Two field managers, Operations and Communication and Engagement, consume 60% of the program’s annual budget of $42,425,416. Program reports document fairly well what that money was spend on: even if they don’t report what those activities achieved in terms of eradicating, containing and suppressing fire ants. The other 40% of the program’s annual budget is spent by the General Manager; the Program Director; the Manager of Administration, Procurement, WH&S and HR; the Manager of Governance, Strategic Policy, Compliance and Performance; the Manager of Planning and Quality Management; the Manager of Information and Communication (including R&D on Remote Sensing Technology), and the Manager of Science Services. They all sit comfortably on annual salaries of between $115,000 and $220,000. But evidence from program reports shows they achieve little, if anything, towards eradicating, containing or suppressing fire ants with the 40% of the program’s budget they are responsible for. Time for a Royal Commission.
The top-heavy Senior Management Team of Biosecurity Queensland’s National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program is known to Field Assistants as ‘The Club’. They sit comfortably on annual salaries of between $115,000 and $205,000 but, evidence from program reports is that 40% of the annual budget they are responsible for achieves little, if anything, towards eradicating, containing and suppressing fire ants.
It is difficult to know exactly how many senior managers the program has because Biosecurity Queensland does not publish an organisational chart. And it’s difficult to know what functions they perform because Biosecurity Queensland changes the categories it reports expenses against from report to report. But from program progress and financial reports, it would appear the Senior Management Team of Biosecurity Queensland’s National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program include a General Manager, a Director and seven Senior Managers of Administration, Procurement, WH&S and HR; Governance, Strategic Policy, Compliance and Performance; Planning and Quality Management; Communications and Engagement; Operations or Planned and Responsive Eradication; Information and Communication (including R&D on Remote Sensing Surveillance Technology); and Science Services.
And overseeing the whole program is the General Manager of Invasive Plants and Animals who sits on the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program’s Steering Committee.
Only two of the Senior Managers are responsible for the program’s field operations: the Manager of Operations and the Manager of Communications and Engagement. Both on salaries of likely between $115,000 – $122,000, they had budgets of $23,600,091 and $1,600,246 respectively for 2018-19: 60% of the total program budget of $42,425,416. Program reports detail fairly well the activities that money was spent on: if not on what those activities actually achieved. As the Queensland Audit Office noted in 2017, Biosecurity Queensland’s reports focus on inputs and activities, but not on outcomes and progress towards program objectives: ie eradicating, containing or suppressing fire ants.
But evidence in program reports is that non-operational managers achieved little, if anything, in achieving program goals with the other 40% of the program budget.
On top of the pile is the program’s General Manager, receiving a salary likely between $205,000 to $220,000, closely followed by the Director, receiving a salary likely between $129,000 and $141,000. The Directorate, made up of these two, had a budget of $453,551 plus $2,980,846 for contingencies for 2018-19. Neither the program’s Annual Report for 2017-18 nor the reports for the first two quarters of 2018-19 give any details on how the Directorate spends it budget.
The Manager of Governance, Strategic Policy, Compliance and Performance on a salary likely between $115,000 – $122,000, had a budget of $2,289,413 for 2018-19. The program’s Annual Report for 2017-18 said the team was reviewing the program’s controls, business processes and KPIs, but had not completed any. The program’s first quarter report for 2018-19 said the team still developing the Work Plan for 2018-19, three months after the start of the working year. And the team was commencing, developing, preparing and finalising lots of policies and reports, but had not actually completed any.
The program’s second quarter report for 2018-19 said the team was still writing the program’s Annual Report for 2017-18 and the first and second quarterly reports for 2018-19, it was developing, but had not completed, a policy proposal for landowner self-management and was providing secretarial services to the Steering Committee.
In 2018, the program’s Risk Management Committee said the program’s lack of clearly defined procedures, protocols and policies put the performance of the program at high risk, as did the Steering Committee not approving the program’s Work Plan for 2018-19 until months after work had started.
The Manager of Administration, Procurement, WH&S and HR, on a salary likely between $115,000 – $122,000 had a budget $3,402,599 for 2018-19. The program’s Annual Report for 2017-18 showed the team had doubled staff from 154 to 315, but was underspent by $1,300,000 on employee related expenses and underspent by $1,006,000 on services and supplies. And this was supposed to be the Ramp-Up phase for the new Ten Years Eradication Program.
In the first quarter of 2018-19 the team had secured three contracts: to demolish the helicopter landing zone at Wacol, to engage KPMG to run a workshop for the Steering Committee and to purchase insulated bait storage containers. They increased staff levels to a total of 383, relocated staff to Berrinba and overspent their budget by $214,000.
In the second quarter of 2018-19, the team had secured no contracts, had delayed recruitment activities, had lost staff due to resignations but managed to overspend their budget by $100,000.
In 2018, program’s Risk Management Committee said two high risks threatening the program were the program’s poor procurement processes: not ordering in enough bait in time and not negotiating satisfactory contracts with helicopter operators; and poor workforce management: not converting temporary staff to permanent status in accordance with the Department’s Workforce Strategy.
