CSIRO boss ‘optimistic’ about jobs growth as agency reveals new COVID-19 research

By Shannon Jenkins

October 12, 2020

CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall.
CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The CSIRO has not made any significant cuts to its workforce during the coronavirus pandemic and is set to hire more full-time staff, according to agency head Larry Marshall.

The federal budget unveiled last week allocated an additional $460 million over the next four years to the CSIRO. The agency’s average staffing level was also increased by 100, according to the Canberra Times, which will allow it to boost its number of full-time equivalent staff to 5351.

In a briefing to staff earlier this year, Marshall forecast that CSIRO revenue could decline between $50-100 million, sparking concerns that there would be cuts to the agency. The CSIRO had also revealed that up to 40 jobs would be slashed from the CSIRO’s energy team, including key scientists, engineers, and researchers, which the union attributed to the ASL cap and budget cuts.

But on Friday Marshall told reporters the CSIRO hasn’t been forced to make any “significant reductions” as a result of the pandemic.

“Every year, we do make minor changes. But out of the 5500 people, over the last five years, our external revenue, our funding from the government and our number of people has fairly consistently grown, which by the way, is the first time that’s happened in over 25 years,” he said.

“But the way we employ people isn’t always as direct employees on our payroll, often we collaborate with universities, with people from students and professors. So our total workforce, generally, has continued to grow despite the pandemic.

“The pandemic will impact every business. It will reduce revenue. But I’m optimistic that if we’re smart about the areas that we invest in, and if you looked at the government’s manufacturing strategy, they’ve highlighted six areas where Australia really could be world-class and globally competitive, we’re really focussing our science on making those areas recover first, because that’s where we think we’ll get the most job growth and most economic growth.”

In June the CSIRO Staff Association noted the agency had recorded 5336 employees at May 31 2020 — a decrease of 579 from the 5915 employees at July 1 2019.

“While anecdotal evidence suggests that the non-renewal of specified term contracts amounted to a significant component of the losses, casual employment was slugged with the loss of more than 280 staff,” the union said.

“Outsourcing at CSIRO continues to grow with the latest numbers showing 425 staff employed as contractors or labour-hire, not counted for the purposes of calculating ASL.”

Agency staff have previously voiced concerns over the ASL cap, stating that the CSIRO has had to increase its outsourcing of jobs in order to fulfil its duties under the cap.

Read more: CSIRO staff reveal struggles under APS staff cap

In recent months CSIRO staff have been busy responding to COVID-19, and have been involved in vaccine testing, wastewater testing, and personal protective equipment manufacture and accreditation.

On Monday the agency revealed its researchers had found the virus responsible for COVID-19 can survive for up to 28 days on a number of common surfaces and in lower temperatures.

The research found that non-porous or smooth surfaces such as glass, stainless steel, vinyl and banknotes can allow SARS-CoV-2 to survive for longer.

Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness deputy director Dr Debbie Eagles said the virus was “extremely robust” at 20 degrees Celsius, surviving for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as the glass found on mobile phone screens.

“For context, similar experiments for Influenza A have found that it survived on surfaces for 17 days, which highlights just how resilient SARS-CoV-2 is,” she said.

“The research involved drying virus in an artificial mucus on different surfaces, at concentrations similar to those reported in samples from infected patients and then re-isolating the virus over a month. Further experiments were carried out at 30 and 40 degrees Celsius, with survival times decreasing as the temperature increased.”

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