CSIRO scientists protest 'unprecedented' job cuts

The protesters dressed in long lab coats. Their signs were scrawled with science puns. And they laughed while gathering for a group photo. "We're rubbish at this," one said teasingly.

Thursday's rally of more than 200 scientists at CSIRO Clayton was a far cry from the city-storming marches of Melbourne's trade unionists, but their attack on the Abbott government's deep budget cuts were just as fierce and their message was clear: "Our jobs, your future".

"We're cutting down manufacturing, we're losing car companies...we are supposed to be becoming a smart economy, but how can we when we're cutting science?" senior experimental scientist, David McCallum, said.

"Logically, it makes no sense."

CSIRO staff have held more than a dozen protest meetings nationally to voice their anger at the federal government's $115 million cut to Australia's premier scientific organisation.

The CSIRO stands to lose about 700 staff in the coming 2014-15 year, on top of 477 jobs already lost in the past 12 months.

Acting secretary of the CSIRO staff association, Michael Borgas, said the budget blow and the scale of jobs being axed was "unprecedented".

"It's no exaggeration to say the CSIRO faces a jobs crisis...we could be looking at the largest reduction in staffing at CSIRO in the organisation's history."

Some of the research areas to be hit include neuroscience, colourectal cancer, liquid fuels, renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, information technology and manufacturing research. Eight sites will be closed across the country.

Dr Borgas said the federal government needed to recognise that "investing our taxes and investing our business and research money is for the betterment of the country".

"This is just unacceptable to continue this ignorant approach of how we develop our nation," he said.

"We can't run on ideology or simple political slogans...we have to use our brains in this country to compete against a world that is growing fast - China and India are going to be massive competitors - but we are going to fall behind."

Mr McCallum, an employee of 30 years, said his team of process scientists and engineers - assisting small and medium-sized mining companies with chemical processing - had been shrinking for a decade, but funding cuts would force even more job cuts and restricted the work it could take on.

"Morale is at rock bottom," he said. "We have already cut all the dead wood but now we are cutting into the flesh and bones of the organisation.

"If we don't invest in the future, we're gone...things are really going to slow down."

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the government was investing strategically in science and research areas in areas of "national priority" that would bring long-term benefits.

He said CSIRO would receive $3 billion in government funding over four years.

"CSIRO has advised it is adopting a prudent approach to ensure the efficient delivery of scientific outcomes."

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The story CSIRO scientists protest 'unprecedented' job cuts first appeared on The Age.

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