October, 2018

CSIRO risking international ridicule over cuts to water and climate research

A CSIRO scientist says the decision to axe 350 staff has caused chaos and witch-hunts within the organisation. Canberra Entomologist Dr Philip Spradbery is shocked at the changes in the Black Mountain site and describes the mood among staff as a ‘morgue’. Photo: Rohan Thomson
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One of the world’s three major atmospheric greenhouse gas recording stations at Cape Grim is under threat.

The atmosphere at CSIRO’s Black Mountain laboratories is “mutinous”, a current scientist says.

“This is an attack on public good science and core CSIRO values.”

The scientist is enraged about the proposed inexplicable cuts to the scientific organisation’s flagship programs on climate change and water. And the mood among staff will get much worse unless Malcolm Turnbull is prepared to reverse the cuts.

About 350 staff will go over two years, with deep cuts in the Oceans and Atmosphere division and the Land and Water division.

“The organisation is in chaos and IT witch-hunts of staff ‘leaking’ or dissenting are in progress, apparently,” the scientist says, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

CSIRO chief Larry Marshall, a physics-trained, long-time Silicon Valley entrepreneur, made the abrupt decision to axe staff.

Resources saved are to be devoted instead to dealing with climate mitigation – cutting greenhouse gases – and adapting to the inevitable impacts.

The argument is that the focus should shift away from climate change research and data collection because the question of global warming has been “settled”.

However, many scientists argue it’s critical to keep watching and measuring.

The focus of the media coverage is the cuts to climate science. But scientists say the cuts of land and water science are even more serious and these cuts affect Canberra most.

CSIRO was already being criticised for making redundant the bulk of its globally respected optics team, which a US scientist said made a “phenomenal” contribution to the search for gravitational waves.

Around the world the backlash against the job cuts is fierce – the international scientific community is aghast that Australia is preparing to abrogate its role as the eyes and ears in the southern hemisphere.

Almost 3000 scientists from nearly 60 nations signed a petition calling on Australia to halt the CSIRO’s plans to halve the number of researchers working on climate monitoring and modelling.

Australia’s ability to assess future risks and plan for climate change adaptation “crucially depends” on maintaining this research capacity, they said.

Is it really that bad?

Well, consider this: how does a row about a scientific organisation in Australia produce a scathing article in the New York Times?

It says Australia’s science agency’s decision to lay off 350 researchers and shift the organisation’s focus to more commercial enterprises threatens the work done at the Cape Grim monitoring station and “climate studies around the world”.

This week, as the row over the cuts continued, young scientists from around the country descended on Canberra for the annual Science meets Parliament where they line up meetings with their local backbenchers and then are shocked by the school yard antics of Question Time.

As part of the week, Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel delivered the Wednesday speech at the National Press Club where he admitted “a lot of effort” was needed to maintain the nation’s climate research capacity following the restructure at CSIRO.

Fairfax Media went to former heads of CSIRO and other long-serving and retired staff in Canberra to gauge the implications of the cuts.

Former CSIRO senior scientist Dr Philip Spradbery says the Black Mountain site is “like a morgue”.

Spradbery has been practicing science for more than half a century and operated a wasp awareness hotline for the ACT government from his Yarralumla home’s laboratory.

The entomologist worked for CSIRO for four decades including 20 years at the Black Mountain site where he witnessed staff morale decline.

The cuts targeted high earning senior researchers but appeared to leave administration unscathed, he says.

“What’s been happening is the really good people were the ones being given the pat on the back and told it’s time to go. I’ve got nothing against the bureaucrats but it seemed to some of us scientists that it would end up with a laboratory full of administrators and not a single scientist, no lab coats at all.”

He left and established XCS consulting “with all these ex-CSIRO scientists who were being given the boot or invited to leave”.

Visiting the national insect collection recently, he was struck by the changes at the Black Mountain site.

“The mood – quite honestly, the word I used to describe it to colleagues was, a morgue, not a nice word to use but it was very unpopulated, very few people around. It seemed to lack any vibrancy. In the old days you’d be bumping into people in corridors all the time,” he says.

