Writings: Did Biosecurity Queensland miss over 50 large fire ant nests in Lanefield, west of Ipswich, infested for 10 years?

It appears, in June 2018, a large team of field assistants reported a small property in Lanefield to be fire ant free, only for another team to find over fifty large nests on the same property a few days later. If so, is this evidence that Biosecurity Queensland’s operations are haphazard or evidence that Biosecurity Queensland’s reports are inaccurate? Lanefield has been infested since 2008. Program managers would have preferred being able to report to national funders at the end of the financial year that Lanefield was now fire ant free, rather than still being heavily infested, despite ten years of treatment and $400m of public money. 6th August 2018

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It appears, in June 2018, a large team of Biosecurity Queensland field assistants failed to find more than fifty large fire ant nests on a property of about 10 hectares in Lanefield.  Lanefield is a suburb west of the city of Ipswich, close to the town of Rosewood in the Bremer Valley, and well-inside the huge fire ant infestation in south-east Queensland.  

Lanefield has been on Biosecurity Queensland list of ‘High Risk Suburbs’ and ‘High Risk Restricted Areas’ since December 2008 when fire ants were found on properties along the Rosewood-Laidley Road. According to the Fire Ant Program’s Work Plan for 2017-18, Lanefield, was scheduled for ‘targeted surveillance around previous treatment areas.’ By June 2018, Lanefield should have received many, many rounds of treatment.

Finding a densely-infested property in Lanefield, at the end of the 2017-2018 financial year, would not have been good news to Program Managers as they prepared their end-of-financial report to national program funders. A report that a property in Lanefield was now fire ant free would have been much better news.

Fortunately, for the property owners and residents of Lanefield, if not Fire Ant Program managers, another small team of Biosecurity Queensland field assistants, noticed the densely-infested property a few days later. More than fifty nests, some about 30 cms high, on a relatively small property were hard to miss.

Is this an example of Biosecurity Queensland’s operational incompetence, or Biosecurity Queensland’s mis-reporting? Every independent review of the Program since 2002, and most recently the Queensland Audit Office in March 2017, have said that that Biosecurity Queensland cannot support its claims it is eradicating fire ants because Biosecurity Queensland does not capture adequate, reliable and consistent performance data. What almost happened at Lanefield could be another example of Biosecurity Queensland collecting inaccurate data.