Writings: No public scrutiny of Biosecurity Queensland's failing fire ant program

Even with $400m of public money, Biosecurity Queensland has failed to stop the spread of deadly fire ants. But the public is not allowed to know how Biosecurity Queensland spent so much public money for so little public good. Biosecurity Queensland tells the public that its fire ant program is ‘on track’ to eradicate fire ants: that it has eradicated some populations of the ants and, after fifteen years, has finally been able define the limits of the infestation. The truth is, the infestation is now more than ten times what is was fifteen years ago. At 450,000ha, it is now twice the size of the Australian Capital Territory. And fire ants continue their steady march beyond bounds of Biosecurity Queensland’s Fire Ant Biosecurity Zones. I know the truth about the fire ant program from program reports and reviews I have accessed through Queensland Right to Information processes. Unfortunately, those processes are slow and potentially expensive, AND Biosecurity Queensland can block access to documents about the fire ant program: including ones likely to be critical of Biosecurity Queensland’s performance. I believe the public should have timely, easy, online access to all documents associated with the fire ant program so that the public can scrutinise how its money is being spent in the public good. 22 March 2017

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Biosecurity Queensland tells the public that its fire ant eradication program is ‘on-track’. By accessing program reports and reviews I know that eradication is NOT on track. Far from it. I am trying to inform the public of the truth of the fire ant program through these blogs.

Perhaps because the truths I have uncovered are embarrassing, Biosecurity Queensland is now denying me access to fire ant program documents: specifically, reports from the Commonwealth committees that monitor Biosecurity Queensland’s performance for the year 2015-16. It is likely the reports are critical of Biosecurity Queensland’s competence.

I have shone light on some of the truths about Biosecurity Queensland’s fire ant program: including:

Biosecurity Queensland is in no position to claim it has eradicated fire ants because it does not have the data to support that claim.


Fire ants are now out of control as more and more are detected each year.


Fire ants are out of control because Biosecurity Queensland has no fire ant movement controls.


Biosecurity Queensland is dumping the problem of fire ants back onto the public.


Biosecurity Queensland is incapable of running a fire ant program.


Biosecurity Queensland’s fire ant program continued to fail during the 2015-16 operational year.

The extent of the infestation increased by another 756ha as the public found fire ants in Figtree Pocket, Holland Park, Tamborine, Upper Coomera, the Indooroopilly golf course and the Brisbane Airport at Eagle Farm. This was the second year in a row that the infestation has exceeded the increase oversight committee will tolerate in one year.

Biosecurity Queensland now reports the extent of the infestation in the number of suburbs involved; rather than number of hectares: because it is a smaller number. Nevertheless, fire ants were infesting 273 suburbs in south east Queensland in 2015-16; up from 259 in 2014-15.

Biosecurity Queensland planned to treat only 87,500 ha of the total 411,500ha fire ant biosecurity zone three times during 2015-16. However, they reported that twenty-four areas did not get full treatment because property owners denied access to their property. Biosecurity Queensland has legal authority to enter properties to treat them and any gaps in the treatment blanket allows fire ants to spread. Once again, the fraction of the infested area that Biosecurity Queensland planned to treat exceeded its ability to do so.

Biosecurity inspectors conducted compliance checks on 305 high risk enterprises in the fire ant restricted areas during 2015-16; including earthmoving businesses, landscape suppliers and nursery enterprises, waste management businesses, hay and turf producers and construction businesses. They found at least twenty-seven enterprises non-compliant with movement control measures. Biosecurity Queensland gave no explanation why these businesses were non-compliant, gave no explanation for why they were not prosecuted and gave no estimate of the number of high risk enterprises operating in fire ant restricted areas and their level of compliance with movement controls.

And most worryingly, Biosecurity Queensland reported that 240 bales of hay for drought relief were move to the central Queensland shires of Winton, Barcoo and Etheridge from fire ant infested areas in south-east Queensland – without movement approvals!

Biosecurity Queensland is required to report quarterly to the Commonwealth Tramp Ant Consultative Committee and the Red Imported Fire Ant National Management Group, made up of representative of all Australian States and Territories that fund the program. The committees are responsible for approving program plans and budgets and for monitoring the program’s progress and costs.  

In previous Right to Information applications, I have received copies of oversight committee reports and noted the concerns of other States about Biosecurity Queensland’s ability to eradicate fire ants. Western Australia was so concerned that it withdrew its funding contribution to the program in 2014.

Biosecurity Queensland is now denying me access to the oversight committees’ review of its performance for 2015-16; saying, inexplicably, that they do not have copies of those reports. It is likely that the oversight committees are critical of Biosecurity Queensland’s performance during 2015-16.

The Australian Agriculture Ministers’ Forum will meet in a few months to determine the future of the fire ant program. We have to hope that the Commonwealth, States and Territory governments continue to fund a fire ant program for the sake of the whole country. But, I believe they will be throwing more good public money after bad if Biosecurity Queensland continues to run the program.

And to ensure that more public money is not wasted, I suggest the all fire ant program documents should be posted online in a timely, easy to access manner so that the public can scrutinise how its money is being spent.