“I think it’s a function of the number of staff who have gone and the people who remain are few and far between.”

Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe of Hackett, one of Australia’s most famous wildlife scientists, says in CSIRO’s first 50 years, its discoveries were worth many times more to Australia than the money invested in it.

“Science is about understanding the unknown; business is about exploiting the known,” he says.

“As a businessman, Larry Marshall thinks we now know sufficient about climate change and CSIRO must redirect its resources towards mitigation. He is wrong.

“It is imperative that CSIRO continue to study what is happening in the Southern Ocean as profound changes begin in the Antarctic ice sheets and glaciers.

“These are the great unknowns – even unknown unknowns – that we ignore at our peril. While mitigation is important, it is more the province of politics and law than first order science.

“Since the business model for CSIRO has so comprehensively failed, the government should seriously consider restoring the structure that worked so well for so long.”

Max Whitten, former chief of CSIRO Entomology, says the finest piece of taxonomic detective work ever conducted by the division was to solve the riddle of gum tree scribbles.

“Until then it was still a complete enigma for children and their parents ever since Snugglepot and Cuddlepie popularised the scribbles,” he says.

“[This is] stupendous science, stupendous outcome, cultural enrichment for the taxpayer by humble scientists finally deciphering nature’s message stick!”

Nationally-recognised author Clive Hamilton who is based at Charles Sturt University’s Canberra campus, says the CSIRO cuts have been noticed around the world and have caused great consternation in the global climate science community.

“People have been emailing me asking ‘What’s going on there? We thought things would change under Prime Minister Turnbull, but they are getting worse’,” he told Fairfax Media.

“At the Paris climate conference last December the world community united for the first time to get serious about global warming. But Australia is slashing its expertise at the same time as our carbon emission are growing.

“It’s clear from his email to staff that Larry Marshall doesn’t have a clue about climate science – yet he is the chief of this country’s premier scientific research body.”

Dr Graeme Pearman, chief of atmospheric research at CSIRO for a decade, says climate scientists believe the plan to shift the investment in their research from the physical and dynamical impacts of climate change to adapting to these changes, is “absurd”.

“Given the state of current scientific knowledge of what to expect globally or regionally with global warming, physical climate research must go hand-in-hand with choices-risk management-policies related to how we respond with emissions reduction efforts and adaptation to change,” he says.

“But this announcement is consistent with a concerning trend in Australia’s investment in science often reflecting the ideological view that all we need to do is to invest in science that is likely to reap economic wealth and somehow the ‘good life’ will follow.

“It also highlights the surreptitious loss of independence of CSIRO and its capacity to set a research portfolio reflective of the wider needs of the Australian community now and in the longer term, independent of the transitory notions of individual CEOs, ministers or governments.”

Long-term CSIRO watcher Julian Cribb says the latest round of cuts is a tragedy.

He was a journalist at The Australian before working in public affairs at the science organisation.

“It’s a very hasty decision to cut a whole lot of public good science in favour of science that’s really just rats and mice, dollar-funded science, short term, low rent science basically,” he says.

“Clearly that’s what the chief executive of CSIRO wants now is to transform the organisation from being a public good institution which is what its act proclaims it is, into really something that just does panel beating for industry.

“The CSIRO has always been an industrial research organisation but it’s always had a very strong mission to do public good science and if you think about soil, water and climate, those three things are utterly crucial to Australians inhabiting this continent for the next 1000 years – to cut them out is basically saying, we don’t want to understand our own continent.”

Cribb says the global backlash against the cuts is because Australia is the eyes in the southern hemisphere of the international scientific community.

“Of all the countries in the southern hemisphere, we are the one who has the skills, the equipment and the experience to measure, understand and monitor what’s going on with the climate,” he says.

“You can’t just study half the planet – the thing about climate change is you have to study the whole thing – so we are an important cog in the machine of climate understanding, world wide. And to take that out is an affront to climate science worldwide.”

Cribb sees the cuts as an attempt to appeal to the anti-climate faction within the government.

