Mr John Jordan, General Manager of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program in south-east Queensland, told ABC radio on 31st October 2018 that the fire ant program has the science to eradicate fire ants and has eradicate some. Mr Jordan has no evidence fire ants have been eradicated because the program has no ‘proof of freedom’ protocol and the program has no reliable performance data. There is no science for eradicating fire ants. Scientific advice has always been ‘Too late to eradicate. Contain them.’ The result of an aggressive containment program from 2001 would likely be an infestation a fraction of the 400,00ha it is now and cost a fraction of the $400m spent so far. The decision to eradicate fire ants is a political one. The Commonwealth government will fund an eradication program but not a containment program. The Queensland government has put in $40m and got $360m back. And fire ants are now virtually out of control. Mr Jordan said the program has contained fire ants to a relatively small area in south-east Queensland and stopped them getting to Sydney and Mackay. Mr Jordan has no evidence that fire ants have been contained because the program has no reliable performance data. The fact is the fire ant infestation is now ten times worse than when they were discovered in 2001 because the program actively disbanded its large team of biosecurity inspectors who were controlling the movement of fire ant carriers. Independent modelling in 2013 showed fire ants were always beyond the program’s operational area, continued to spread and the eradication attempt had failed. Mr Jordan said the new $411m Ten Year Eradication Program was working well. The evidence is that it is not. Most areas targeted for three rounds of baiting during the 2017-18 treatment season received only one and the plan to spot treat of persistent infestations was virtually abandoned after six months. In 2017, then Chair of the Agriculture Minister’s Forum, Barnaby Joyce, wrote to me to say the program intended to increase public transparency by opening program documents to public scrutiny. Mr Jordan is not opening program documents to public scrutiny but is telling the public fake news instead. 2nd November 2018
Mr John Jordan, General Manager of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program in south-east Queensland told ABC radio on 31st October 2018 that since fire ants were first detected in south-east Queensland the program:
The facts are:
It has never been feasible to eradicate fire ants from south-east Queensland
When fire ant experts from the USA inspected the infestation in south-east Queensland in 2001, they said it was as bad as anything they had seen in the USA. Some areas were heavily infested with lots of nests and some nests were half a metre high. It was obvious fire ants were well-entrenched in south-east Queensland. US and local experts said it was too late to try to eradicate them, but important to aggressively contain them.
Mr Jordan has no evidence to support his claim that fire ants have been eradicated from the ports of Brisbane, Gladstone and Botany because the program still does not have a ‘proof of freedom’ protocol (a protocol requested by the science review of 2004) and, as the Queensland Audit Office found in 2017, the Queensland Biosecurity Capability Review found in 2016 and independent scientific reviews found in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2015, the program does not collect reliable and consistent performance data and is in no position to make any claims about its performance.
Modelling the program commissioned from Monash University in 2013 showed that fire ants were always beyond the operational area of the program, that fire ants continue to spread and the eradication attempt had failed.
The fire ant eradication program is a boon to Queensland Treasury
In 2001, Queensland Agriculture Minister Henry Palaszczuk rejected sound scientific advice to contain the fire ant infestation and declared that Queensland would eradicate fire ants. He knew the Commonwealth and other States and Territories would fund an eradication program, in the national interest, but not containment program.
At a time of high unemployment and with a political slogan of ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,’ Minister Palaszczuk also rejected scientific advice to bait the infestation cheaply and efficiently by helicopter. He decided to spent national cost share partners’ money on a jobs program for 400 unemployed people. Auditor Deloitte said the program’s slow, absentee and incident riddled workforce was the greatest drain on program’s efficiency.
Between 2001 and 2017, the Queensland government put in 10% of the program’s funding (around $40m) and received around $360m back from national cost share partners. And between 2017 and 2027 it will be more of the same: Queensland will put in another $40m and benefit to the tune of another $360m.
The science has always been for an aggressive containment program
In 2001, US and local fire ant experts said it was too late to try to eradicate fire ants from south east Queensland. And subsequent independent scientific reviews said the same thing. In 2002, the review team said they couldn’t tell if the eradication attempt would work, but said if fire ants were not virtually eradicated by 2004, the program should revert to a program of containment. The 2006 review said the program’s treatment and surveillance efforts didn’t work and the program should to revert to containment. The 2010 review said the same.
Scientific advice has always been for an aggressive containment program, with strict controls on the movement fire ant carriers like soil, mulch, compost, potted plants out of the infested area and intensive baiting of the whole infested area to suppress the ants. And the cheapest, quickest, most effective way of doing that was by helicopter.
If the fire ant program had implemented an aggressive containment regime since 2001, it is likely the infestation would be a fraction of what it is now: closer to 40,000ha that over 400,000ha it is now. And have cost a fraction of the more than $400m spent on it so far.
Instead fire ants are now infesting an area ten times greater than in 2001: infesting new housing estates in Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Gold Coast cities and in Sunshine Coast, Moreton Bay, Somerset and Scenic Rim regional areas and farms in the Lockyer Valley: putting the safety of the public and the economy at risk, because the program has abrogated its responsibility to contain the spread of fire ants.
The program actively dismantled its team of about twenty biosecurity inspectors who identified high risk enterprises, helped them develop risk mitigation plans, audited those plans and prosecuted those who did not comply. Thousands of community minded businesses developed such plans. But the inspectors did not know how many thousands of high risk enterprises were operating in the infested area or what they were doing to mitigate their risk of spreading fire ants. Either accidentally or intentionally, many were doing nothing.
The program’s only containment strategy is to rely on the public complying with the General Biosecurity Obligation created in the Biosecurity Act 2014. It requires people living or working in a fire ant zone to manage their risk of spreading fire ants. It has been illegal to move a live fire ant since 2002. Legal obligations, without enforcement, did not work then and are not working now.
The New Ten Year $411m Fire Eradication Program (2017-27) is failing
The new Plan puts great emphasis on significantly increasing the total area receiving multiple and consecutive treatments of bait. It prescribes a ‘rolling’ strategy: starting with intensive treatment on the western and south-western edges of the program’s operations in the Lockyer Valley and the Scenic Rim, then rolling intensive treatment activities eastward in subsequent years. In the meantime, the eastern parts of the infestation, in Ipswich, Brisbane, Logan, Redland Bay and Gold Coast cities, were to receive spot treatments to suppress the persistent infestations in those areas.
The results for the first year are appalling. Most of the western and south-western areas targeted for three rounds of broadcast bait received only ONE round during the treatment season (September to March/April). Less than half the area received two. Mr Jordan said current research shows that it takes six application of bait, per season, (not in total) to kill fire ant nests. One round of bait per season, or less than five, is just a waste of time and money.
Program reports say the plan to spot treat persistent infestations in the east was virtually abandoned after six months (responding only to nests that posed a risk to public safety) to divert resources to the west and because the program was being swamped with reports of fire ant nests from the public.
Instead of public scrutiny of the program the public gets fake news.
The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program is funded, 100%, by the public. In 2017, Barnaby Joyce, then Chair of the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum, wrote to me to say ‘I note your suggestion that the RIFA-SEQ Program Steering Committee open relevant program documents to public scrutiny. I am advised that the committee is exploring ways to increase public transparency and engagement, including options you have raised.’
Instead of increasing public transparency about the program and opening the program to public scrutiny, Mr Jordan gives the public fake news instead.