Writings: Fire ant Fiasco

Fire ants are on the march….

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The fire ant is still on the march in Queensland despite an expensive 12-year eradication program.

Fire ants are a super-pest that will wreak havoc on Australia’s economy, environment and lifestyle. People die of fire ant stings in the United States every year. People in south-east Queensland have been hospitalised with fire ant stings: one nearly died. Fire ants can build nests almost anywhere, but they particularly like the disturbed soil in gardens, parks and playing fields, farmlands and building sites. They will put an end to a relaxed outdoor lifestyle and they will add significant costs to developers, farmers and other industries.

Fire ants were discovered in two separate sites in Brisbane in February 2001: some nests were huge:  meaning they had been there for years.  Fire ant experts from the USA described south-east Queensland was ‘fire ant heaven’ and they said that fire ants are capable of infesting must of Australia; especially the coastal areas and the tropical north.   No country that has been invaded by fire ants has ever eradicated them. Fire ants are likely to be one of the worst invasive pests that Australia has ever experienced. 


Fire Ant Queens

Fire Ant Queens


In 2001, the Queensland government, funded by the Commonwealth and other State and Territory governments mounted the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program with the intention of eradicating fire ants by 2006.  By 2015, after spending $400m of public money on thousands of tonnes of bait and hundreds of staff to fight fire ants, fire ants now infest an area more than ten times what is was in 2001: an area of 400,000ha that spreads from Redlands on Moreton Bay, through Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan and is now spreading into the Gold Coast and the Lockyer Valley.

In the face of this damning evidence the Queensland Government continues to claim that it is eradicating fire ants while four independent scientific reviews between 2002 and 2010 and other program reports do not support this claim.

I joined the program at the very beginning to liaise with businesses and residents already affected by the infestation.  As the program continued, I prepared the reports to the Commonwealth and other governments that were funding the program. I watched the program hampered from the very beginning by political decisions that ignored scientific advice.  The program reports I prepared for the funders began to over-state the progress of the program and fail to note the many serious issues affecting it.


Fire Ant Bites

In 2003, I blew the whistle to the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) that the Queensland government was mis-reporting the progress of the program. The CMC decided it wasn’t and the mis-reporting continues.

After leaving the program and the Queensland government, I followed the program through media reports and reports and reviews of the program I have accessed under Right to Information legislation. Those reports do not corroborate the Queensland government’s claim that it is eradicating fire ants.

Public support in fighting fire ants is critical. Residents and business operators inspecting their own properties have detected a significant proportion of the infestation.  The danger is that the public will be lulled into a false sense of security and not remain vigilant by Queensland government claims that it is winning the fight against fire ants. 

To remain vigilant, I believe that the Australian public needs to know the true state of the fire ant infestation and truth about the Queensland government’s failed National Fire Ant Eradicating Program; ie the story of the “Fire Ant Fiasco”

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