Topics: Additional funding for CSIRO, Modern Manufacturing Strategy, Budget 2020-21
Karen Andrews: It’s an absolute pleasure to be here at CSIRO. This week, the Government has unveiled its plan for the economic recovery of this nation. Central to that, is a platform to make sure that we are creating the jobs that are needed now and the jobs of the future. And of course, we’ve made it very clear that science and technology are the key enablers of industry and they are the key enablers to make sure that industry leads our recovery. So we have demonstrated our commitment for years to science and technology here in Australia and one of the announcements in the budget was that there would be an additional $460 million to the CSIRO.
Now, also central to our strategy was the Modern Manufacturing Strategy. And a key part of that is making sure that science and technology support industry but also that industry engages very proactively with the likes of CSIRO to make sure that they capture all of the opportunity that is currently before us to build our industry, to create more jobs. Science and technology are absolutely integral to that. So I am delighted to be able to support CSIRO with an additional $460 million.
And I’ll invite the CEO Larry Marshall to say a few words.
Larry Marshall: Thanks so much, Minister, and wonderful to have you here at Black Mountain today. Can I just begin formally by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that we’re meeting here today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Minister, having grown up around properties, having grown up around business and in particular manufacturing, you have a unique understanding of the connection between science and technology and real world impact. And that’s what’s made it so powerful, not just this budget announcement, but the whole relationship between the Minister and this organisation. CSRIO exists to improve the quality of life for everyone in this country. And the most direct way we do that is by creating unique science and technology that creates jobs and economic benefit for all Australians.
And in this recovery from COVID-19, the manufacturing strategy that the Government has presented, CSIRO is proud and absolutely chomping at the bit to get behind and to support, because we know that the more we translate science off the lab bench, not just our science, but science from 39 great Australian universities as well, the more we translate that science into real world products and real world impact, the more jobs stay in this country, don’t go offshore; the more products get made in this country through the manufacturing strategy rather than being imported from offshore, and that gives us jobs and economic growth.
And it’s amazing when you see science embodied in something like this, the phenoMobile® Lite and it is phenomenal because it combines advanced genetics, hard agriculture science, plant breeding, but also robotics, automation and even primitive artificial intelligence to help farmers figure out how to make their crops more successful, how to use less water, how to use less fertiliser, how to grow crops faster, and how to get more growing seasons and more years out of a single field. Anything that we can do to improve their sustainability, automatically improves their profitability, which means we get economic growth and environmental benefit. And that’s what this organisation is all about; science to deliver real impact for you.
Now, the Minister has helped us broaden our thinking around the level of impact, and you’ve seen us engage in a way perhaps we haven’t quite done before with industry. For example, during this current pandemic, we actually put our scientist not just out into agricultural fields, but actually onto shop floors and factories to help manufacturers figure out how to shift from making product that were doing originally to something that Australia badly needed, like protective medical equipment or surgical masks.
Our scientists love that kind of engagement because they learn as much from the manufacturers and the workers on the shop floor as those workers and manufacturers learn from us about science. And, again, that’s what this organisation is all about, bringing science into the real world and making it change the lives of every Australian. And I’ll just finish by reminding you, you may not think we’ve changed your life, but if you have a cell phone, then you’ll have Wi-Fi from CSIRO in your pocket. If you have polymer bank notes in your pocket, you’ll have some science from CSIRO, and if you’re wearing a woollen suit with a permanent pleat, or if you wash wool in Softly, then you’ve already had your life changed by CSIRO. Thank you so much. Thank you, Minister, and this support is so important to help us drive the economic recovery.
Karen Andrews: Thank you very much, Larry. And how good is CSIRO, they are really doing some fantastic work here, so a big shout out to them and everyone who works here at CSIRO. So, we’re happy to take questions.
Question: Minister, CSIRO was saying this morning on the radio that there was, with the vaccine that we’re expecting, it’s likely that there’s not going to be one vaccine, it’s going to have to shift and change with, as the virus mutates. Will that impact Australia’s economic recovery?
Karen Andrews: Well, CSIRO has clearly been doing a lot of work with vaccines and I’ll ask Larry Marshall to add to my comments here. And I absolutely support the work that they are doing, and clearly they have identified some of the risks and some of the issues associated with developing a vaccine. We know that there is a world race to develop a vaccine, that there a number that are well developed and well progressed in their trials. But there is still some way to go, we do know that there are some mutations and there are some papers that deal with that. But I’ll ask Larry to add some more detail to that, specifically in response to the work that CSIRO is doing.
Larry Marshall: Thanks, Minister. So, we published work just this week on that issue, and we do obviously know a lot about the current vaccines and also the virus. But we’re only publishing things once they’ve been fully peer reviewed, and that’s because there’s so much confusion in the market out there, so we want to be absolutely certain before we say anything. So, really, what I will say is we’ve shown that the vaccines we’ve tested will work with the different strains of the virus, and between the two variants that you talked about, the vaccine will work there. It’s not like the flu where you get this continual reshuffling of the type of – and you need to keep changing the vaccine. So, we’re very optimistic that what we’ve tested will work very well, and I think all Australians should take some comfort in that.
