In March 2017 the Queensland Audit Office found, just as multiple reviews of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program (fire ant program) have found, Biosecurity Queensland cannot ‘always demonstrate it has successfully achieved the ultimate aims’ of its programs because Biosecurity Queensland does not capture adequate, reliable and consistent performance data, Biosecurity Queensland programs do not have specific, measurable program performance indicators, Biosecurity Queensland has no methods for evaluating its programs and Biosecurity Queensland reports inputs and activities but not progress towards eradication. The public can have no confidence that the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program is containing or eradicating fire ants and no confidence that $400m of public money, so far, has not been wasted while Biosecurity Queensland runs the program. 24th October 2017
In March 2017, the Queensland Audit Office examined how well Biosecurity Queensland measures and reports the efficiency and effectiveness of three of its programs: the Panama, wild dog management and surveillance programs. The Queensland Audit Office found, just as the Queensland Biosecurity Capability Review of 2015 found, and what multiple reviews of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program have found: Biosecurity Queensland cannot always demonstrate that it is achieving program goals because:
As multiple reviews of National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program have said, Biosecurity Queensland cannot prove that it is containing or eradicating fire ants and is not wasting public money because it does not have, and has never had, any reliable performance data because it does not have and has never had, a functioning information system: even though this was one of the Milestones set by Ministerial Council in 2001.
In 2002, an independent scientific review team said, because of the lack of data, ‘the (program) is no position to know, with any degree of certainty, what areas have not been treated, what areas have been treated and what they were treated with’.
In 2003, program auditors said ‘The scarcity of performance measures against outcomes prevents a more objective evaluation of operational efficiency.’
In 2004, another independent scientific review team said, again because of the data of data, ‘It is not clear what properties have been surveyed and not treated or treated and not surveyed…. We would like clarification on these activities.’
In 2005, the program auditor was still worried about the data-base. The auditor found that operational managers had so little trust in the integrity of the information system they were running an independent information system through a series of spread-sheets for the purposes of reporting and performance management.’
In 2009, yet another independent scientific review team said, ‘The review team was surprised by the lack of a consistent and coherent information base to assess the effectiveness of surveillance and treatment protocols.’
In 2013, the program auditor was complaining that Biosecurity Queensland still had no long-term plan for the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, no specific, measurable and fit-for-purpose program performance indicators and no mechanisms for analysing the cost-benefit of program initiatives to decide if they should proceed. They also said, Biosecurity Queensland’s reports were just ‘narratives’: stories of inputs and activities but not reports on progress towards program targets. Consequently, the auditor said, because it was not possible to track the progress of the program or conduct any robust cost-benefit analysis of it, there was a risk the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program might not achieve its objectives and might not be able to demonstrate due care in the use of public money.
By 2012, the fire ant program information system was over 10 years old, held over 22m records, needed to be regularly ‘patched’, was fragile, erratic and subject to outages, and its ability to provide basic functions was questionable. So, a decision was made to re-develop it: but that is yet to happen. The 2012 re-development project was suspended and in their annual report for 2014-15, Biosecurity Queensland noted the information system was still being updated and tested.
In March this year, the Queensland Audit Office reported that Biosecurity Queensland’s information system was STILL under development and still not functioning as intended because Biosecurity Queensland managers keep changing the scope of the information system. This has been a chronic failure of Biosecurity Queensland’s management of the fire ant program and its information system.
One of the early managers of the fire ant program’s information system said the problem was never with the technology: the problem is that Biosecurity Queensland managers have never planned what the information system needed to do. This former manager said the information system had the capacity to record information on individual properties: how many times it had been treated or inspected and how many doses of the various chemicals, but Biosecurity Queensland managers had never asked for that information. Which is also what program auditors said in 2013: Biosecurity Queensland has never developed any long-term plan for the program.
Which is also what the Queensland Biosecurity Capability Review of 2015 found. The reviewers noted, with alarm, that Biosecurity Queensland does not collect high-quality and timely performance data to inform operational and financial decisions. Consequently, they said, Biosecurity Queensland’s leadership team’s decision making was often conflicted and inconsistent because it lacks any performance data as a basis for decision making. The reviewers concluded that Biosecurity Queensland does not have the leadership and organisational capability needed to protect Queenslanders from invasive pests and diseases now or in the future.
The community can have no confidence that the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program will contain or eradicate fire ants and the community can have no confidence that $400m of public money, so far, has not been wasted while Biosecurity Queensland runs the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program.