions we have posed: who is the customer, why do they care about what we are doing and what value are we delivering?
Senator WHISH-WILSON: One of the most famous examples is the discovery of wi-fi. It was discovered out of curiosity by astronomers. How does that fit in with the analysis you just gave us? Dr Marshall: Wi-fi is perhaps not the best example for that argument. I do agree with the argument in part. One of the inventors of wi-fi said, 'You got it wrong. We looked at our networking capability and intentionally decided to develop this, thinking it would be an opportunity.' So it is not the best example. To use my own example, I invented a laser technology which changed the way eye disease is treated and saved the sight of many people. I did that completely by accident. I did not know what the application would be when I started. I agree with you that oftentimes you do not know what to use great science for, so you always have to have a little bit of blue sky.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Think you, Dr Marshall. I will take this up with you later.
Senator RICE: Thank you, Mr Roy, for going through those criteria that informed the deep-dive process. I have been told that that deep-dive process ended up with a level of staff cuts for the Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship of no more than 35, that it was completely unexpected for it to be facing a reduction of 100 staff and that at staff a meeting after your announcement, Dr Marshall, Dr Lee said that 100 ESPs would be cut from the two climate programs of the flagship and that the changes were more significant than anticipated in the deep dive, which identified 30 reductions and 30 increases with no net change. I ask for your response to that.
Dr Wonhas: I will respond to that. It is correct that the plan that the leadership team of the oceans and atmosphere unit put forward contained a cut of 35 staff. I would have to look up exactly where they would have been coming from but probably primarily from the climate space. The additional reduction was a task that this team was given by the executive.
Senator RICE: When was that communicated to Dr Lee?
Dr Wonhas: As I said before, I spoke to Dr Lee prior to Christmas to investigate that—
Senator RICE: But when was your final decision on the cuts of 100 to what seems to be the climate science programs at this stage? You might have moved somewhat from that, which I am pleased to hear, but when was that decision communicated to Dr Lee?
Dr Wonhas: Again, I would have to check the records to find out precisely, but I would think that within 24 hours after the decision of the executive team I would have informed—
Senator RICE: That was the executive team meeting on 29 January?
Dr Wonhas: That is correct. I am sorry, I think it was 27 January. We can check those dates but that is very close.
Senator RICE: Could I request documentation of the communication to Dr Leigh?
Dr Wonhas: Yes.
Mr Roy: To clarify the record: most of the discussions that were had, in terms of communicating the outcome, as I understand it, were in a telephone call between Dr Wonhas and Dr Leigh. Is that correct Dr Wonhas?
Dr Wonhas: To make sure that everyone is on the same page, I think I have written this down so I am sure I can find that for you.
Senator RICE: Can I clarify that in those telephone calls to Dr Leigh your position was that those 100 cuts were to occur within the two climate science programs: the Earth System Assessment and Oceans and Climate Dynamics?
Dr Wonhas: No, I do not think it was that specifically identified. I would have referred to the criteria that Mr Roy has mentioned to actually identify in detail the areas where those reductions would be coming from.
Senator RICE: But you would acknowledge that the majority were going to come from those two programs?
Dr Wonhas: That was certainly the expectation.
Senator RICE: What were your expectations of where the majority would come from? What proportion of the 100 would you have expected to come from those two climate science programs?
Dr Wonhas: Maybe 70 of the 100.
Senator RICE: And out of the two programs that have 130 staff?
Dr Wonhas: 140. Yes.
Dr Marshall: As I mentioned earlier, it is about half of the labour capability—the head count—in measurement and modelling capability in oceans and atmosphere.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: With your indulgence, Senator Rice, can I ask Mr Marshall how many of those are coming from Tasmania and other geographical locations?
Dr Marshall: I do not have that detail.
Dr Wonhas: As I said, we have not yet identified the individual staff members so it is very difficult for me to answer that question at this point in time but—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could you provide a breakdown by location as it is now in terms of proportions?
