CSIRO Has Lost Its Way, and Soon Its Funding

INNOVATION is critical to staying competitive.

Government-funded science and technology have played an important role in the past, but key institutions like the CSIRO have increasingly lost their way. Megan Clarke

Indeed the CSIRO, probably more than any other organisation, deserve the big funding cut that I hope is coming their way in the May Budget.

Australian agriculture has a bad reputation in many quarters. To a large extent this can be blamed on the many pronouncements by the CSIRO in their rush to corner funding first for salinity, then for biodiversity and water quality and more recently climate change research.

Between the 1950s and 1970s Australia built an outstanding national capability in real science.

At the time leadership did come from CSIRO, university researchers and also many state and federal government agencies.

With the 1980s, however, came a restructuring of the way things were done and how agencies and individuals were funded.

There was a move to project-based funding of a limited duration. So scientists had to identify problems and promote these problems if they were to secure funding – if they were to keep their jobs.

The Native Vegetation Act 2003 and the Murray Darling Basin Plan are direct consequences of the many CSIRO reports that have suggested Australia’s environment is ruin: give us more money to solve the problem.

These reports pronounce catastrophe, subtly paint the farmer as villain and have provided fodder for politicians ever keen to announce a funding allocation to solve a problem, and of course green-groups who’s very existence depends on saving an environment.

Dr Bill Johnston worked within the NSW departments concerned with natural resource management for 30 years. He recently sent me a note explaining that:

“A keystone report relating to the Murray Darling was ‘The Assessment of River Condition’ report published by CSIRO Land and Water in 2001. A snapshot of the Murray Darling’s health was modelled against a pre-European (1750) pristine baseline, for which there was no data.

“Unsurprisingly it found that by its definitions, most rivers were stuffed. Despite very thin data; supported by second and third tier modelling and a huge leap of baseline-faith, it was used relentlessly to on-market Murray Darling Basin facts for all that followed.”

Dr Johnston laments the disbanding of the NSW government’s research capability. He claims the Centre for Natural Resources (CNR) was the most active field-based Murray Darling Basin-focussed research group. He says, “CNR was disbanded, staff were moved so they were under the umbrella of CSIRO or an allied university institute.
“These and other changes left CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology dominant providers of natural-resource information and policy advice; modelling, as the preferred methodology; bell-ringing as the preferred communication strategy; and public discourse by scientists, especially about organisational policies and direction muzzled.”


The image is of CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Megan Clarke.

This article was first published by The Land newspaper on May 1, 2014. A reader of The Land tells me the trouble started at CSIRO in about 1986 when management arrangements at the CSIRO changed, with the appointment of a Board headed by the politician Neville Kenneth Wran.

25 Responses to CSIRO Has Lost Its Way, and Soon Its Funding

  1. Ian Thomson May 3, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Very well put, Jennifer.

    I still remember the disgraceful 1990’s fire sale, of expensive equipment in Deniliquin ,when rangelands research was gutted and the headquarters closed down.
    The whole thing was accelerated with Krudd’s first budget. CSIRO scientists would have known instantly, that unless results pleasing to the little dictator were produced , they would be history.

    This is reflected at state level , in other depts too. The modern 1990’s Ag Dept headquarters in Finley, a centre for dairy and crop research is now inhabited by Centacare only.
    Wealth producing science, replaced by band aids for depressed locals.

    Gee Megan looks a bit of a worry. Lots of settled science and loose marbles there , I fear.

  2. Mark Jones May 3, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    It was the same up in Brisvegas in the late eighties. Food tech was gutted and resources…money…put into studies centering on surrounding ocean. Nothing important, just stuff like the worldwide first ever whipped cream dispensers fitted in the restaurant at the Big Pineapple!

  3. Ron Wilmshurst May 3, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    Working in mineral science for three decades I was in close touch with the relevant CSIRO people, working with them on occasions, always happily. In retirement I continued attending conferences, and any question I asked on CSIRO papers was met with the reply “That information is classified as commercial in confidence”. In my view that is not a satisfactory situation, and papers with that restriction should not be accepted for public presentation.

  4. hatrack May 3, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    “……, staff were moved so they were under the umbrella of CSIRO or an allied university institute.”

    Fabians at work?

  5. redress May 3, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Ian Thomson May 3rd, 2014 at 9:34 am

    It wasn’t only Rangelands Research…..a lot of good irrigation research came out of the 8,000 acre Deniliquin Research station…..and look at it now…..in moth balls and operated by ?????.

  6. DaveW May 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Interestingly, this is about the same time (early-mid 1990’s) that the scientists were purged from our banknotes in favour of mostly of non-scientists (including the Queen moving up to the $5 and kicking out Joseph Banks [and the immigration reformer Caroline Chisholm]).

