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Dumping of NIWA scientists highlights Govt's carelessness

Dumping of NIWA scientists highlights government’s carelessness and myopic vision

Laying-off scientists at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) is a shortsighted move that could hinder innovation and economic gains in the environmental sector says the Public Service Association (PSA).

The crown research company NIWA is proposing to cut 17 science and 17 support staff positions. Most of the science job to be cut are at the company’s Wellington regional office but nationwide include marine taxonomists, molecular biologists, fisheries stock assessment scientists, an environmental economist, a renewable energy scientist/engineer, a catchment water quality modeler, an atmospheric physicist, a marine ecologist, and a remote sensing scientist.

Less than a year ago Prime Minister John Key announced a $321 million, four year investment into Research, Science and Technology and said the government wanted to “...establish a high-performing public science system which supports economic growth and a wider innovation system that encourages firms to increase their investment in and application of research."

“In reality the government is doing the opposite of what it announced last year,” says PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff.

“Slashing science jobs at NIWA does nothing to support the establishment of a high-performing public science system which supports economic growth.

“Crown research institutes like NIWA carry out work for government departments. Any cuts to government agencies’ budgets will have a flow on effect to public sector science.

It’s not good enough to sit back and tell state sector chief executives “This is your budget, there’s no more money, make it work and by the way turn a profit while you’re at it.” The result is New Zealand is losing its core capacity for innovation.

“These job losses will have a significant impact. Redundancy can be devastating for well-established scientists. These workers are highly specialised and few who are made redundant stay in science.

“Last year AgResearch was forced to slash jobs in wool research when farmers voted down the levy that partly funded the research. Now the government has announced a $17.25 investment into wool research but in the meantime there’s been a huge loss of knowledge and expertise from the field.

The government would do well to bear this in mind because once these highly skilled specialists leave science they are gone forever and that is a huge and expensive loss to New Zealand’s science community,” says Richard Wagstaff.

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