Monday, 26 June 2017

Can the CSIRO sink any lower?

“Collaborating with government. As a trusted adviser to government, our collaboration within the sector supports it to solve challenges, find efficiencies and innovate.” [CSIRO, Data61]

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is a federal government corporate entity ultimately responsible to the Australian Parliament.

It started life in the midst of global conflagration in 1916 and for most of its existence it was widely respected both in its country of origin and around the world.

Sadly that level of respect has been diminished in recent years as commercial imperatives saw it move away from its once proud boast that:

However, it had not yet become a low creature of right-wing political ideology.

Until now – when it appears willing to participate in enforcing punitive social policies, cynically presented in the guise of Budget measures by the Turnbull Coalition Government.

In particular, enabling the trial drug testing of income support applicants “based on a data-driven profiling tool developed for the trial to identify relevant characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues” which almost inevitably will target the poor and vulnerable.

Apparently the only matter holding the CSIRO back from full commitment to the trial is the matter of contract negotiations with the Dept. Of Social Security and/or Dept. of Human Services1.

The cost of this measure has reportedly been deemed by government to be “commercial-in-confidence”.

InnovationAus, 2 June 2017:

CSIRO has still not officially agreed to allow its Data61 analytics unit to become involved in the government’s highly contentious welfare drug testing program, a Senate estimates hearing has been told.

But the delay appears to be related to difficult contract negotiations – for which the research agency is well known – rather than the objections of staff or management to becoming involved in such a politically-driven program.

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and CSIRO appeared at the Senate estimates on Thursday morning.

The shocking concession that CSIRO has been in discussion to work on the drug-test project since April comes despite the organisation having specifically declined to confirm any knowledge of the project for weeks – let alone that it was actively negotiating a contract.

This is despite direct questions being put to CSIRO on multiple occasions for weeks.

The estimates hearing also revealed that Data61 has been called into the controversy plagued Social Services robo-debt project that has mistakenly matched debt to welfare recipients.

CSIRO digital executive director David Williams told shadow industry minister Kim Carr that while CSIRO was approached by the Social Services department about the welfare drug testing scheme in late April – less than a month before its involvement was prematurely announced by Cabinet Minister Christian Porter – it is still yet to officially sign on to the project.

“The Department of Social Services approached CSIRO in early April, wanting to implement a trial involving activity tested income support recipients across a small number of geographical areas,” Mr Williams told senate estimates.

“They asked for Data61’s support in doing the analysis to see whether predictive analytics could help them in that task.”

“Since that time we’ve been talking with the department, and scoped out a statement of work and we’ve looked at how we can implement that work should we sign a contract and proceed. At this moment we’re working through the procedures inside CSIRO.”


1. The CSIRO already has a business relationship with the Australian Department of Human Services (DHS). Commencing in February 2017 the CSIRO and/or CSIRO Data61 conducted a Review of Online Compliance Systems, as well as supplying Specialist Data Science Services and Selection Methodologies Advice to the department. See;

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