Scientists Say Commission Of Audit Plans Are A Serious Infringement On The Independence Of Australia Research

Prince William inspects a fish with Dr Alan Williams from the CSIRO onboard the oceanographic research vessel Southern Surveyor at Garden Island Naval base. Dan Himbrechts-Pool/Getty Images

Australia’s scientific community is worried Commission of Audit recommendations will allow government to put short term political goals above good science.

The Commission of Audit wants an overhaul of the way scientific research is carried out including allowing government greater control over research by CSIRO.

The recommendations aim to ensure resources are being directed to areas of “greatest policy priority”. The commission also wants to abolish the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Association.

Science and Technology Australia, which looks after the interests of 68,000 scientists, says the report recommends that the legislative basis for the CSIRO be changed, bringing it into closer alignment with the way other public service agencies are governed.

Catriona Jackson, CEO of Science and Technology Australia, says this would have the potential to constitute a serious infringement on the independence of Australian scientific research.

The Audit report recommends: “Allowing for more government oversight of the work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation [CSIRO] to ensure that resources are being directed to areas of greatest priority.”

Jackson says scientists understand government has a legitimate role in setting research priorities for CSIRO and other research bodies.

“However, the entire Australian community will be very concerned if the government compromised the independence of CSIRO and their 6,000-plus scientists,” she says.

“Australians trust CSIRO science and the autonomy of the CSIRO and its board is central to that public trust.”

Tony Staley, a former Liberal Party federal minister, is Chairman of the CRC Association and says he can’t believe the government will abolish Cooperative Research Centres.

“Cooperative Research Centres have very clearly given the Australian taxpayers outstanding value for money,” he says.

The Commissioners have commented in making this recommendation that the ARC (Australian Research Council) should take on longer funding periods.

“That’s one of the features that has made CRCs so successful, seven years of funding to let researchers get on with the job,” Staley says.

“The Commission of Audit clearly haven’t worked at the level of detail to know that directing the money through a granting agency like the ARC would fundamentally change the nature of the Program.”

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