    Pre-1990’s post 1990’s
    $10 Lawson (architect), Lawson (poet) => Gilmore (lefty journalist, poet), Patterson (righty? same)

    $20 Kingsford Smith (pilot), Hargrave (aeronautics) => Reibey (horse thief, business person), Flynn (minister, founder of Royal Flying Doctors)

    $50 Florey (penicillin), Clunies Ross (veterinary scientist & chair CSIRO) => Unaipon (inventor, author, Ngarrindjeri), Cowan (politician – 1st woman elected to an Australian parliament)

    $100 Mawson (physics, geology), Tebbutt (astronomy) => Melba (soprano, adulterer), Monash (general, strike breaker)

    I make that 8 of 10 individuals from $5-100 on the pre-1990’s banknotes who were scientists/engineers (including an architect), replaced by only one person with scientific credentials, David Unaipon. So from 80% scientists, the banknotes went to 10%. It is even worse if you include William Farrer (agronomist) from the $2 note.

    I suppose most of the new notes featured worthy Australians, but I can’t understand why Gilmore (although it is delicious that a communist was happy to become a Dame – Abbott beware), Reiby or Melba deserve to be honoured with banknotes over so many other worthy Australians. Perhaps the next series will feature heroes of CAGW such as Flannery, Karoly, Lambert, England, Turney …

  7. Robert May 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    Nifty Nev should have put some research funds toward efficient dismantling of monorails. Now that would have been handy.

  8. Bob_FJ May 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm #


    I have not checked what the scope of CSIRO activities is extant, and whilst I agree that the matters you touch-on are shockingly bad, my impression is that the CSIRO have done some good stuff which should be encouraged to continue and grow. Hopefully, any funding cuts will be focussed on the bad stuff. Might a possibly more targeted approach be that the CSIRO be directed to only have authority to research valued topics? (and not duplicate stuff by say the BoM?)

    Am I wrong in recollecting that some excellent research outcomes have been lost to investments overseas…………… groan?

    I would like to see the BoM (and many universities) severely pruned in their greenie alarmism focus in its many aspects such as “death of the GBR”. In my opinion the various recent alarmist Oz/global warming pronouncements from David Jones and Karl Braganza of the BoM should be prevented from recurring given their gross exaggerations.
    And, BTW your frequent commenter Debbie has repeatedly stated that the BoM does do some good stuff, and she should know, in her business!

    Oh and the ABC!………….

  9. Neville May 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

    Here’s a very good article from Jo Nova from a NZ scientist ridiculing the entire CAGW scam.


    The first comment is from Handjive and he provides a link to a 2007 idiotic story about some of the CSIRO forecasts at that time.
    Needless to say they’ve been wrong about everything and the 100 metre SLR by 2100 is incredibly delusional and stupid. If it was true we would be observing a 1 metre rise every year and yet Watson has since confirmed that SLR is decelerating on our east coast. And so have many recent studies over the last couple of years. Just unbelievable incompetence.

  10. Ian Thomson May 4, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    Hi redress,
    I am not quite sure who is using the field station right now, but it was the merino breeders.
    It must be one of the biggest annoyances to money hungry politicians that they cannot sell it, as it was gifted for research , by the Faulkner family.
    However, you are right, it is just a shadow of what it was.

    How sad it is to walk around behind the old headquarters too and see the slowly deteriorating offices ,sheds and glasshouses. How sad too that the late Roger Oxley , who probably knew more about native vegetation than any other, were retired and replaced with the likes of Megan .

  11. Another Ian May 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    Ian Thompson

    Re Deniliquin etc

    Most of the rangeland staff from what seems in hindsight to have been the “Golden Era of Range Science in Australia” have suffered the same fate as Roger Oxley. As have centres like Charleville Pastoral Laboratory which have gone from world class to non-existant.

  12. cohenite May 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    So the rot started with nifty; and nifty was eulogised as the last great Labor leader. He left a framework ripe for exploitation by the likes of Rudd; a classic case of the sins of the father utilised by the errant children.

  13. spangled drongo May 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    I hope you are right about the funding, Jen. I have already made a sub to govt about that. And the ABC.

    I can remember back to when they were a great asset to the country but sadly, in many cases today, they are becoming the Green Mindlessness.

  14. Debbie May 5, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    ‘Lost it’s way’ .
    Yep. Gotta agree.
    Bob FJ is correct. . .CSIRO and BoM and DPI and numerous other entities are responsible for excellent work and have often proved that when the FOCUS is clear via sensible, achievable policy . . .they can deliver.
    Since about the 80s. . .the offices and resources in our area have been progressively denuded. . .consequently we have lost excellent people and excellent/useful services. Many of those are now OS where they are appreciated.
    The FOCUS is now on training ‘experts’ & admin to be something like ‘tree police’ and instilling a vaguely misanthropic culture . . .especially when it applies to businesses that work with natural resources.
    The over riding mindset is that development and the enhancement of resources is BAAaaaaaad.
    The ‘Precautionary Principal’ has been somewhat hijacked by this mindset.
    I don’t particularly blame individuals who work in these different entities. . .they”re just filling their job descriptions.
    It is the political/cultural mindset that has altered the FOCUS.
    Robert often dubs them our ‘Green Betters’.
    They work almost exclusively by appealing to emotion and using dodgy statistics based on ridiculous assumptions. Those assumptions often demonstrate a gobsmacking ignorance about the ‘real’ environment/weather/climate.