“I think they find it easy to sacrifice that part of science because it doesn’t have much of a political constituency within the government. There are no Liberal backbenchers springing to their feet, waving a sheaf of notes about it and protesting about it because they’re very poorly educated, they just don’t understand climate change, so it’s an easy decision to make.”

He says CSIRO scientists have done outstanding work on drought and the Murray-Darling Basin plan.

“Our understanding of drought and how to manage water when we get serious drought is down to CSIRO – and here we are wiping that out. That’s a dreadful decision, it really is a dreadful decision.”

He warns Australia is in serious danger of dismantling its water science.

“We’re losing our ability to manage our own water into the future, there is no more precious resource in Australia,” he says.

“So this is a really foolish decision, to take down land and water science and likewise with climate, the two are interwoven.

“The climate people who’ve got the bullet are modellers, modellers don’t make you a lot of money.

“It’s for the nation and it’s for perpetuity, it’s knowledge that will be used one hundred and a thousand years from now, it’s got almost infinite value for Australia and here we are, cutting it off at the knees.

“Once you’ve axed a whole area of science, you’ve destroyed it root and branch … you’ve lost all the knowledge, you’ve lost the experience, you’ve lost the deep wisdom that you had, it’s like book burning in medieval times.

“Once you’ve destroyed your knowledge, it’s very, very hard to start up again from ground zero.

“For Australia to damage itself in this one area of science is like Australia deciding to put out one of its eyes.

As a member of the taxpaying Australian public who funds CSIRO, I say Larry Marshall has not the right to do that with our science.”

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Vatican critic Francesca Chaouqui has harsh words for Cardinal Pell

Cardinal George Pell reads a statement after a meeting at Rome’s Quirinale hotel with the victims of child sex abuse on Thursday. Photo: Marco Di Lauro Francesca Chaouqui also known as “Lady Vatican” at her house in Rome this week. Photo: Marco Di Lauro
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Child Sex Abuse Royal Commission: Full coverage’Una Bomba’ points finger at Cardinal PellResigning would be an admission of guilt: Pell

Rome: A controversial figure at the centre of Rome’s “Vatileaks 2.0” scandal claims Cardinal George Pell influenced and hurried the work of a Vatican reform commission to secure himself a job in the Holy See, far from the royal commission dogging the church in Australia.

However the cardinal has denied that he sought the job in order to insulate himself from fallout of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

A spokesperson said Cardinal Pell’s “strong record of tackling incompetence, corruption and cover-up in Church life in Australia is precisely the reason he was asked to come to Rome to implement the Holy Father’s reforms”.

Francesca Chaouqui​, who currently faces trial over the leaking of secret documents revealing mismanagement, waste and power struggles at the Vatican, spoke exclusively to Fairfax Media this week, while the cardinal faced royal commission questioning over the protection of paedophile Catholic priests in Victoria.

Ms Chaouqui – dubbed “the Pope’s lobbyist” and attacked as “the sexy bombshell that embarrasses the Vatican” in the Italian press – was a member of the Vatican reform commission COSEA, established by Pope Francis in mid-2013.

She claims a February 2014 papal letter decreeing the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy, which Cardinal Pell leads, was written by the cardinal and two other men behind closed doors at Domus Australia, the Catholic Diocese of Sydney’s base in Rome and the cardinal’s home away from home. Cardinal Pell was later named the Pope’s chief of economic reform, prefect to the new secretariat.

Ms Chaouqui says she obviously cannot say, with certainty, that Cardinal Pell’s arrival in the Vatican State was connected to his desire to leave Australia.

“However, it seems evident that now that he is here, life is much easier for him,” she said. “He occupies an extremely important role in the Vatican State, which he will not renounce easily … and he has obtained the much-desired Vatican passport.

“No one can touch him now. The cardinal is serene; Australia is far away.”

Fairfax Media is not claiming that Cardinal Pell’s motive was to avoid facing the commission – indeed, he gave evidence to the commission from Rome this week.

