Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

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Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Agency overview
Formed 1916
Jurisdiction Australia
Headquarters Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Employees 5,000+
Minister responsible
Agency executives
Website CSIRO Australia

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia with its headquarters in Canberra and numerous sites around Australia. It was founded in 1916 as the Advisory Council of Science and Industry, evolved to the Institute of Science and Industry in 1920 and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1926. CSIRO works with leading organisations around the world,[1] and CSIRO Publishing publishes journals presenting the latest research by leading Australian and overseas scientists and covering a broad range of subjects.[2]

Notable developments by the CSIRO have included the invention of atomic absorption spectroscopy, development of the first commercially successful polymer banknote, the invention of the insect repellent in Aerogard and the introduction of a series of biological controls into Australia, such as the introduction of myxomatosis and rabbit calicivirus for the control of rabbit populations.

Research groups and initiatives

CSIRO Corporate Headquarters in Campbell, Australian Capital Territory
CSIRO Darwin
CSIRO Hobart

Employing approximately 5000, CSIRO maintains more than 50 sites across Australia and biological control research stations in France and Mexico. The primary roles of CSIRO include contributing to meeting the objectives and responsibilities of the Australian government and providing new ways to benefit the Australian community and the economic and social performance of a number of industry sectors through research and development.

As of 1 July 2014, CSIRO is governed by a Board, chaired by David Thodey with nine directors inclusive of the CEO, all appointed by the Australian government. Daily management is led by a CEO, presently Dr Larry Marshall, with an executive team of seven. There are ten research flagships and twelve services areas.[3]

"Flagship" initiative

The CSIRO "Flagship" initiative was originally designed to integrate, focus and direct national scientific resources. In May 2005, the government announced the launch of CSIRO's $97 million Flagship Collaboration Fund, which is intended to encourage cooperative research between universities, CSIRO and other research agencies. In July 2014, all research "Divisions" and Flagships were merged into ten research flagships.

The ten research flagships are:[3]

  • Food & Nutrition
  • Astronomy and Space Science (including the Australia Telescope National Facility)
  • Agriculture
  • Biosecurity
  • Energy
  • Mineral Resources
  • Oceans & Atmosphere
  • Land & Water
  • Digital Productivity & Services
  • Manufacturing

In addition, CSIRO is a participant in a number of joint ventures, including:

Air quality modelling and dispersion team

CSIRO's Air Quality Modelling and Dispersion Team[4] is a part of the Marine and Atmospheric Research division.

Some of the widely used air-quality dispersion models[5] developed by CSIRO are:[6]

  • TAPM (The Air Pollution Model)[7][8]
  • LADM (Lagrangian atmospheric dispersion model)[9]
  • AUSPLUME (Gaussian plume regulatory model)[10]
  • AUSPUFF (Gaussian puff model)[11]
  • DISPMOD (Gaussian plume dispersion model)[12]

The "Australian Air Quality Forecasting System" is provided jointly by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO. The Bureau of Meteorology generates the high resolution weather forecasts and CSIRO has created computer models to calculate pollution levels.[13][14]


A precursor to CSIRO, the Advisory Council of Science and Industry, was established in 1916 at the initiative of prime minister Billy Hughes. However, the Advisory Council struggled with insufficient funding during the First World War. In 1920 the Council was renamed the "Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry", and was led by George Handley Knibbs (1921–26), but continued to struggle financially.

In 1926 The Science and Industry Research Act replaced the Institute with the 'Council for Scientific and Industrial Research' (CSIR). The CSIR was structured to represent the federal structure of Australian government, and had state-level committees and a central council. As well as this improved structure, the CSIR benefited from strong bureaucratic management under George Julius, David Rivett, and Arnold Richardson. CSIR research focussed on primary and secondary industries. Early in its existence, it established divisions studying animal health and animal nutrition. After the depression, the CSIR extended into secondary industries such as manufacturing.

CSIRO today has expanded into a wider range of scientific inquiry. This expansion began with the evolution of CSIR to the CSIRO by the Ben Chifley Labor government in 1949 which amended the Science and Industry Research Act,[15] under which CSIRO continues to operate. The amendment enlarged and reconstituted the organisation and its administrative structure. Under Ian Clunies Ross as chairman, CSIRO pursued new areas such as radioastronomy and industrial chemistry.


