CSIRO’s energy unit to sack staff prior to Government’s Carbon Reduction Roadmap

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Earlier this month, Tom McIlroy of The Australian Financial Review reported on the loss of dozens of jobs from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Energy Business Unit. 

“The CSIRO has told its energy business unit that almost 20% of staff will be axed just days before the federal government is expected to unveil its Carbon Reduction Roadmap,” said McIlroy, “which promises to deliver technology solutions to cut emissions.” 

Now, of course, Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s penchant for suspense in the release of the Carbon Reduction Roadmap has been amplified by the Coronavirus outbreak. We might say the Roadmap has been put on the backburner, but backburning is a touchy issue with the Government these days. 

It seems unusual that the Government, with its pending Roadmap, supposedly a pathway to carbon reduction through technological innovation, would make cuts from one of its most innovative assets, the CSIRO energy business unit. 

According to a CSIRO Spokesperson, made available to pv magazine Australia, but nor available enough to answer questions directly: “The CSIRO Energy Business Unit is in the the process of undertaking capability changes to ensure it is best placed to deliver future energy science and technology solutions in a rapidly changing environment.” 

The euphemistic “capability changes” included a proposed reduction in 42-46 roles and the addition of 8-12 new roles “in growth areas to ensure CSIRO continues to maximise the impact of our key research areas into the future.” 

According to McIlroy, CSIRO told the Energy Business Unit the cuts, or “looming restructure,” was being made due to “commercial revenue shortfalls.”

However, some of the facts just don’t seem to add up. For instance, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Taylor’s much anticipated “technology roadmap” has been touted to feature strong investment in hydrogen, particularly “$2 hydrogen.” And yet, McIlroy reports that most of the cuts are being made on research teams in new Castle, Perth and Melbourne, constituting a large part of the hydrogen research unit. 

At the same time, the proposed cuts include a consolidation of upstream oil and gas teams into a single natural gas program. Meanwhile, notes McIlroy, “low emissions teams and post-combustion researchers are reduced.” 

Fair to say then that expectations for Minister Taylor’s “roadmap” are not particularly high considering the road to the “roadmap” contains so many mixed messages. 

Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO, Mike Cannon-Brookes, responded to the CSIRO’s cuts by tweeting: “Wait… aren’t we about to invest in a technology roadmap of R&D to get the emissions down… and energy generation is the largest cause of emissions?”

The CSIRO Spokesperson maintains that the government-owned organisation has “clear and well-established processes for undertaking these changes, including ensuring staff are fully consulted and supported throughout the process consistent with our obligations under the Enterprise Agreement.” 

CSIRO staff association secretary Sam Popovski told the AFR that the plan did not make sense. “Energy is an important area for the country to build research capability in and to have suddenly got the news that nearly 20% of staffing positions would be lost was a shock.” 

What the unit really needs, argues Popovski, is additional funding. Unfortunately, with Coronavirus related delays the Government’s mind on this matter is at best unclear, and at worst unchanged. 

Despite delays due to the Coronavirus, the Government’s “technology roadmap” is due to be finalised by the time Energy Minister Taylor attends this year’s climate talks in Glasgow.