But a Vatileaks-related book published last year claimed that from early 2013 Cardinal Pell was intent on securing a position in the Vatican – and his detractors were spreading rumours that he was “fleeing the aggressive investigation being conducted by the Australian royal commission.”

Ms Chaouqui says that, given the cardinal’s baggage, and the accusations against him, he was the wrong choice for the job of driving reform in the Vatican.

“I feared for the reform, I feared that with this situation Pell would no longer have the strength or authority to manage a new structure like the Secretariat for the Economy,” she said.

Ms Chaouqui is now awaiting trial, accused of leaking confidential COSEA documents to the Italian media.

COSEA’s recommendations led to the Pope’s announcement in February 2014 of Cardinal Pell’s appointment as the newly created Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Ms Chaouqui compared this to a “coup d’etat”.

“He was like an ‘ombre’, a shadow over our [COSEA] commission,” she told Fairfax Media. Cardinal Pell told commission secretary Monseigneur Lucio Balda to “do it very very fast, to organise the Secretariat of the Economy”.

“The focus is, I am thinking, to come very fast [from] Australia. The work of the commission had not finished yet and we had to do everything very, very fast.

“He would call Balda three times a day, he was in such a hurry that that was not normal … it’s not a studied thing but it is to create this organ and to [bring] Cardinal Pell here.

“Initially I am happy because I think this is a way to clean up the Vatican.”

She scoffed at Cardinal Pell’s claim, on the steps of the abuse royal commission’s hearing this week, to have the full support of the Pope.

“If [the Pope] backed him, Pell would not have had to testify from a hotel in Italy but would have been allowed to do this from one of the 1000 rooms at the Vatican,” she said.

Ms Chaouqui’s claims are partly corroborated in a recent book, Merchants in the Temple by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi​ – one of Ms Chaouqui’s co-accused in the Vatileaks 2.0 trial.

Nuzzi wrote that Cardinal Pell “arrived quietly in the Holy See in the [northern] spring of 2013 with the intention of playing an important role on Francis’ team”.

“He guessed correctly the new climate that the Pope wanted to bring into the Curia and he wanted to play a central role in the project of restructuring the Vatican.

“Pell’s detractors claimed that the Cardinal had a single objective in those weeks: to obtain for himself a post in the Apostolic Palace and leave Sydney behind, thereby fleeing the aggressive investigation being conducted by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.”

Fairfax Media put a series of questions regarding Ms Chaouqui’s and Nuzzi’s claims to Cardinal Pell’s representatives on Thursday.

In response, a spokesperson for Cardinal Pell said he continues to have the support of the Holy Father.

“Implementation of the economic reforms recommended by COSEA and approved by the Holy Father in early 2014 is proceeding well and all is on target.

“The work on the Holy Father’s reforms continue to receive strong support from within the Curia and around the world.”

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Our pick of what’s showing on the big screen

The Leopard: One of the greatest of costume dramas. Photo: Supplied The Future: A cautionary tale for hipsters. Photo: Supplied
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Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable in How to Marry a Millionaire. Photo: Supplied

THE LEOPARD (187 minutes) M

Set shortly before the unification of Italy, Luchino Visconti’s​ lavish 1963 adaptation of the novel by Giuseppe de Lampedusa​ is one of the greatest of costume dramas. Burt Lancaster plays a disillusioned Sicilian aristocrat forced to accept social change and his own mortality as he helps arrange a marriage for his ambitious nephew (Alain Delon). Digitally projected. Astor, tomorrow, 2pm.


This small-scale story about a pair of married documentary makers (Stanislas Merhar and Clotilde Courau) is faster and lighter than most films by Philippe Garrel, the great melancholic of French cinema. But it has his knack of making everything feel immediate yet timeless, and his conviction that love and betrayal are the central facts of life. Screens as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. Palace Westgarth, today, 6.30pm.

