Ag Vic brains trust gets sacked and reinstated

Minister blind-sided as Ag Vic brains trust faces the sack and reinstated on the same day

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OUTRAGE: Community and Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt said she was outraged by the treatment of Agriculture Victoria researchers.

OUTRAGE: Community and Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt said she was outraged by the treatment of Agriculture Victoria researchers.

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Soil, pasture and red meat researchers working across the state for Agriculture Victoria were sacked and reinstated on the same day last week. Nobody knows for sure why.

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Imagine being given a letter in the morning that said your position was "surplus to requirements", only to have it withdrawn that day.

That is exactly what happened to 49 soil, pasture and red meat researchers working for Agriculture Victoria last Wednesday and Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Syme appears to have been blindsided by the move.

The researchers were sent a message on Melbourne Cup Eve to be available for meetings on Wednesday, only to be handed personal letters advising them that, "It is proposed to declare the position surplus to reduce requirements for research and capability ... associated with limited or lack of co-investment by industry."

The letters, accompanied by links to financial counselling and employee assistance programs, were then withdrawn the same afternoon.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) responded saying it had raised the issue directly with the department secretary.

"The department has assured CPSU that the offensive and amateurish documentation handed to staff will be withdrawn and the process put on hold to allow high level discussions between the department and the union to occur," CPSU state secretary Karen Batt said.

Conspiracy theories are swirling around about the reason for the botched sackings but nobody dared to speak on the record.

When Stock & Land began researching the proposed changes the following morning, Ms Symes' office was completely oblivious to the letters as was the Victorian Farmers Federation and most of the research and development corporations, including Meat & Livestock Australia.

Agriculture Victoria could not respond until the following day, when it finally issued a statement.

"Victoria is leading the nation in agriculture research and it's important that we focus our efforts on what our farmers need to thrive for decades to come," the statement said.

"Our research projects are designed, developed and delivered with industry, producing timely, relevant and accessible innovation for Victorian agriculture.

"We're listening to farming businesses, reviewing research that doesn't attract co-investment from industry, while we grow research and innovation initiatives that have strong industry support, to boost our farming sector and create jobs".

The department would not answer questions about which research had failed to attract co-investment from industry or which projects were enjoying greater support.

MLA, the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Murray-Darling Basin Authority and Dairy Australia told Stock & Land they had not redirected or had any plans to redirect funding for projects run in partnership with Agriculture Victoria.

A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the cuts had not been directed from her office and told state parliament "organisational change" was to blame.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the move followed a $47.6 million cut to the agriculture budget this year and a $130 million cut to Regional Development Victoria

"The minister's claims of 'organisational changes' are just code for job cuts," he said.

"At a time when there's growing demand for Victoria's high-quality, sustainable food and fibre, the Andrews Labor Government shouldn't be slashing important research jobs that will help our agriculture sector grow and prosper in the future.

"Daniel Andrews should be stepping up and doing more in research and development to boost farmers' productivity and profitability - not stopping it.

"City-centric Labor always seems to find more money to pour into its multi-billion dollar Melbourne level crossing cost blowouts, but when it comes to regional Victoria Daniel Andrews can't find a cent."

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