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Chief Executive's report

CSIRO was founded 100 years ago on a vision of science redefining our future. This year, your national science agency has lived this purpose like no other year in recent memory – at the forefront responding to a widespread drought, then a devastating bushfire season, followed by a global pandemic. Now we are preparing Australian industry to respond to our first recession in 30 years. We are precisely in the place our founder envisioned us to be – using science and data to light the way through crises and delivering solutions to Australia’s greatest challenges.

Dr Larry Marshall wearing a white shirt. He is in front of a stair case and has his hands interlocked while smiling at the camera
Dr Larry Marshall

This annual report captures why there has never been a more important time for a mission-directed organisation like ours to rise to these challenges and bring science to the fore to guide us to a better future. While many of this year’s crises were unprecedented, they were not unforeseen. In these pages, you’ll see the results of strategic changes we have made to CSIRO in recent years to prepare for events like these, which gave us the capability to hit the ground running in our response.

To prepare for a pandemic, our One Health model, launched in 2016, allowed us to respond to a new disease threat in multiple ways, from vaccine development (CSIRO was first in the world to initiate multi-vaccine animal efficacy studies) and medical supply production to data modelling (creating and populating COVID-19 tracking dashboards for each state) and environmental science.

While all this was happening, thanks to our digital transformation over the past four years, up to 80 per cent of our workforce seamlessly transitioned to working from home. We were only able to achieve this thanks to the digital transformation program and bolstered cyber security we have put in place over the last few years.

With our initial investment in adaptation four years ago, we were also in good standing to respond to the bushfire crisis, drawing on more than 70 years of expertise in bushfire research. Today we bring everything from bushfire modelling, prediction and preparation to management, monitoring and recovery. That work continues and will remain an ongoing priority as we work to build resilience to Australia’s warmer, drier climate.

As Australia looks for pathways back to prosperity from the impacts of the pandemic, our work to strengthen Australia’s innovation and commercialisation pipeline will be more important than ever. Over the last five years, CSIRO’s ON Accelerator program has supported the creation of more than 60 new companies that have attracted more than $75 million in venture funding and commercialisation grants. At the same time, CSIRO’s Innovation Fund, managed by Main Sequence Ventures, has grown from an initial $100 million to $240 million, supporting a portfolio of more than 20 sci-tech start-ups.

CSIRO’s purpose isn’t to generate revenue, but it’s remarkable to see the organisation deliver another record revenue year – over $500 million – with underlying profitability for the second year in a row.

These successes have enabled investment and progress in many areas across the organisation to prepare Australia better for the challenges that lie ahead. This includes breakthrough science through our Future Science Platforms, which reached a total annual investment of $90 million last financial year, and our collaboration rates with universities and industry, which are at an all-time high.

It also includes the progress we have made on our Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Action Plan, which saw us reach the Green Zone for our Business Unit leader cohort for the first time in our history. Also for the first time, we were awarded Gold Employer Status in the 2020 Australian Workplace Equality Index. We are making good progress, but there is more work to be done.

As we look ahead, it is fitting that 100 years since CSIRO’s first mission – to rid Australia of the invasive weed the prickly pear, which rendered so much prime agriculture land unusable – we are developing a program of missions to help solve some of Australia’s greatest challenges.

These large-scale, major scientific and collaborative research initiatives will be co-created and delivered by the brightest minds across government, industry, universities and the community, and will be focused on outcomes that lead to positive impact, new jobs and economic growth through:

  • increasing our resilience and preparedness against pandemics
  • mitigating the impact of disasters: drought, bushfires and floods
  • creating a hydrogen industry to generate a new clean energy export industry
  • accelerating the transition to agile manufacturing for higher revenue and sovereign supply
  • overcoming our growing resistance to antibiotics, so they keep saving lives
  • creating a national climate capability to navigate climate change uncertainty
  • helping our farmers overcome drought, mitigate climate impacts, increase yield and profitability, create a sustainable future protein industry and leverage the world’s love of Australian-grown food to collectively drive our trusted agriculture and food exports to $100 billion
  • using technology to navigate Australia’s transition to net zero emissions without derailing our economy
  • safeguarding the health of our waterways by monitoring the quality of our water resources from space
  • creating new industries that transform raw mineral commodities into unique higher-value products like critical energy metals that build Australia’s value-added offering, jobs, and sovereign supply
  • ending plastic waste by reinventing the way plastic is made, processed and recycled
  • doubling the number of SMEs benefitting from Australian science to become a collaboration nation.

I am incredibly proud of our people and the important work they do to secure Australia’s future. Their passion and commitment will be critical into the next financial year as we launch our new portfolio of missions and manage the impacts from COVID-19 on our own financial position. Our missions speak to the importance of deep and broad collaboration across Australia to solve our challenges, and as Australia responds as a whole to widespread economic challenges, the only way we will be able to do this is through a Team Australia approach.

As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO will continue to push the boundaries of science and technology to ensure Australia is ready to meet our future challenges head-on, together.

an image of Larry Marshall's signature

Dr Larry Marshall
Chief Executive, CSIRO