In May 2018, Biosecurity Queensland invited industry and community stakeholders from south-east Queensland to tell them how to better manage the fire ant program and better engage with stakeholders. They said the same thing reviewers have said over the years: that Biosecurity Queensland is too slow to respond to new detections, is not controlling the movement of fire ant carriers, is not giving the community the most basic information about fire ants and the program, manages poorly and is not engaging with stakeholders. Basically, they told Biosecurity Queensland to just do its job. Will Biosecurity Queensland listen this time? 12th June 2018
For the first time since the fire ant program started in 2001, Biosecurity Queensland invited representatives from the community and industries in south-east Queensland that are affected by the fire ant invasion and the fire ant program to a Stakeholders’ Forum in May 2018. The purpose of the forum was ‘to seek stakeholder feedback on the management of fire ants (and) to explore options for greater stakeholder and engagement and collaboration to help achieve the 10 Year Eradication Plan.’
About forty representatives from industry and the community told Biosecurity Queensland many of the same things reviewers of the program have told Biosecurity Queensland for years: That it is:
Biosecurity Queensland’s report on the forum says stakeholder feedback are ‘ideas for further program improvement.’ In fact, stakeholders at the May 2018 forum simply told Biosecurity Queensland to do what it should have been doing for years, but didn’t. Which is why the same problems remain. Will Biosecurity Queensland listen AND act THIS time?
Biosecurity Queensland ’s slow response to treating new detections.
Stakeholders said fire ant nests left untreated for a long time give the impression that Biosecurity Queensland doesn’t think the fire ant program is important. Because of Biosecurity Queensland’s slow response, stakeholders want landowners to be able to treat fire ant nests their own properties.
This should not be necessary. Biosecurity Queensland received $400m of public money over the past sixteen years to do just that, were repeatedly reminded to do that, but didn’t. The science review in October 2002 said the ‘delays to the treatment of all land parcels within the Treatment Area should be reduced to a minimum.’ The 2006 scientific review said that ‘time between identifying a new nest and treating it should be only 24-48 hours.’
Biosecurity Queensland’s slow response to new detections creates a huge backlog of nests to be treated. In 2013, the then LNP Minister, John McVeigh, wanted to reduce that backlog by removing the ‘red-tape’ that stipulated that only properly trained staff could treat fire ant nests so that ‘anyone who wanted to give it a go, could.’ The danger is, of course, that untrained people could get seriously stung or cause nests to move before they can be destroyed.
The LNP attempt to push treatment back onto landowners finally failed because of the question ‘Who pays?’ Unless Biosecurity Queensland compensates landowners for treating their own properties and any medical costs they might incur if they get stung, it is not likely to happen.
Biosecurity Queensland’s failure to control the human-assisted movement of fire ants.
Recognising that people carelessly or accidentally moving fire ants in loads of fire ant carriers like soil, mulch and potted plants is the main cause of the continuing spread of fire ants, stakeholders wanted more information on what they CAN do to mitigate their risk of spreading fire ants: not just want they CAN’T do.
Stakeholders are happy to accept their General Biosecurity Obligation, under the Biosecurity Act 2014, to be responsible for taking all reasonable precautions to ensure they don’t spread fire ants. But they also want Biosecurity Queensland to fulfil its own General Biosecurity Obligation by simply doing its job. By:
Biosecurity Queensland’s failure to provide stakeholders with the most basic information
Biosecurity Queensland says ‘Community apathy is the greatest enemy’. This is not true. 70% – 80% of the detections of new fire ant nests have been made by a vigilant public. But the public stay engaged and vigilant when Biosecurity Queensland does not publish the most basic information about fire ants and about the program.
Stakeholders simply want Biosecurity Queensland to do its job by:
Biosecurity Queensland’s poor management of the program.
Feedback from the stakeholders at the forum echoed feedback from independent reviews of how Biosecurity Queensland runs the program: feedback that’s been ignored.
Biosecurity Queensland’s poor stakeholder engagement
It’s hard to take seriously Biosecurity Queensland’s aim for the Stakeholders’ Forum, ‘to seek feedback on the management of fire ants and to explore options for greater stakeholder engagement.’
It is hard to believe Biosecurity Queensland when it says ‘controlling fire ants is a whole of community problem, not just a government problem that requires a genuine acceptance of shared rights, risks, roles and responsibilities and across government, community and industry and a trusting and open approach to sharing and solving problems together.’
It is hard to believe what Biosecurity Queensland says about engaging with stakeholders because the Queensland Biosecurity Capability Review of 2015 shows that what Biosecurity Queensland says does not match what is does. The Capability Review said Biosecurity Queensland:
So, it is hard to believe that Biosecurity Queensland’s will act on stakeholder feedback from the May 2018 forum and do things it should have been doing for sixteen years: ie
It is hard to believe Biosecurity Queensland will act on any feedback from the Fire Ant Program Stakeholders’ Forum in May 2018 because, basically, stakeholders just told Biosecurity Queensland to do its job: the same thing independent reviewers have told Biosecurity Queensland for years.