Dr Wonhas: Let me try to find something for you on that. In the oceans and atmosphere unit we have 193 FTEs located in Hobart. They might obviously be affected.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you break those down into the Oceans and Climate Dynamics program and the other program Senator Rice talked about?
Dr Wonhas: That is correct. They would be split across those two programs and there would be some in the other programs. What we do not know at this point in time is where the 35 additions will happen. Some of them might happen in Tasmania.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: And Aspendale and the other locations?
Dr Wonhas: I do not have the figure here for Aspendale but we can certainly provide the staff numbers at Aspendale at the moment.
Senator RICE: After the cuts have been made, do you know whether there will be a critical mass of staff remaining at Aspendale?
Dr Wonhas: I do not know at this point in time. What we have decided to do in terms of process is firstly we want to ensure, given the circumstances, that we maintain the best possible capability for the nation and then we will review the viability of the different sites.
Senator RICE: Of the 35 new positions, will any be going to climate research programs?
Dr Wonhas: That is ultimately a decision that needs to be made in the coming weeks.
Senator RICE: What is the criteria for those new positions?  
Dr Wonhas: The criteria are the same criteria that Mr Roy has referred to which is really our investment criteria.
Dr Marshall: I appreciate, Senator, that it must be a bit frustrating that we are not able to give you more concrete answers but, again, we are very much at the beginning of this process.
Senator RICE: In your current situation, it sounds like there has been some shifting and that you are now looking at cutting fewer staff from the climate science programs?
Dr Wonhas: No, Senator. The numbers that have been communicated to oceans and atmosphere at the end of January are consistent with the numbers that we are talking about now. I think what might have happened is some of the other communications that have unfortunately gone out have basically confused this matter.
Senator RICE: The labs that are being affected are in Hobart and Aspendale. At Aspendale, in particular, the research there is almost entirely in those two affected programs; hence, my question as to whether you think there will still be a critical mass of people available to continue those labs at Aspendale.
Mr Roy: Senator, just to clarify the question from you before: we have 100 people as at the end of 2015 at Aspendale and 290 in Hobart, which is clearly broader than O and A. It was signalled to the organisation, I believe, in 2014 that it is our long-term strategy, quite separate from this, to move our Aspendale staff. It is a very old site, as you may well know. It is not a site that, if I were a world-leading scientist coming into a new organisation, I would be proud to walk into. It needs work. We wanted to relocate those staff in good time to Clayton, anyway, and we signalled that quite separately.
Senator RICE: You are looking at your current plan to have only about half of the staff. If you were cutting half of the staff from those two programs, you would be having a staff cut of at least 50 from that 100.
Dr Wonhas: It depends on how it exactly plays out, but that is a possible outcome. Can I just also clarify, because we have spoken about this before: one of the nationally important records is kept at Aspendale, which is our atmospheric record. So, even if we moved away from the site, we would certainly ensure that that record gets maintained in an appropriate way.
Senator RICE: That would be quite a significant move, I understand. Incidentally, Dr Marshall, have you visited the Aspendale lab?
Dr Marshall: Senator, I am sad to say that I have only been able to visit about 22 of the sites. There are a lot more than I realised and they are a lot further away than I realised.
Senator RICE: So you are having this very substantial impact on these scientists, without visiting them. Do you know much about their work?
Dr Marshall: Probably not as much as I should. Although, I would like to correct one of the media announcements today that I do not have any scientific qualifications at all. I do actually have a PhD in physics and I was a very active scientist for a long time.
CHAIR: It is nice to get that on the record.
Senator RICE: Following up on some of the questions that Senator Carr was asking about Cape Grim: your clarification statement, Dr Marshall, said that the Cape Grim station is to be retained, as is the RV Investigator. How many staff are required for the research functions associated with Cape Grim and the Investigator? Are we going to be able to have enough of those staff, given the magnitude of the cuts that you are outlining?