THE FUTURE (91 minutes) M

Narrated by a crippled cat named Paw Paw, Miranda July’s 2011 cautionary tale for hipsters is couched in her usual faux-naif idiom, but proves at least as poignant and unsettling as it is fey. Hamish Linklater an d July herself play a couple in their mid-thirties counting down the last moments before they’re forced to grow up. 35-millimetre print. ACMI, today, 5pm. Screens with July’s 2001 short Getting Stronger Every Day.


A glamorous production in CinemaScope and Technicolour, Jean Negulesco’s 1953 romantic comedy now looks like a forerunner to Sex and the City. Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and, most memorably, Marilyn Monroe star as a trio of gal pals who rent a luxury Manhattan penthouse and set about reeling in wealthy men. Digitally projected. Astor, tomorrow, 7pm. Double feature with Niagara.

THEEB (96 minutes) M

This engrossing adventure story from Jordanian writer-director Naji Abu Nowar takes place in the remote Wadi Rum desert during World War I, and is seen through the eyes of a Bedouin boy (non-professional Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) who, like the viewer, is partly in the dark about the meaning of what occurs. Selected.

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Top picks for games, free-to-air TV and DVDs including Far Cry Primal

Illicit secrets: Le Plaisir. Photo: Supplied Tom Hardy portrays the twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray in the film Legend. Photo: Supplied
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Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeff Bridges in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Photo: Supplied

Prehistoric menace in Far Cry Primal.

Richard Ayoade and Kathy Burke take on Barcelona in Travel Man.



A brilliant idea – a first-person-shooter set in prehistoric times – but does it actually play well? That’s been the pre-release fear around the latest Far Cry release, a series that has previously focused heavily on modern weaponry, explosions and mechanised transportation. In Primal, your character is a chap called Takkar, and he basically gets a club and a bow-and-arrow with which to fight mammoths, cannibals and sabre-toothed tigers. And it’s hilarious! The Far Cry games have always been beautifully constructed, and not only is this the most detailed yet, you spend a lot of time walking around in it – creeping towards objectives, finding animals to hunt or tame, or just staying alive (which is a much bigger factor than in previous games, since the landscape is filled with things that want to eat you). Highly recommended. AH FREE-TO-AIR


Many have tried to combine the travelogue genre with comedy, but few have come close to Travel Man, in which The IT Crowd and Gadget Man’s Richard Ayoade, who finds travel tedious, attempts a series of 48-hour getaways with a different guest companion each week. Tonight he’s in Barcelona with actor and comic Kathy Burke, starting with the Barcelona Football Club Museum, about which Ayoade feels it’s his duty “to pour scorn on in a glib manner”. Which he does, of course, hilariously. Then they’re off to a cava tasting as he’s determined the two of them experience “art, theatrical food and vertigo as we pretend to guide you through a Catalonian mini-break”. They dutifully visit the Miro Foundation gallery (“Does f–k all for me,” says Burke) and attempt a degustation by one of the city’s leading experimental chefs (a highlight), while Burke tries to keep it together as Ayoade’s one-liners (cleverly snark-free), come thick and fast. More comedy than genuine travel guide, you might glean a few tips for you next holiday, but watching Ayoade’s dry, deadpan critique is as good as any mini-break. KN



A cosmopolitan master who worked in Germany, France and the US, Max Ophuls​ is famous for his lengthy, elegant tracking shots; just as distinctive is his use of deep focus, which often gives the sensation of spying on illicit secrets. In combination, these techniques have a subtly diminishing, distorting effect, making society resemble a wind-up music box where figures move on predestined paths. Inspired by the late-19th-century writing of Guy de Maupassant, this trilogy of short stories portrays a world where transgression is regulated by custom, and sincerity and cynicism are permanently intertwined. As usual with Ophuls, the camera itself is caught up in the action – revolving with the dancers at a fashionable ball, hovering outside the windows of a provincial brothel, or following a pair of quarrelling lovers from a discreet distance. The implication of this incessant movement is that even the most heartfelt feelings rarely last long; askew angles and crowded compositions reinforce a mood both exhilarating and oppressive, with mirrors, jewels and works of art used as emblems of glittering falsity and of desire bent into constraining forms. JW DVD