Notable inventions and breakthroughs by CSIRO include:

CSIRO's research into ICT technologies has resulted in advances such as the Panoptic search engine[16] (now known as Funnelback) and Annodex.[17]

In October 2005, the journal Nature announced CSIRO scientists had developed near-perfect rubber from resilin, the elastic protein which gives fleas their jumping ability and helps insects fly.[18] On 19 August 2005, CSIRO and the University of Texas at Dallas announced they were able to make transparent carbon nanotube sheets that will bring carbon nanotube products to the masses.[19]

Historic research

CSIRO had a pioneering role in the scientific discovery of the universe through radio "eyes". A team led by Paul Wild built and operated (from 1948) the world’s first solar radiospectrograph, and from 1967 the 3 km diameter radioheliograph at Culgoora in New South Wales. For three decades, the Division of Radiophysics had a world-leading role in solar research, attracting prominent solar physicists from around the world.[20]

CSIRO owned the first computer in Australia, CSIRAC, built as part of a project began in the Sydney Radiophysics Laboratory in 1947. The CSIR Mk 1 ran its first program in 1949, the fifth electronic computer in the world. It was over 1000 times faster than the mechanical calculators available at the time. It was decommissioned in 1955 and recommissioned in Melbourne as CSIRAC in 1956 as a general purpose computing machine used by over 700 projects until 1964.[21] The CSIRAC is the only surviving first-generation computer in the world.[22]

Between 1965 and 1985, George Bornemissza of CSIRO's Division of Entomology founded and led the Australian Dung Beetle Project. Bornemissza, upon settling in Australia from Hungary in 1951, noticed that the pastureland was covered in dry cattle dung pads which did not seem to be recycled into the soil and caused areas of rank pasture which were unpalatable to the cattle. He proposed that the reason for this was that native Australian dung beetles, which had co-evolved alongside the marsupials (which produce dung very different in its composition from cattle), were not adapted to utilise cattle dung for their nutrition and breeding since cattle had only relatively recently been introduced to the continent in the 1880s. The Australian Dung Beetle Project sought, therefore, to introduce species of dung beetle from South Africa and Europe (which had co-evolved alongside bovids) in order to improve the fertility and quality of cattle pastures. Twenty-three species were successfully introduced throughout the duration of the project and also had the effect of reducing the pestilent bush fly population by 90%.[23]

Domain name

CSIRO was the first Australian organisation to start using the internet[24] and was able to register the second-level domain (as opposed to or Guidelines were introduced in 1996 to regulate the use of the .au domain.

Governance and management

Recent controversies

Diet book

In 2005 the organisation also gained worldwide attention (and criticism) for publishing and promoting the Total Wellbeing Diet book[33] which features a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. The book has sold over half a million copies in Australia and over 100,000 overseas[34] but was criticised in an editorial by Nature for giving scientific credence to a "fashionable" diet book sponsored by meat and dairy industries.[35]

802.11 patent

In the early 1990s, CSIRO radio astronomy scientists John O'Sullivan, Graham Daniels, Terence Percival, Diethelm Ostry and John Deane undertook research directed to finding a way to make wireless networks work as fast as wired networks within confined spaces such as office buildings. The technique they developed, involving a particular combination of forward error correction, frequency-domain interleaving, and multi-carrier modulation, became the subject of U.S. Patent 5,487,069, which was granted on 23 January 1996.

In 1997 Macquarie University professor David Skellern and his colleague Neil Weste established the company Radiata, Inc., which took a nonexclusive licence to the CSIRO patent for the purpose of developing commercially viable integrated circuit devices implementing the patented technology.[36]

During this period, the IEEE 802.11 Working Group was developing the 802.11a wireless LAN standard. CSIRO did not participate directly in the standards process, however David Skellern was an active participant as secretary of the Working Group, and representative of Radiata.[37] In 1998 it became apparent that the CSIRO patent would be pertinent to the standard. In response to a request from Victor Hayes of Lucent Technologies, who was Chair of the 802.11 Working Group, CSIRO confirmed its commitment to make non-exclusive licenses available to implementers of the standard on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.[38]

In 1999, Cisco Systems, Inc. and Broadcom Corporation each invested A$4 million in Radiata, representing an 11% stake for each investor and valuing the company at around A$36 million.[36] In September 2000, Radiata demonstrated a chip set complying with the recently finalised IEEE 802.11a Wi-Fi standard, and capable of handling transmission rates of up to 54 Mbit/s, at a major international exhibition.[36]

In November 2000, Cisco acquired Radiata in exchange for US$295 million in Cisco common stock with the intention of incorporating the Radiata Baseband Processor and Radio chips into its Aironet family of wireless LAN products.[39] Cisco subsequently took a large write-down on the Radiata acquisition, following the 2001 telecoms crash,[40] and in 2004 it shut down its internal development of wireless chipsets based on the Radiata technology in order to focus on software development and emerging new technologies.[41]

