7 Jul 2012

Minister rejects NIWA job cut criticism

11:07 pm on 7 July 2012

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says international scientists who have criticised NIWA for planning to cut jobs at a world-leading research centre in central Otago are making juvenile comments.

NIWA is proposing to cut three senior staff from the Lauder centre, near Ranfurly, where for decades scientists have been measuring ozone and greenhouse gases.

A scientist at a United States climate research institute has criticised the plan, saying the job cuts could damage scientific work being done across the world.

Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites (CICS) co-chair, Peter Thorne, says it could mean scientists are not there to manually take down the data, which could lead to standards slipping.

"It would be very hard on our understanding - not just for the network that I'm charged with, but more generally for the science community."

He says the Otago centre is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere and contributes to a global network, and it would be a shame to risk that.

Mr Joyce says international scientists should respect NIWA's ability to make its own staffing decisions and the criticism that data could be compromised is "silly juvenile stuff."

"We of course are very focussed on making sure that NIWA has the opportunity to do its work," he says.

"It's very famous in this area, but right across the area of atmospheric and water research. It does a very very good job."

Funding boost urged

Opposition parties are calling on the Government to boost funding for the NIWA so it doesn't have to cut staff at the Lauder centre.

The Green Party's environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage says there needs to be a financial commitment from the Government to maintain that calibre of research.

Ms Sage says climate change is the most critical issue of our time and cutting such specialised staff is very shortsighted.

Labour Party associate science spokesperson Megan Woods says the research contributes to a world network of people who are working on a global problem and it's imperative that work isn't lost.

Ms Woods says the Government is neglecting the science sector and needs to put more money into NIWA, whose funding has remained static.

Minister says NIWA's funding has increased

Mr Joyce has rejected calls for more funding, and says the institute's funding has been increased.

"The reason the changes are being made (is) because of shifting priorities within NIWA's work.

"My understanding from NIWA is that these changes are part of their ongoing refinement of their research and they affect just on 3 percent of the budget associated with climate change."

Mr Joyce says Lauder will continue to do a great job and NIWA should be allowed to make its own staffing decisions.