Shock cuts at Data61 put jobs, research at risk

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The loss of up to 70 jobs and seven research capabilities at CSIRO’s Data61 is a “shock” and particularly concerning in light of the science agency’s increased funding and importance to the government’s digital agenda, the CSIRO Staff Association says.

As part of a new focus on artificial intelligence and other areas, Data61 will be downsizing other sections of its workforce, with up to 70 jobs and seven research programs at risk.

In an email to staff, Data61 director Jon Whittle said that this is due to a “reshaping” at the digital research organisation within CSIRO.

In a statement, CSIRO confirmed that up to 70 roles are on the line in the short term, but that approximately 100 jobs will be created over the next two years in the new areas of research focus.

The significant staff cuts comes despite CSIRO receiving more than $100 million in additional funding for its artificial intelligence efforts, and a recent announcement the science agency would be investing a further $100 million over four years into priority research areas.

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Up to 70 jobs will go at CSIRO’s Data61

The restructuring will see Data61 move away from several primary areas of research, including software computational systems, cyber physical systems and analytics and decisions sciences.

An early casualty of this decision was the Data61 team behind the seL4 microkernel, which was recently disbanded, as revealed by InnovationAus. The world-leading team is already in the acquisition sights of a large Chinese company and the Singapore government’s R&D agency.

A CSIRO spokeswoman said the restructuring will see Data61 shift its efforts to focus on the development and adoption of artificial intelligence, putting digital science and technology at the heart of Australia’s recovery and resiliency, and “reinventing the way science is doing using digital”.

“Following the development of a new strategy, changes will be taking place within CSIRO’s Data61 business unit,” the CSIRO spokeswoman told InnovationAus.

“As a result of the changes there will be approximately 100 positions created, including 30 new post-doctorate positions. In the short-term up to 70 people at Data61 will be potentially impacted, however the number will likely be less as we work to redeploy people through the organisation.

“Within two years, given the new positions, we expect headcount to be at similar levels to today.”

The CSIRO Staff Association said the announcement was a “shock”.

“This decision to cut up to 70 jobs at Data61 is a real concern, especially given the positive statements made recently by CSIRO Executive of the importance of the business unit to the government’s digital economy strategy,” CSIRO Staffing Association acting secretary Susan Tonks said.

“Where possible the union is fighting to save CSIRO jobs by minimising and mitigating involuntary redundancies.”

The 70 jobs on the line include about 57 potential redundancies, eight early-term ends and four staff who have already concluded their contracts. They will be spread across 10 workplaces, with 38 potential job losses in Sydney, 17 in Brisbane and six in Canberra.

The research areas which Data61 will be dropping include formal methods, programming languages and operating systems, transport-as-an-application, biological data science, legal informatics, wireless systems, reshaping robotics capability, reshaping engineering and data integrations.

As part of the recent federal budget CSIRO received more than $100 million in funding for artificial intelligence, including $50 million to establish a National AI Centre. The science agency also this month revealed plans to invest a further $100 million in emerging technology research over the next four years.

This investment will be targeted at four areas of research: biomedical manufacturing, digital manufacturing, digital healthcare and artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

CSIRO will start recruting in positions focusing on its new research priorities in June.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. Russell M Yardley 3 years ago

    In setting strategy what you choose not to do is fundamental to building a new future. If an organisation is forbidden to shed to enable effective building for the future they will not remain or become a top performing organisation. The best science and world class research is essential to build our prosperity by more effectively working and collaborating with industry. Industry – research collaboration and commercialisation has not been done as well as our top ranking research and changes are needed but if every change is predicated on keeping everything as it was then we will not achieve our potential.

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