CSIRO responds to ‘disingenuous’ news story

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday November 18, 2019


Australia’s science agency has hit back at a recent article published in The Australian.

The story in question claimed departments and agencies engaged in contracts with Chinese government companies had upped their risk-­assessment procedures due to “heightened awareness” of foreign interference, and that the CSIRO, in particular, had established a committee in response to such interference.

But the CSIRO has argued the article was misleading, and it didn’t have any special arrangements for contracts with China.

“All contracts the CSIRO enters in to, in all countries, follow due diligence guidelines and are subject to risk and contract approval procedures,” it said in a statement. “To single out China is disingenuous.”

“CSIRO periodically reviews the guidelines and procedures (again, for all countries) to ensure improvements, where necessary, are made.

“The article also implies that the CSIRO’s Major Transaction Committee was recently set up, and was done so as a result of ‘heightened awareness over foreign influence’. This is incorrect. In fact the committee for this purpose was established in 2001 for all proposals which exceed financial or risk thresholds.”

The Australian noted that the agency had signed contracts with a number of Chinese research centres and institutes­, including making a three-year deal with the Chinese Academy of Sciences worth almost $1.6m for “intellect­ual property”, through which CSIRO engineers helped build the largest radio telescope dish in the world.

The agency pointed out that its terms of reference for the committee and intellectual property principles can be found online. 

The News Corp publication also referred back to one of its previous articles, in which it claimed a CSIRO chief research scientist and director of China engagement was linked to Beijing’s United Front Work Department, an agency of the Chinese Communist Party that runs overseas influence operations. 

The science agency did not respond to this, but did say it had no plans to halt its contracts with Chinese government companies.

“CSIRO has been successfully partnering with China for over 40 years and will continue to do so,” it said.

“CSIRO, through these partnerships and research collaborations, will continue to deliver great science not only for the benefit of Australia and all Australians, but for millions of people around the globe.”

It has come as the former prime minister Paul Keating slammed government agencies and the media for perpetuating an anti-China rhetoric, while the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s human rights partnership with China — the Human Rights Technical Co-operation Program — was suspended after more than two decades.

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