Dr Marshall: Senator, I will get Dr Williams to answer detailed questions about the RV Investigator. As for Cape Grim, one of the things we are looking at with Cape Grim is to use more technology to help us gather data, potentially with less manual labour required.
Dr Wonhas: Maybe to build on Dr Marshall's statement—again, I know this might be frustrating—we are currently working through this to really understand the requirements, but—
Senator RICE: 'To really understand the requirements', after having announced these massive cuts! It seems to me that you should have understood those requirements beforehand.
CHAIR: Excuse me. We will keep to the questions, we will lower the ambience and we will just stick to how we go.
Dr Wonhas: Senator, just to give you an indication of the level of engagement currently happening at Cape Grim: this financial year the bureau is supporting us to the tune of $460,000 at Cape Grim and we are contributing $234,000 for the measurement component in conjunction with the bureau. That is probably one indication of what is currently ongoing at Cape Grim. 
Senator RICE: As I understand it, there are basically three types of scientific jobs at Cape Grim. There is the actual collecting of samples, which Dr Marshall has said you are going to seek to further automate—but I understand that is pretty automated anyway—translating those samples into data, which I understand occurs at Aspendale at the gas lab there, and then the analysis and interpretation of the data. Are you still intending to maintain staff doing all three of those types of roles?
Dr Wonhas: We will ensure that the vital measurements will continue. What the exact nature of our work going forward is going to be, as I said before, is subject to the work that we have just started.
Senator RICE: When you say 'of a vital nature', what do you mean?
Dr Wonhas: That is something that we obviously need to discuss with the people who are working in the space.
Senator RICE: Again, I am astounded that you are foreshadowing cuts of this magnitude without understanding what the consequences of these cuts would be. Dr Wonhas: We have taken an overall look at the organisation. We are now in a position to work with staff and our stakeholders at the next level of detail. What I have just provided you is that we believe there is a total effort of around $700,000 per annum going into the work, together with the bureau, supporting Cape Grim.
Senator RICE: My question was that there are three types of jobs. From what I could read between the lines—correct me if I am wrong—you are essentially saying that you have a commitment to maintain the collecting of the data at Cape Grim, presumably maintaining the gas lab to turn those samples into data. Do you have that intention to maintain that level of work?
Dr Wonhas: As I said before, we will work through the specifics, but since you mentioned the gas lab, to give you at least a flavour of the kind of discussions that we are currently having, we already have had an informal exchange with the bureau concerning whether they, for example, want to take on some of the measurement equipment that we have. This is not a decision—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Was this in the last few days, as a matter of interest?
Senator RICE: It is part of the transition program you have realised is necessary.
Dr Wonhas: That is correct. To avoid any confusion here, we have not made a decision yet. I think it is important at this point of time to look at the different options and the implications of these options and then to take a decision on those. That is what we are currently doing.
Senator RICE: I am glad to hear that. In proposing this reprioritisation, is it your intention or do you feel that this work no longer needs to be done in Australia, or just that CSIRO should no longer undertake it and other institutions should pick it up?
Dr Wonhas: To be very clear, we believe that the measurements of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and the other measurements that, as you would know, are done at Cape Grim are a very vital record for the nation. They are longstanding record and that needs to be maintained. The problem we are currently trying to solve is, in a frankly constrained environment what is the most effective way to maintain that service to the nation?
Senator RICE: What I hear you say is that if you are going to maintain that, the areas that you would see as being much more likely to be cut are the work of the scientists who are doing the interpretation and analysis of that data.
Dr Wonhas: If I start to speculate on what the outcome is, I think it can just start a lot of discussion that ultimately leads to nothing.
Senator RICE: Can I go back to my other question. If you did decide that that is no longer going to be done at CSIRO, do you believe that this work should still be done in Australia and that we should still have Australian scientists working on doing that analysis of the data, and doing the scientific research and writing papers, or that other institutions should pick up the work that CSIRO is currently doing?