Controversy over the CSIRO patent arose in 2006 after the organisation won an injunction against Buffalo Technology in an infringement suit filed in Federal Court in the Eastern District of Texas.[42] The injunction was subsequently suspended on appeal, with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit finding that the judge in Texas should have allowed a trial to proceed on Buffalo’s challenge to the validity of the CSIRO patent.[43] In 2007, CSIRO declined to provide an assurance to the IEEE that it would not sue companies which refused to take a license for use in 802.11n-compliant devices, while at the same time continuing to defend legal challenges to the validity of the patent brought by Intel, Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Netgear.[44]

In April 2009, Hewlett-Packard broke ranks with the rest of the industry becoming the first to reach a settlement of its dispute with CSIRO.[45] This agreement was followed quickly by settlements with Microsoft, Fujitsu and Asus[46] and then Dell, Intel, Nintendo, Toshiba, Netgear, Buffalo, D-Link, Belkin, SMC, Accton, and 3Com.[47][48]

The controversy grew after CSIRO sued US carriers AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in 2010, with the organisation being accused of being "Australia's biggest patent troll", a wrathful "patent bully", and of imposing a "WiFi tax" on American innovation.[49][50][51]

Further fuel was added to the controversy after a settlement with the carriers, worth around $229 million, was announced in March 2012.[52][53] Encouraged in part by an announcement by the Australian Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills Science and Research, Senator Chris Evans,[54] an article in Ars Technica portrayed CSIRO as a shadowy organisation responsible for US consumers being compelled to make "a multimillion dollar donation" on the basis of a questionable patent claiming "decades old" technology.[55] The resulting debate became so heated that the author was compelled to follow up with a defence of the original article.[56] An alternative view was also published on The Register, challenging a number of the assertions made in the Ars Technica piece.[57]

Total income to CSIRO from the patent is currently estimated at nearly $430 million.[58] On 14 June 2012, the CSIRO inventors received the European Patent Office (EPO) European Inventor Award (EIA), in the category of "Non-European Countries".[59]

Genetically modified wheat trials

On 14 July 2011, Greenpeace activists vandalised a crop of GM wheat, circumventing the scientific trials being undertaken. Greenpeace was forced to pay reparations to CSIRO of $280,000 for the criminal damage, and were accused by the sentencing judge, Justice Hilary Penfold, of cynically using junior members of the organisation with good standing to avoid custodial sentences, while the offenders were given 9 month suspended sentences.[60][61]

Following the attack Greenpeace criticised CSIRO for a close relationship with industry that had led to an increase in genetically modified crops, even though a core aim of CSIRO is Cooperative Research "working hand in hand with industry [to] build partnerships and engage with industry to generate impact".[62][63]

Climate change censorship: Clive Spash

On 25 November 2009, a debate was held in the Australian Senate concerning the alleged involvement of the CSIRO and the Labor government in censorship. The debate was called for by opposition parties after evidence came to light that a paper critical of carbon emissions trading was being suppressed.[64] At the time, the Labor government was trying to get such a scheme through the Senate. After the debate, the Science Minister, Kim Carr, was forced to release the paper, but when doing so in the Senate he also delivered a letter from the CEO of the CSIRO, Megan Clark, which attacked the report's author and threatened him with unspecified punishment.[65] The author of the paper, Clive Spash, was cited in the press as having been bullied and harassed,[66] and later gave a radio interview about this.[67] In the midst of the affair, CSIRO management had considered releasing the paper with edits that Nature reported would be "tiny".[68] Spash claimed the changes actually demanded amounted to censorship and resigned. He later posted on his website a document detailing the text that CSIRO management demanded be deleted;[69] by itself, this document forms a coherent set of statements criticising emissions trading without any additional wording needed. In subsequent Senate Estimates hearings during 2010, Senator Carr and Clark went on record claiming the paper was originally stopped from publication solely due to its low quality not meeting CSIRO standards.[70] At the time of its attempted suppression, the paper had been accepted for publication in an academic journal, New Political Economy, which in 2010 had been ranked by the Australian Research Council as an 'A class' publication.[71] In an ABC radio interview, Spash called for a Senate enquiry into the affair and the role played by senior management and the Science Minister.[72] Since these events, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that "Questions are being raised about the closeness of BHP Billiton and the CSIRO under its chief executive, Megan Clark".[73] After his resignation, an unedited version of the paper was released by Spash as a discussion paper,[74] and later published as an academic journal article.[75]

CSIRO–Novartis–DataTrace scandal

On 11 April 2013, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story on how CSIRO had "duped" the Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant Novartis into purchasing an anti-counterfeit technology for its vials of injectable Voltaren. The invention was marketed by a small Australian company called DataTrace DNA as a method of identifying fake vials, on the basis that a unique tracer code developed by CSIRO was embedded in the product. However, the code sold to Novartis for more than A$2M was apparently not unique, and was based on a "cheap tracer ... bought in bulk from a Chinese distributor". Novartis was contractually bound not to reverse-engineer the tracer to verify its uniqueness. The Sydney Morning Herald report alleges that this was done with the knowledge of key CSIRO personnel.[76]

