The federal government has rejected criticism that the appointment of a former Coalition industry minister to the CSIRO board last year was cronyism, despite his lack of science background and previous clashes with the scientific community.
Ian MacFarlane was appointed to the science agency’s board for three years last Octobter by current Science Minister Mellissa Price. He earns nearly $75,000 a year in the part-time role.
Mr MacFarlane was Industry and Science minister for two years when Tony Abbott won government in 2013. Mr Abbott combined Industry and Science after scrapping a dedicated science minister for the first time since 1930.
In response to criticism from science groups about the lack of a standalone science minister, Mr MacFarlane hit out at the “precious petals in the science industry” and described the calls as “crap”.
The comments and Mr Macfarlane’s appointment were raised during CSIRO’s Senate Estimates appearance on Thursday, with Labor Senator Jess Walsh saying it was another “jobs for mates” appointment.
CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said he wasn’t aware of Mr MacFarlane’s 2014 comments and wouldn’t be drawn on if they were consistent with a CSIRO leadership position.
But Queensland Liberal National Senator and assistant minister Amanda Stoker defended the appointment.
Ms Stoker incorrectly claimed Mr MacFarlane’s comments were made more than a decade ago, and said they had been raised out of context.
“There’s a whole lot of ways that could be understood and I’m sure that in its proper context, it was a reasonable thing to say,” she said.
Ms Stoker rejected the appointment was an act of cronyism by the Coalition.
“I’d suggest that you look to the enormously important contribution that Mr MacFarlane has made to industry and science — the way the two have come together to build the wealth and prosperity of this country.”
Mr MacFarlane lost the portfolio in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott. He retired from politics at the 2016 election, taking up a non-executive director role at Woodside Energy and was made chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council.
He has also held the chairman role at the Innovative Manufacturing Co-operative Research Centre since 2016.
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