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Australians up in arms over research shake-up

点击量:   时间:2019-03-02 01:18:01

By IAN ANDERSON in MELBOURNE Sudden moves to make drastic changes to the CSIRO, Australia’s national research organisation, have led to widespread protests by scientists and to calls for the Prime Minister to intervene. The plans, part of next month’s budget proposals, were drawn up by the new science minister, Chris Schacht. The changes are meant to save money but Schacht’s critics dispute this. They say that the minister is attempting to strong-arm the scientific community without adequately consulting those involved. The CSIRO, one of the world’s largest scientific organ-isations, is made up of seven institutes divided into 33 divisions with a staff of more than 7000. Ditta Bartels, the president of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, says the changes ‘are not based on policy objectives because there patently are none’. One proposal is to carve three divisions from the CSIRO – oceanography, fisheries and atmospheric research – and amalgamate them with the Australian Institute of Marine Science to form a new National Institute of Marine Science in either Adelaide or Perth. The new institute would give marine science in Australia a higher profile, say government sources. The institute may be modelled on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US. But the CSIRO says that the international links that have been built up by the three divisions may be lost. They are involved in global projects such as a study of ocean circulation patterns, the effects of El Nino on climate, and global warming. The interaction with other CSIRO divisions, especially those working on environmental projects, would also be in jeopardy. Schacht’s other plan is to strip the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation of its current management structure and to merge the organisation with the CSIRO. The minister’s office is believed to be unhappy with the management of ANSTO. But under the plan the CSIRO will inherit an old, and some say unsafe, nuclear reactor. The whole of the Asia-Pacific region will be affected by any change in management at the ANSTO, which represents the region on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is also in the process of signing agreements on nuclear technology with Indonesia. The CSIRO is much more likely to concentrate on scientific research than nuclear technology. Both the CSIRO and ANSTO protested strongly to the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, last week. ‘We are most concerned at the process by which this matter is being handled,’ Adrienne Clarke, the chair of the CSIRO said in a letter to Keating and Schacht. ‘We have not had an opportunity to see the submission (to Cabinet) or to comment on it.’ The chairman of the ANSTO board, Richard Collins, told Keating that the way the proposal was developed was ‘appalling’. His letter says: ‘It is entirely inappropriate that plans of this magnitude be concocted on the run without due consideration and without consultation.’ Despite the loud protestations, observers believe that the proposals may be accepted by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The CSIRO division of the Public Sector Union, which represents many of the scientific staff,