The Manager of Planning and Quality Management on a salary likely between $115,000 and $122,000 had a budget of $2,324,547 for 2018-19. The intention of the team was to increase compliance-related activities.
Neither the program’s Annual Report for 2017-18, nor the first or second quarter reports for 2018-19 reported that the team had completed any planning or quality assurance activities.
The Manager of Information and Communication on a salary likely between $115,000 – $122,000 had a budget of $2,300,000 for 2018-19, plus an additional $1,059,000 for research and development of Remote Sensing Surveillance technology.
The program has never had, and still does not have, a functioning information system and has never collected reliable and consistent performance data. In 2015, the Queensland Biosecurity Capability Review said one its greatest concerns was the fact that Biosecurity Queensland does not collect high quality, timely and well-understood performance information. In 2017, the Queensland Audit Office said 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, and Biosecurity Queensland programs do not have specific, measurable program performance indicators.
Nothing has changed. The program’s Annual Report for 2017-18 only said the Information and Communication section was commencing a comprehensive review of the program’s technology systems: but did not report any results.
In the program’s first quarter report for 2018-19, the team said it was testing its ‘mobility solution’ to see if it integrates field data into the Fire Ant Management System. In the program’s second quarter report for 2018-19, the team said ‘work on the mobility solution did not progress.’ In the program’s second quarter report for 2018-19, the team its focus had been on integrating the Client and Stakeholder Engagement Solution CaSES (a portal for the general public to report suspect ants) into the Fire Ant Management System. It noted that in December 2018, CaSES was not operational.
In December 2018, the program’s Risk Management Committee said the Fire Ant Program’s lack of functioning information systems, digital and paper-based, which did not provide timely and accurate performance data because of poor functionality or issues with data integrity was an EXTREME risk to the program.
With regard to Research and Development on the Remote Sensing Surveillance Technology, the first quarter report for 2018-19 said the team had overspent its budget by $300,000 continuing to investigate the latest remote surveillance technology; and would make a recommendation in December 2018. In December 2018, the Steering Committee rejected the team’s recommendation, which was assessed as needing ‘continual refinement’ and delayed payment for the Imagery Analysis report.
In 2018, the program’s Risk Management Committee considered the program’s reliance on the highly speculative remote sensing surveillance technology to be highly risky. Between 2009 and 2015, a previous version of the technology had a very high false positive rating: finding only 38 nests but thousands of warm rocks and cow pats and a very high false negative rating as the fire ant infestation tripled from 100,000ha to 300,000ha. And in 2017 the Robotics Centre at the University of Sydney said the system was not refined enough to work over different terrains.
The Manager of Science Services, on a salary likely between $115,000 – $122,000 and had a budget of $1,600,000 for 2018-19: larger than the Compliance section’s budget.
The fire ant science program has come under constant criticism from independent reviewers: shocked the science team has no consistent and coherent data to assess the effectiveness of the program’s treatment and surveillance methods: which obviously were not eradicating fire ants. The Science Services Manager has claimed, without data, that the Fire Ant Program has eradicated five incursions of fire ants and stopped fire ants from spreading between Mackay, Sydney and Charleville.
The program’s Annual report for 2017-18 notes no results from the science team. The first quarter report for 2018-19 notes the science team continued routine testing of suspicious ant samples submitted by the public (1786 suspicious ant samples: 92% were fire ants) was intending to identify monitoring sites within the treatment areas, and was intending to determine if direct nest injections actually kill fire ants: seventeen years after the practice had begun.
In the second quarter for 2018-19, the team reported that it continued routine testing of suspicious ant samples submitted by the public (1868 samples received, 72% fire ants) was producing odour-impregnated material to train odour detection dog teams, was still selecting 300 monitoring sites outside the operational boundaries of the program, was still conducting trails to determine if direct nest injections destroy fire ant nests (seventeen years after introducing the practice), was having discussions about alternative baits, and had determined that 99.3% of the infestation is monogyne; ie meaning nests have a single queen. According to the Science team, a monogyne fire ant infestation is easier to eradicate than a polygyne, or multi-queen one. If this is so, it is even more evidence of Biosecurity Queensland’s incompetence.
On top of all those positions is the General Manager of Invasive Plants and Animals (including fire ants) likely to be on a salary between $205,000 and $220,000 who sits on the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Steering Committee. This is the Committee that approved the New Ten Year $411m Fire Ant Eradication Program 2017-27 that failed spectacularly in its first year. Less than half the area in the west targeted for treatment received it, spot treatment of persistent infestations in the east were abandoned because the program was swamped by reports from the public and seven significant infestations were found west of the program’s operational area.
This is the Steering Committee, which in the face of this disaster, in August 2018, increased the program’s annual budget from $39,585,385 to $42,425,416 and increased its contingency budget from $956,000 to $2,980,846.
The top-heavy Senior Management Team of Biosecurity Queensland’s National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program has little, if anything to show, for how it spends 40% of the program’s annual budget of $42,425,416 towards eradicating, containing or suppressing fire ants.
Time for a Royal Commission.