The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with the proposed Myall Vale New Cotton Breeding Facilities project, near Narrabri in New South Wales.
According to CSIRO, the Myall Vale site is located at the Australian Cotton Research Institute, which is owned by the New South Wales State Government. CSIRO scientists at Myall Vale are responsible for undertaking world leading research in the areas of cotton breeding and crop management.
The estimated cost of the project is $17.9 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 16 August 2018.
Subject to Parliamentary approval, it is anticipated that construction will commence in the middle of 2019 and be completed in January 2021.
Conduct of the inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received one submission and one confidential submission. A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 29 October 2018, the Committee received a site inspection by presentation. On the same day, the Committee also conducted a public and in camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
In its submission, CSIRO states that the existing facilities at Myall Vale were constructed in the 1970s, and are no longer fit for purpose. CSIRO stated that:
The existing facilities are too small, have no room for expansion, create inefficient workflows, restrict scientific research on the site, have high maintenance costs and are increasingly posing work health and safety risks to staff.
Cotton processing facility
CSIRO staff need access to a dedicated cotton processing facility to support cotton breeding and processing activities including: preparation of planting seed, ginning of seed cotton, acid delinting of seed, seed storage, seed treatments, fibre quality testing instruments, and to accommodate technical staff that support these operations.
In its submission, CSIRO noted that the cotton processing facility was constructed in 1974 to house two permanent technical officers ‘as well as seed storage, fibre testing laboratory, acid delinting facility, cool room and work area’.
CSIRO told the Committee that:
The cotton breeding technical team has now grown to 21, so there is considerable crowding in the work area and for office space with limited computer access for data handling and processing. There are now two cool rooms, one dedicated to regulated Genetically Modified seed to comply with Office and Gene Technology Regulator requirements. These areas are now completely inadequate for the work given the expansion of the breeding and effort.
Additionally, more space is required in this facility to house seed counting and packing equipment in support of a new initiative to improve seedling vigour.
CSIRO elaborated on the deficiencies in the existing cotton breeding facility at Myall Vale:
In the current cotton breeding facility the building foundations are crumbling, walls are cracking, the roof leaks and the floor strength is inadequate for a seed storage shelving and stacking system required to address work health and safety risks.
In addition to the issues with the condition of the buildings, CSIRO told the Committee that the space and layout of the existing facilities is impeding the scientific works undertaken there. According to CSIRO:
The complex mix of traits and germplasm [in cotton] requires the highest standard of science delivery which needs appropriate facilities. The current facilities compromise our ability to deliver on the commitments CSIRO has made to our commercial partners.
The General Research Laboratory is one of three laboratories currently located at the Myall Vale site. CSIRO told the Committee that:
Current and future CSIRO research depend upon access to general purpose laboratory facilities, which includes the ability to undertake wet chemistry and handling of electronic equipment used in the field. Specific research planned to be undertaken in this laboratory include research investigating the need for improvements of plant physiology to improve heat tolerance, water use efficiency, and resilience to climate change.
Currently elements of this work are being conducted in a former laboratory, which was decommissioned and never replaced, and an existing wet chemistry laboratory that was created out of office space in the main office administration building. The current laboratory has dilapidated cupboards, cramped sample storage areas, insufficient bench space, a poorly sited fume hood creating poor workflow. The laboratory door opens the wrong way and is not fire rated, creating work health and safety risks. Further, there is no general laboratory area for visiting scientists or research students to use, which is limiting investment in CSIRO research at the site.
The second laboratory facility at the Myall Vale site is the Plant and Soil Research Laboratory. In its submission, CSIRO outlined the role played by this facility:
This research is crucial for investigating the efficient use of nitrogen fertiliser and other key cotton nutrients, as well as understanding the role of soil in improving carbon storage and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is significant ongoing research to improve water use efficiency of limited water resources from groundwater and the Murray Darling river system. Considerable measurements of soil and plant material are taken to determine the growth and physiology of crops and to assess new management practices and plant varieties in their ability to improve efficiency outcomes. Outcomes from this research will provide new recommendations to industries to sustain economic, social and environmental outcomes.
CSIRO outlined the deficiencies with the existing Plant and Soil Research Laboratory facilities:
Current plant and soil research facilities are dispersed throughout a number of site sheds on site, which are not fit for purpose and create workflow inefficiencies and work health and safety risks. A significant amount of soil grinding currently occurs outside in the heat in summer due to a lack of dedicated processing space indoors. Space limitations of the existing sheds are also limiting possibilities for investment in new equipment to improve processing efficiencies and safety outcomes.
The final laboratory facility at Myall Vale that CSIRO proposes to upgrade is the Insect Resistance Research Laboratory. According to CSIRO:
This research is focused on monitoring for naturally occurring ‘resistant moths’ with resistance to the proteins contained within CSIRO cotton plant varieties that help control pests. The moth monitoring program provides important insights that help the cotton industry to actively undertake management strategies to avoid the chances of resistant moths developing. This activity is crucial to the sustainability of the Australian cotton industry and to CSIRO’s investment in cotton varieties.
