Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has denied responsibility for approximately 300 jobs that will go at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) this financial year as part of a hiring and recontracting freeze initiated by the Abbott government in a move designed to shrink the public service by 12,000 staff.
Fairfax on Friday morning reported that around 1,400 "non-ongoing" staff members at the CSIRO could have their jobs under threat as part of a public service freeze initiated by Employment Minister Eric Abetz last week.
Departments and agencies were advised to only advertise for critical vacancies and specialist roles that could not be filled by an existing public service employee.
The CSIRO has around 6,500 employees, with 990 "term workers" and 440 casual staff members, according to Fairfax, which reported that those roles would be under threat of the proposed cuts.
CSIRO CEO Dr Megan Clark said in a statement provided to ZDNet that the reports of 1,400 jobs going was "incorrect", but that the CSIRO will not be renewing around 300 contracts that will be finishing up this financial year, which will be slightly higher than usual due to the freeze.
Clark said that the CSIRO can still renew contracts and recruit to positions critical for the CSIRO's work "with approval".
"We will not be compromising on our commitments to industry or other key stakeholders through these changes. This approach will allow CSIRO to continue to deliver our outstanding work with industry and the community — work that has led to some of the country's most valuable discoveries and inventions, such as Wi-Fi and the Hendra virus vaccine," she said in a statement.
"In order to maintain longer-term capability, we will continue targeted recruitment programs for our Indigenous employment and post-doctoral fellows. We have around 50 positions currently open for recruitment, which are primarily for post-doctoral fellows."
Abbott told journalists this afternoon that the government was not responsible for the government-imposed hiring freeze.
"We haven't made any cutbacks to the CSIRO. The management of the CSIRO and the employment of staff inside the CSIRO and the management of the contractors of the CSIRO is a matter for the CSIRO itself," he said.
The proposed cuts came under fire from the CSIRO Staff Association, which said that the next generation of innovation is under threat.
"How can CSIRO develop the next generation of Australian innovation if their capacity to conduct research and development continues to be cut?" CSIRO Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski said in a statement.
Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt said the cuts amount to "economic vandalism".
"Once again, we see the anti-science bias of this government on display," Bandt said.
"This shows why we need a dedicated Science Minister who will stand up for the research community. Science and research is the key to Australia's prosperity. This is economic vandalism."
Under the new Coalition government, there is no longer a dedicated minister for science. The CSIRO now falls under the Industry portfolio overseen by Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.
Abbott also announced that 20 advisory groups, including the High Speed Rail Advisory Group, would be either abolished or amalgamated, stating that the Coalition government believes these groups to be redundant. He said that these groups would be just the start.
"We certainly won't be stopping here. This is a government that will always be looking to make sure the machinery of government is as efficient and as small as possible," he said.