Home > CSIRO in Australia: looking to the future

CSIRO in Australia: looking to the future

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Taxi drivers often ask me what I do for a living, and when I say I work for CSIRO, they get animated and show they know and love us: “Yes, you did Wi-Fi and the plastic money.”

It’s only part of the story of the organisation that has been pushing the edge of what’s possible for more than 85 years.

We partner with more than 1,800 Australian and 440 overseas companies every year to help them find ways to create new products, save money and improve productivity. We’re Australia’s largest patent holder and can boast more than 728 inventions.

We have more than 5,000 talented and dedicated people working all around Australia and internationally. Collectively, our innovation and excellence places us in the top ten applied research agencies in the world. We’re the people behind Relenza flu medicine, Aerogard, BarleyMAX cereal, the Hendra vaccine and much more.

But we won’t remain Australia’s most trusted brand in science and technology if we stand still while the rest of the world continues to invest in R&D at a great pace. We’re on a future building path and people are interested in learning more about the strategy for our organisation and about the recent federal budget funding and what that means for CSIRO – so I’d like to share the facts.

As you may be aware, we’re introducing a new structure across CSIRO to help make it easier for people to do business with us and to make it easier for our staff to deliver science that makes a difference. From July 2014, CSIRO will have three lines of business:

  1. national facilities and collections
  2. impact science: including a new Flagship portfolio
  3. services: including education, publishing, infrastructure technologies, small and medium enterprise (SME) engagement and CSIRO Futures.

I announced details about these changes in early 2014 in response to feedback from our staff and from external stakeholders and industry. This will differentiate CSIRO as one of the most multidisciplinary applied research organisations in the world, and will boost our position as a provider of innovation services to industry, including Australian SMEs. The new organisational structure will be even more focused on the big challenges that face the nation.

As part of the changes we’ve also reviewed our property footprint across the country, much of which is getting old and therefore expensive to run. In fact, we have more than 1,100 buildings around Australia. It’s a cost that, if left unmanaged, could result in funds being diverted away from science to pay for maintenance. That’s why we’re planning changes such as grouping staff together instead of having lots of buildings spread out in the same city.

Our priority is to consolidate capital city sites. This is already happening in Clayton in Victoria and in Black Mountain in Canberra. My focus is making sure we can direct as much money as possible into our science and that our scientists have the right facilities, connected with our collaborators as far as possible.

Since announcing the structural changes at CSIRO, we’ve also received details about our funding from the federal government as part of the 2014-2015 budget.

We will see a funding reduction of A$114.8m over the next four years. CSIRO’s federal funding is only part of our overall budget. Around 40% comes from our external co-investment and consulting revenue income. We are seeing pressures in that income especially in the manufacturing, resources and energy sectors.

We were pleased to see the investment in knowledge infrastructure for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) as well as the Australia-China Science and Research Fund, and for CSIRO A$65.7m to operate the new research vessel, RV Investigator, was most welcome.

We will await the progress of the new Medical Research Future Fund and the mechanisms for funding particularly in relation to CSIRO’s work in food and nutrition, e-health, biomedical manufacturing and vaccines and therapeutics for viruses coming from animals which are important areas for our Flagships and integrated health strategy.

During this time of change, we’re determined to deliver on our existing commitments to our industry partners and we’ll continue to deliver our ground-breaking science and partnerships that are critical for this nation. We are the leading commercialisation organisation in Australia with more than 150 spin-off companies, more than 280 active licences for our technologies and our researchers in business.

We will continue to work and collaborate in 80 countries and with more than 2,000 companies and we will use our strength and reputation to build our collaborations and take Australian companies into global supply chains.

CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency, and we’re here for the long haul.

This piece first appeared in The Conversation. To see the original version, click here.

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