In its submission, CSIRO elaborated on the issues with the current insect research facilities:
The existing insect resistance research laboratory facilities are dispersed across the site and are not fit for purpose. Current bench space is insufficient to accommodate the work and the facilities have undergone ad-hoc modifications to inadequately patch up problems. The current moth rearing rooms are attached to the end of a NSW DPI laboratory and are at capacity. The layout of the moth rearing rooms are poorly suited for future expansion. The current moth food preparation areas are located within available space in the main office administration building, which creates workflow inefficiencies and work health and safety risks. The current facilities are too small and are incapable of expansion to allow for CSIRO to accept further research funding to expand activities in this area.
CSIRO told the Committee that the construction of new facilities will result in the following improvements for its insect research facilities:
The construction of a new laboratory facility will resolve workflow inefficiencies and work health and safety risks identified in the current facilities and allow CSIRO research staff to be co-located in a central research facility adjacent to the main office and administration building. The location of the new laboratory facility is also in accordance with NSW DPI preference to separate office administration and scientific research activities, which is in line with modern work health and safety principles. The co-location of staff from across the site in a central new laboratory facility will also encourage collaboration between research teams and improve site amenity.
According to CSIRO, the plant and equipment workshop has also been assessed as deficient:
The current plant and equipment workshop is neither wide, nor tall enough to fit new machinery and equipment (such as cotton pickers which have continued to increase in size). The current plant and equipment workshop arrangement does not have a big enough capacity to meet current and future demand and the layout of the current facilities creates workflow and safety risks. The location of the existing workshop also increases heavy vehicle traffic through the middle of the site which creates work health and safety risks for staff.
The Committee is satisfied that the need for the work exists.
Scope of the works
In order to address the identified need, CSIRO proposed the construction of three new facilities:
A cotton processing facility – to be constructed on the western side of the precinct.
A laboratory facility – to be constructed adjacent, but separate, to the main office and administration building.
A plant and equipment workshop – to be located to the north of the site.
According to CSIRO, the cotton processing facility will operate ‘as a standalone gable end industrial-type building for processing cotton’. It will be composed of ‘a number of spaces and functional activities’ based on the following three sectors:
The western sector of the building is a high bay space for up to four high pallet storage and gin accommodation including the following:
Enclosed delivery and hardstand for semi-trailers and other vehicles – both road and field vehicles.
Pallet racking store – four pallets high.
Gin shed – high bay space to accommodate gins and dust extraction equipment.
Temperature controlled drying room for moisture removal of handpicked field cotton prior to processing through the gins.
Seed treating and grading room to accommodate process of grading to separate seed for processing and waste seed rejection.
Temperature and humidity controlled rooms for seed storage.
Associated stores and receipt/dispatch areas.
The breezeway sector is a north/south link-way between workrooms and gin shed capable for pallet truck (potentially forklift) access to the north loading and unloading area. This area addresses the need for segregation between the two different functional zones of the cotton processing facility and offers a safer workplace environment by segregating high bay space and its drier processes from cleaner and low bay work. It is a delivery point for smaller items receipt or dispatch.
The workrooms sector is a low-rise facility including the following:
High Volume Instrument lint testing for testing of lint in a controlled environment.
Workrooms for seed processing, including cold rooms and freezer rooms.
Cotton processing facility operations – a multi-purpose space for operational briefing and after hours shift work meals and hot-desks to support in-process administrative tasks and after hours secure work area.
CSIRO also outlined the scope of the proposed new laboratory facility at Myall Vale:
The new laboratory facility operates as a standalone skillion roof laboratory comprising the following three defined sectors:
The general purpose and resistance laboratories including Physical Containment Level 1 and Level 2 capable open plan laboratories and support spaces.
Proposed new central field support unit including clean workplace to calibrate electronic equipment, storage for controlled small-scale field equipment and cleaning and servicing of small scale field equipment.
The new Plant and Soil Facility laboratory for receiving and preparation of soil and plant samples, dehydration equipment, soil and plant grinding and associated cold rooms and stores.
In its submission, CSIRO stated that the plant and equipment workshop will ‘include higher undercover work bays’ than the current facilities, to ‘fit new farming machinery. Additionally, CSIRO noted that locating the new plant and equipment workshop to the north of the precinct will ‘remove risks surrounding heavy vehicle traffic movements through high traffic pedestrian areas in the centre of the site’.
The Committee finds that the proposed scope of works is suitable for the works to meet its purpose.
Cost of the works
The total cost for this project is estimated at $17.9 million, excluding GST. This includes the cost of construction, management and design fees, furniture, fittings and equipment, contingencies and an escalation allowance.
CSIRO provided further detail on project costings in its confidential submission and during an in-camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
The Committee did not identify any issues of concern with the proposal and is satisfied that the project has merit in terms of need, scope and cost.
Having regard to its role and responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that this project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project which is fit for purpose, having regard to the established need.
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: CSIRO Myall Vale Cotton Breeding Research Facilities project.
Proponent entities must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.