I could have easily pulled the trigger and shot this double-headed gangster flick dead with a shot between the eyes in the first five minutes. The British accents seemed exaggerated, and it took a while to get into the rhythm of the language. But it’s worth sticking with it. Otherwise, you would miss Aussie actor Emily Browning making the most of a complex role as Frances Shea, a young  woman who married Reggie Kray, one-half of the dangerous Kray Twins (the other being Ronnie, who was eventually diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic). And  you wouldn’t have been able to study Tom Hardy’s technique of playing the roles of both brothers, who ruled London’s East End in the 1960s with tailored suits and violent tactics. While the violence is brutal and the plotline laboured, there are some standout moments, including a rollicking fight between the Kray brothers.  JK DVD


This 1988 romantic drama is a smooth jazz cover version of a plot that goes back to the earliest days of Hollywood, about a couple of would-be hardboiled guys and the woman who comes between them. Real-life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges play the duo of the title, who scrape a living with corny piano duets in Seattle nightclubs; Michelle Pfeiffer is the gum-chewing broad who joins the act and takes it to a new level of success until, inevitably, everything falls apart. Written and directed by newcomer Steve Kloves​ when he was still in his 20s, the film has an assurance beyond many more experienced filmmakers: the dialogue is witty and economical, Michael Ballhaus’ soft-edged photography brings out the glamour of grimy alleys and cheap hotel rooms, and the dreamy mood is sustained right to the beautifully understated final shot. But the talent behind the camera would go to waste if not for the stars – especially Pfeiffer, whose fragile beauty is matched by a wispy but potent singing voice, and Jeff Bridges, who shows a lack of vanity almost unique in an actor playing an emotionally unavailable hunk.  JW

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Industrial asset sales reach $5b

Despite volatility in global financial markets, the Australian industrial market is tipped to remain robust in 2016. Investors have poured more than $5 billion into the industrial property market in the past 12 months and as much again is tipped as several deals are completed.
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Charter Hall and GPT are among the trusts that have earmarked what they view as non-core assets for sale to take advantage of the solid demand for properties by local and overseas buyers.

It was understood about $1.5 million worth of major assets were in due diligence or under conditional contract going into the Christmas break. More are said to be due soon.

DEXUS executive general manager, office and industrial, Kevin George said last month he continued to see an uptick in tenant inquiry and demand for industrial property, particularly in south Sydney, benefiting from supply withdrawals for alternative use.

The sector has benefited from the rise in the use of the internet, as storage for the third-party logistic operators, but also demand by retailers to use the sites as an additional business, including supermarkets.

It was the standout investment in the recent reporting season as landlords said there was net effective face rental growth.

JLL’s head of industrial, Australia, Michael Fenton, said Sydney led the strong uplift in occupier demand in east coast markets last year.

“We believe this take-up is being driven by a number of factors. With ongoing redevelopment of former industrial space into residential and other uses and tenant displacement from infrastructure projects and other market changes, we foresee the former occupiers of this space will continue to be a source of demand in 2016,” Mr Fenton said.

“Despite the volatility in global financial and commodity markets, we expect the Australian industrial market to remain robust throughout 2016 as investors seek superior returns from industrial assets and recognise the stability of the broader Australian economy and its industrial growth drivers.”

CBRE national director, industrial and logistics, Jason Edge said the demand for industrial space in Sydney was driving a surge in speculative development with institutional land owners either developing with no tenant in place or on the back of a partial pre-commitment.

Mr Edge tipped that a focus by third-party logistics companies on developing a “hub and spoke” model to best serve customers would drive demand for “infill” locations such as south Sydney, on the north shore and middle-ring areas such as Homebush and Chullora to supplement locations in the west and south-west.

“This would be driven by e-commerce, with Australian organisations to be challenged by the expectations in the US whereby groceries are looking to be delivered within two to three hours and Amazon deliveries within the next hour,” Mr Edge said.

“Our expectation of how products are provided in Australia is going to change and the provider is going to have to change in tandem with this.”

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