CSIRO launches co-developed missions program to overcome Australia’s biggest challenges

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday August 13, 2020

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The CSIRO has launched a missions-led strategy to solve some of Australia’s most pressing issues by working with the government, universities, industry and the community in a “Team Australia approach”.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall thanked the CSIRO staff, universities, government departments, and frontline workers who have worked to overcome the challenges posed by the bushfires and COVID-19.

He reflected on how their collective effort could be harnessed for the future, as part of the new missions program.

“As we look into the future and our road to recovery, there are some big challenges that we must take on that are, frankly, larger than any one group and larger than any one organisation. We can only tackle these challenges together as Team Australia,” he said.

“If it’s to find a vaccine for COVID-19, flatten the curve and contain the disease, have sparked an unprecedented level of collaboration between research, industry, government and communities. All working in their own way to achieve our common goal. If we can harness this level of collaboration and good will and focus it on a mission of recovery and resilience, we can accelerate our recovery, create new jobs and grow our economy back.”

The CSIRO has identified six challenges for the nation to overcome, relating to food security and quality, health and wellbeing, resilient and valuable environments, sustainable energy and resources, future industries, and a secure region.

To address these challenges, the agency plans to direct $100 million annually to the co-creation of various missions, including to increase Australia’s resilience and preparedness against pandemics, and to mitigate the impact of drought, bushfires and floods.

Other missions include addressing the growing resistance to antibiotics, establishing a national climate capability to “navigate climate change uncertainty”, creating a hydrogen industry to generate a new clean energy export industry, and using technology to navigate Australia’s transition to net zero emissions without “derailing” the economy.

Speeding up the transition to agile manufacturing, helping farmers, safeguarding the health of waterways and ending plastic waste are also listed.

Industry, science and technology minister Karen Andrews, CSIRO chair David Thodey, Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, Australian National University vice chancellor Dr Brian Schmidt, and shadow science minister Brendan O’Connor have all voiced support for the program.

In his speech, Marshall argued that the past 30 years of economic growth has “lulled us into a false sense of security”, and business investment into research and development has declined. He also described Australian science as “just a raw commodity”, as it has often been shipped overseas to be commercialised there, rather than here.

O’Connor said the speech raised a number of challenges faced by scientists, and argued that cuts to the CSIRO and to research and development would “hamper Australia’s long-term economic recovery” from the pandemic.

“Unfortunately scientists and evidence are not sufficiently valued by some sections of the Morrison government, posing a grave danger for Australia’s future. Let me be very clear, undermining science has taken various forms under Liberals, including cutting staff at the CSIRO, the very organisation now testing vaccines for the coronavirus, and sending them to the Centrelink queues,” he said.

“This government has been silent when it comes to increasing concerns from scientists and professional researchers that they are facing job cuts, insecure work, and wage freezes. They have refused to give universities any support during this crisis, despite up to 30,000 jobs estimated to be slashed. They resort to marketing the importance of STEM students and workers, however their changes to universities will make it harder and more expensive to study.

“Despite the obvious importance of research and development in the race to establish, manufacture and distribute a vaccine, this government remains committed to slashing nearly $2 billion from the R&D Tax Incentive, hurting Australian researchers and manufacturers in the private sector.”

Read more: Public servants across Australia hit with pay freezes, job cuts


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