CSIRO has since conducted a full review of the allegations and found no evidence to support them.[77]

Alleged bullying, harassment and victimisation

In recent years the CSIRO has fallen under the spotlight for allegedly exhibiting a culture of workplace bullying and harassment.[78] Former CSIRO employees started to surface with experiences of workplace bullying and other unreasonable behaviour by current and former CSIRO staff members.[79][80] CSIRO took the allegations seriously and responded to the articles on a number of occasions.[81][82]

The shadow minister for innovation, industry, science and research, Sophie Mirabella, wrote to the government requesting it establish an inquiry. Mirabella said she is aware of as many as 100 cases of alleged workplace harassment. On 20 July 2012 Comcare issued CSIRO with an Improvement Notice with regard to handling and management of workplace misconduct/code of conduct type investigations and allegations.[83] On 24 June 2013 Mirabella advised the Australian House of Representatives that in relation to the worker's compensation claim for psychological injuries of ex-CSIRO employee, Martin Williams, which was vigorously defended by Comcare on the advice of the CSIRO, that CSIRO officers had provided false testimony on no less than 128 occasions under oath when the matter went before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.[84] Mirabella stated, "even in establishing the framework for this inquiry it is obvious there's an inappropriate 'hands on' approach by CSIRO."

In response to the allegations Clark commissioned Dennis Pearce,[85] who is assisted by an investigation team from HWL Ebsworth Lawyers,[86] to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of workplace bullying and other unreasonable behaviour.[87] Mirabella continued to question the independence of the investigation.[88] The first stage of the investigation is scheduled to publish its findings at the end of July 2013, and the final stage is scheduled to be complete by February 2014.[89]

See also


  1. Although no chief executive was separately designated during the period 1 July 1959 – 4 December 1986, during the latter part of the 1978–1985 tenure of Dr Paul Wild as chairman, the powers of chairman and chief executive were combined – that is, Dr Wild was designated "Chairman and Chief Executive". Subsequently, the roles were again split with separate powers, the chairman becoming part-time.[30]


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  77. "CSIRO review of issues raised about CSIRO's interactions with DataTrace". Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. 11 August 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  78. Linton Besser and Nicky Phillips (12 April 2013) "Science second in toxic CSIRO work culture", The Sydney Morning Herald.
  79. Linton Besser (5 February 2013) "Probe into CSIRO bullying", The Sydney Morning Herald.
  80. Linton Besser (18 September 2012) "Whistleblowers at CSIRO forced out and bullying rife", The Sydney Morning Herald.
  81. Megan Clark (14 April 2013) "More than 85 years of growth, change and impact", CSIRO.
  82. Megan Clark (2 May 2013) "Chief Executive Megan Clark's update to staff re Fairfax articles", CSIRO.
  83. Comcare Improvement Notice to CSIRO relating to investigation EVE207221.
  84. "I am also reminded of the government's stubborn unwillingness to bring the CSIRO to account for a series of inaccurate and misleading statements that have been made to the Senate estimates committees, including the recent incomprehensible answer to question AL156 which says that no CSIRO employee provided false evidence under oath during cross-examination in the AAT case involving Martin Williams, when an analysis of the transcript of that case suggests that there are at least 100, and more precisely around 128, separate instances of CSIRO officers providing false evidence in the case." Sophie Mirabella MP (shadow minister for innovation, industry, science research and tertiary education). Australian House of Representatives – House Debate Monday 24 June 2013 at 6:33pm. "Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading"
  85. Emeritus Prof. Dennis Pearce AO,[non-primary source needed]
  86. "HWL Ebsworth appointed to CSIRO bullying enquiry". Asian Legal Business. Thomson Reuters. Retrieved 27 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  87. Independent Investigator for Allegations of Workplace Bullying and Other Unreasonable Behaviour,
    "Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce AO has been appointed as the independent investigator for allegations of workplace bullying and other unreasonable behaviour by current and former CSIRO staff members and CSIRO affiliates."
  88. Sophie Mirabella MP, (26 February 2013), "CSIRO bullying terms of reference leaves questions unanswered", Portfolio News,
  89. "The investigator will provide his Phase 1 reports by 31 July 2013. It is likely that people will be told the outcome of the investigator's consideration of their submission at about this time. It is intended that Phase 2 will be completed by February 2014." Independent Investigator for Allegations of Workplace Bullying and Other Unreasonable Behaviour[non-primary source needed]


  • Currie, George; Graham, John, The Origins of CSIRO: Science and the Commonwealth Government, 1901–1926, CSIRO, Melbourne, 1966

External links