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CSIRO risks backing the wrong horse as it reacts to budget cuts

By Roger Dargaville, University of Melbourne

What happens to CSIRO when the federal government decides to strip away A$111 million over four years from its A$733 million annual contribution to the organisation’s budget? We are beginning to find out.

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CSIRO, which has already suffered many budget cutbacks over the years, is reportedly set to make a series of cuts to its environmental programs, closing eight sites and reducing funding to key research areas including geothermal energy, liquid fuels, carbon capture and storage, and climate change.

At the same time, funding for CSIRO’s research on coal seam gas is likely to increase. We might speculate that the changes are a deliberate strategy of investing in programs that are likely to impress the government and head off any more future cuts. But is that in Australia’s best interests in the long run?

Australia already lags behind

Research and development (R&D) is important to countries' economies. In tough economic times, R&D can bring new innovations that can support emerging sectors.

Yet Australia invests relatively little in R&D compared with other developed countries. At 0.5% of GDP, Australia’s government spends less than the OECD average of 0.8%, and...