Dr Marshall: CSIRO does much more than just climate measurement and climate modelling.
Senator RICE: But you have a world-significant team of scientists. The statement from the World Meteorological Organisation this morning underlines that.
Dr Marshall: We are in the top 0.1 per cent of world research in agriculture as well, and in a number of other fields—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Which are all tied to climate science.
Dr Marshall: in which we are investing—for example, precision agriculture to better inform the farming community.
Senator RICE: Excuse me, Dr Marshall. We do not have much time, so I would like to stick to climate science at the moment.
Dr Marshall: My point is that we have to weigh up—
CHAIR: I point out that we have been back for half an hour.
Senator RICE: I have one question.
CHAIR: Senator Whish-Wilson came to me earlier and said he was speaking for the Greens here today. I take it that you are now speaking to the Greens today.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I still have some questions.
Senator RICE: The area that I want to continue on is a similar theme and the area that we have also heard is proposed to be cut, and that is some of the modelling capability of the CSIRO. You have talked of the ACCESS model outputs continuing to be available for others to use. Do you intend to continue to employ scientists to have ongoing development of the models?
Dr Marshall: As I said at the beginning, in terms of headcount, the number of CSIRO team members working in measurement and modelling will reduce by about half. We are not stopping in either area, but we are reducing the Labor content. At the same time, we are trying to be smarter about our use of technology and also leveraging the much broader community.
Senator RICE: I am specifically talking about computer modelling, which is all technology. Then you have scientists who interpret that and further develop the models.
Dr Marshall: Open sourcing is a very common way that many pieces of software are maintained and supported.
Senator RICE: Are you proposing that the CSIRO ACCESS model should have open sourcing in it?
Dr Marshall: The CSIRO access model is open sourced already. I was using that as an example. It is a great example of how the community can help support CSIRO. My point is that the output of environmental research in Australia is twice the world average, which is a phenomenal achievement. CSIRO is only 16 per cent of that output. It is a much broader community. Over the years more and more funding has moved away from CSIRO to the university sector, which is very natural. So we need their help to support the model. We are not stopping the model and we are not cutting climate science.
Senator RICE: Are you proposing to continue to put resources into ongoing development of the models? Because otherwise the model will quickly become outdated and irrelevant
Dr Marshall: The whole community contributes to the model.
Senator RICE: I am reading your answer as no, you do not intend to do that.
Dr Marshall: We are still working through the process.
Dr Wonhas: May I try to answer that question? Firstly, in the statement that Dr Marshall has made to staff earlier this week, I think we put on the record that we believe, as the national science organisation, that Australia needs access to a world-class climate model, because that is vital, as we all know, in particular to inform adaptation efforts. Similar to the discussion around Cape Grim, it is now our task to work out what is the most appropriate way to deliver that in the long run because, as we also know, this issue of climate change will be with us for a long time. There are a number of different options on the table. At this point in time I do not want to exclude any. There is the option of continuing with ACCESS. There might be an option in working more closely with the UK Met Office, with whom we are already working very closely. If we go down that path, we need to ensure that critical things for us in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Southern Ocean dynamics, are appropriately reflected in that model. We also have probably a world leading capability in land-sector-atmosphere interactions. we need to work through what the best outcome is, but while we are making a reduction overall in the climate science area, there will be continued investment and we will ensure that that investment, amongst other things, achieves access to a climate model.
Senator RICE: How about the use of that model in the climate projection science—what are your intentions there? That is, actually turning the outputs of the model into products that are usable by the people who need to be adapting to climate change. That is absolutely critical to climate adaptation.
Dr Wonhas: Absolutely, that needs to happen. Since you want to have more detail on the process that is currently ongoing, I had breakfast with Dr Vertessy this morning and we spoke exactly about how we are doing that. We explored the option of whether the bureau or CSIRO provides that. At this point in time we are basically pursuing the both of those options.