  15. Beth Cooper May 5, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Re Debbie’s comment, a couple of interesting emails about the CSIRO.


  16. Neville May 5, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Don’t forget CSIRO’s Graeme Pearman and NASA’s Hansen were advisors for Gores AIT sci-fi nonsense. http://www.claxtonspeakers.com.au/speakers_profile/1322
    In fact at the time BOM and CSIRO both stated that Gore “had got the science about right.” What a load of godswollop.
    Now we know that the planet hasn’t warmed for at least 15 years or nearly 18 if you choose RSS. And there has been zip SS warming for much longer on most data bases as well.

    SLR has been decelerating in many recent studies and glacier retreat has been slowing since 1950. But we are still bombarded by alarmist drivel by these so called experts and some want us to increase our CO2 tax to 15 or 20 percent. And all to achieve zip change for thousands of years.

  17. Debbie May 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks for that link Beth.
    It is good to know that people with loads of credibility and experience in these fields have also spotted the basic problem and are prepared to articulate it.
    My mother often says that one of the smartest things we could do is make most of these academic experts spend at least one year in the field, making all the day to day decisions and bearing all the personal risks that are associated with those decisions.
    Her point?
    Their best talent seems to be demonstrating they have NO! (nada, zip, none!) understanding that they are spending OPM (other people’s money) and wasting OPT (other people’s time) .
    In general, people in my industry have attempted to nearly turn themselves inside out to deliver what’s been expected of them and to create a nationwide return on the investment that Australia has made.
    If we listened only to the ABC and the PR from entities like BoM and CSIRO in recent years we could be forgiven for believing that Australian Agriculture and related ‘value add’ agribusinesses are still operating in the dark ages and responsible for sending us all to an environmental hell.
    It is just nonsensical political rhetoric.
    The glass is more than half full!

  18. Neville May 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    Why did Mann’s HS nonsense receive so much support and promotion from the IPCC, MSM, pollies and so called scientific bodies all over the world?
    Here’s a 1998 study using direct measurements from the Greenland ice cores and it shows a distinct higher med WP and lower temps today.
    Just click on the link at the site to download the PR study.


  19. Neville May 5, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    Jo Nova has also taken the stick to the funding of modeled climate science for little return.


  20. Beth Cooper May 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    I’d say yer mother got it about right, Debbie. )
    … Those enclosed within the stone-walled-hive
    thrive on manufacturing a consensus view,
    whereas bees bring to their hives pollen from outside,
    stone-wall-denizens don’t believe in feed-back-loops,
    oh no, just getting their message to the troops outside,
    a product that sure ain’t honey.

  21. spangled drongo May 5, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    This might be the budget cuts heading their way:

    “The Australian Climate Change Science Program’s four-year funding of $31.6 million, mostly to the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, duplicates work by those and other agencies and “should be returned to the budget or allocated to priority areas”, the commission said in its report.”

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/climate-scientists-in-audit-commissions-crosshairs-20140504-zr46q.html#ixzz30q35iDIN

  22. Neville May 6, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    It seems that groups like the CSIRO are always trying to scare the electorate into doing something about CAGW.
    They’ve really tried to con us that we can mitigate the climate by introducing a co2 tax and we will have an impact on drought, SLR , floods, bushfires, the GBR, Kakadu, Greenland and Antarctic melting, polar bears etc.
    But one of the biggest scares is an increase in deaths from heatwaves, but it seems that the latest studies prove this problem has been declining for many years.

    Michaels and Knappenberger have written about this claim of extra deaths and found it to be false and have just added more studies that back them up.


    Lomborg also covered all these scares and found extreme exaggeration about many of these so called problems and a blatant disregard for the truth. More deaths from heatwaves was one of these so called problems that can easily be fixed ( and is ) by modern adaptation.
    Cold spells are the bigger threat by a factor of at least 7 to 1 compared to heatwaves. The largest study in the UK found a 10 to 1 difference between heatwave deaths and cold spells. In fact a warmer world will lower the number of deaths by a higher number compared to our present day.
    Only a week ago we were told that one third of the babies born today can expect to live to 100, so how does that compare to the scary scenarios above? BS conquers brains once again and they expect us to follow their stupidity.

  23. Neville May 6, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    It’s good to see another prominent scientist joining the GWPF and putting the boot into the IPCC and their fellow travellers. Science not politics will win this debate in the end. Hopefully Judith Curry may join GWPF as well.


  24. Neville May 6, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    Melbourne uni appoints another green alarmist and activist to the payroll. And he parrots Rudd’s delusional nonsense, what a joke.


  25. DaveW May 10, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    I hadn’t seen this video of Dr Art Raichie expounding on the decline of CSIRO before today, but it is excellent and entirely relevant to this post:


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