Question: Larry, while you’re up there, could you- obviously, we went through that horrific bushfire season only a few months ago, it’s only been overshadowed by COVID. What will this funding go towards, in terms of climate change research?
Larry Marshall: So, not so much the climate change, because we- believe me, we probably know more than we ever wanted to about climate change, much more about what do we do about it? What interventions can we make so that we can adapt to it? Because remember, if Australia turned off its emissions today, nothing would happen. In fact, if the world turned off its emissions tomorrow, we would still be living with the impacts of climate change throughout this century. So, we have to figure out how to adapt, and how to become more resilient. Now, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reduce emissions – we are. And Australia actually is doing, I think, better than many other parts of the world in that. We have science and technology that we think can really accelerate that even more. But no matter how well we do on reduction, until the rest of the world really starts to reduce, we’re going to be living with these impacts for many decades. So, we’ve really got to figure out how to optimise our crop yields, how to reduce our use of water. We live on the driest continent on the planet, we’ve got to use science and technology to be smarter about how we adapt to climate change.
Question: Have you got any examples, just for the people at home, that might be a bit more relatable to the layman, I guess?
Larry Marshall: So, one that the Minister is very fond of, and has supported us very strongly in, is called Future Feed. So, if cattle were a country, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse emissions after China, the US and then cattle. It’s very hard to reduce emissions in the cattle industry, but we developed a food supplement – you put one per cent of this supplement into cattle feed, and it reduces the emissions by more than 80 per cent, in some cases completely eliminates them. So, for Australia, cattle is 10 per cent of our emissions; imagine basically turning that into two per cent. And that’s one example of a piece of science that we’ve now got out into the market, and created an Australian company to go take that to the world. If we can successfully get China and the US using this product, it will reduce their emissions, which are much bigger than ours, and that will have a huge impact on global emissions.
Question: Dr Marshall, earlier in the year, CSIRO was expecting a $50 to $100 million hit from the coronavirus pandemic. What has that financial hit been so far? Will this extra money go to plug that gap that you were expecting? And how many staff have you had to let go this year because of the financial impacts?
Larry Marshall: So CSIRO does continually shift its capability and that’s because the market is continually shifting. So the types of scientists we need, do change year to year, and that’s changing faster with changes in technology. But to specifically answer your question, we haven’t made any significant reductions. 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. 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. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to dive our recovery.
Question: Minister, has the Government indemnified Oxford and Queensland Universities against any adverse effects that might come from their vaccines?
Karen Andrews: Look, the details of that really need to be addressed through the Health Minister. My role in the vaccines is to work with the CSIRO, to work with industry to make sure that we have the manufacturing capability here in Australia to be able to deliver this. But what I can say is that we will make sure that we do everything that we possibly can to deliver a vaccine that is safe and that we can deliver it in the minimum sensible time that it is available to do so. Clearly, vaccine work takes a number of years to fully develop in many cases. We have done all that we can to fast track that because of the urgency that we are currently experiencing. But in terms of specific questions in relation to contractual matters, that needs to go to the Minister for Health.
Question: Do you think it’s fair for the Government to indemnify them? Because it’s going to make it harder for every day Australians to claim for compensation if things do go wrong.
Karen Andrews: Look, my focus on the vaccines, as I have said, is really on the manufacturing capability here in Australia. And I can say about our manufacturing capability, is that it is going ahead in absolute leaps and bounds. Our manufacturers significantly stepped up during the COVID crisis. We have had incredibly positive feedback about the manufacturing strategy that we have announced, particularly the key priorities, the national manufacturing sectors that we have announced, clearly of which, agriculture is one of them, with food and beverage. So, we are working hard to deliver for Australians to create the jobs that we actually need. And I think you should contrast with what Labor actually did last night. Labor’s announcement actually failed the pub test. They promised a shandy, when in fact, we need a full strength. So- and in fact, throughout the Labor leader’s speech last night, he did not mention science once, which I think is a particularly disappointing outcome. It’s disappointing for CSIRO. It’s disappointing for Australia because, quite frankly, he missed the mark.
Question: Arguably, having better child care access, though, could get more women working in areas like science and technology. Don’t you think that’s a positive development?
Karen Andrews: Child care is something that affects families, quite frankly, and I would have expected that there would have been a greater focus in their reply last night on creating the jobs of the future. What really came out from them was some sort of a positioning strategy, or an attempt at a positioning strategy, but all it did was position them for years in Opposition.
Question: You don’t think it’s positive that they are trying to encourage workforce participation of women?
Karen Andrews: We have committed $9.2 million dollars to child care. The reforms that we have put in place have actually driven down the out of pocket costs, but we are focussed on creating jobs. We want women back into jobs, absolutely. And child care is an important part of that. But you have to make sure that you create the jobs first.