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Secret Tape Reveals Why The CSIRO Dumped Climate Science

"You have to get real about your customer."

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Australia's leading science organisation the CSIRO recently made half of its climate scientists redundant, after it was hit with $115 million in federal funding cuts. A secret recording sheds light on why.

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Sydneysiders gather in the rain during a climate change rally at Prince Alfred Park in Sydney.

When the job cuts were announced in February the CSIRO's chief executive, Dr Larry Marshall, met in Canberra with 200 distraught employees, many of them climate scientists.

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An enormous iceberg breaks off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory on 11 January 2008.

"I don't mean to be insensitive but you have to get real about your customer," Marshall told his staff, a secret recording obtained by the ABC's Background Briefing program revealed on Sunday.

The organisation's new focus would be in line with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's innovation and growth agenda, the group were told.

"It's a fundamental shift away from curiosity-led research toward impact," he said, adding that the "customer" − in this case the government − determined what was "public good".

"The danger of us deciding what is public good for ourselves, the risk is that we are biased," Marshall said.

"If I poll the organisation − and I did − each group fundamentally believes that what they do is public good, in the truest, purest sense of the word."

Groans, sighs and the occasional lone "fuck" can be heard throughout the recording.

Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images

Protesters hold banners outside the headquarters of the Commonwealth Bank to say no to coal expansion on the Great Barrier Reef.

Background Briefing reported that half of the scientists walked out of the meeting, but that one scientist asked Marshall how he could argue that the science on climate change was settled.

"What I was trying to say was we have proven climate change," Marshall replied. "It's real, it's happened, I don't think there is any doubt about that. Not to say the science is done."

"You are cutting our ability to improve the accuracy and precision of predicting the impact," one scientist argued.

Last month Brandis mounted a bizarre defence of the CSIRO funding cuts.

"If the science is settled, why do we need research scientists to continue inquiring into the settled science?" Brandis said, encouraging Labor senators to support cuts to the CSIRO if they believed climate change was real.

"Wouldn't it be a much more useful allocation of taxpayers' money and research capacity within CSIRO to allocate its resources to an area where the science isn't settled?"

Confusingly, Brandis said he didn't believe the science was "settled at all" but conceded he was not a scientist.