The facts are: Biosecurity Queensland failed to apply the three scheduled rounds of bait, over Priority Area 1, as prescribed by the $411.m Ten Year Fire Ant Eradication Program in both 2017 and 2018. Biosecurity Queensland completed only one and a half rounds of treatments in 2017-18 and was still completing the 2017-18 schedule in 2018-19. Biosecurity Queensland is now baiting long infested areas by helicopter, sixteen years too late. Results are likely to be short lived. The 2016 review of the program said it could not assess the effectiveness of the program’s treatment and surveillance methods because of the lack of data. The review could not recommend eradication as the optional future approach. The Steering Committee is not providing sound governance of the program because it did not assess and approve the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Work Plans until months after work began. In May 2019, Biosecurity Queensland was drowning in a backlog of 9000 reports of suspicious nests from a vigilant public. There are more now. Biosecurity Queensland can take weeks and months to inspect and treat fire ant nests. Biosecurity Queensland’s treatment strategy of baiting and injecting fire ant nests is contrary to advice from the United States Department of Agriculture. USDA recommends baiting only and treating individual nests only when they pose a threat to the safety of people or animals. Treating individual nests is slow, expensive and likely to cause the nest to split and spread. Independent reviews of the program in 2018, 2017, 2015, 2012, 2009, 2005, 2004 and 2002 have all said Biosecurity Queensland does not have and has never had a functioning information system and has never collected timely, reliable and accurate performance data. Biosecurity Queensland is in no position to claim it has eradicated any incursions or prevented fire ants from spreading further. Time for a Royal Commission 6th January 2020
Biosecurity Queensland repeats the same lies about the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program South East Queensland (NRIFAEP SEQ). $411m 10 year plan a failure. Fire ants out of control. Time for a Royal Commission.
In the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ publication ‘Under the Microscope – Fire Ant News’ December 2019, Biosecurity Queensland claimed:
‘Over 513,000ha treated…in two years…with fire ant specific bait…treating each nest multiple times.’
This is nonsense. Biosecurity Queensland has acknowledged the whole fire ant infestation covers 500,000ha.
What Biosecurity Queensland is actually claiming is they have applied three rounds of bait each year for the last two years, as prescribed by the NRIFAEP SEQ Ten Year Plan Work Plan, to the 84,000ha targeted for eradication treatment in 2017-18 and 2018-19, totalling 513,000ha.
The fact is they applied only one and a half rounds bait to the 84,000ha targeted for eradication in 2017-18 and were still catching up on the 2017-18 schedule in 2018-19.
‘Farmers in parts of the Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim and the Ipswich local government areas are telling us that the two years of bait treatment they’ve received is working.’
Farmers in parts of south-east Queensland whose properties have been infested for over seven years are now reporting fewer fire ant nests on their properties since Biosecurity Queensland started its aerial baiting program.
These results are likely to be short-lived. In 2001, Queensland Minister Henry Palaszczuk rejected scientific advice to treat the whole infestation by helicopter even though it was the cheapest and most effective method to contain and suppress the infestation. Instead he decided to use Commonwealth funds to create hundreds of jobs in his electorate. Biosecurity Queensland introduced aerial baiting into the program after I advised then federal Minister for Agriculture and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, again, to do so in March 2017. But it is now too little, too late.
‘What’s the plan? An independent external review of the fire ant program in 2016 determined we could win the war against fire ants with eradication still possible.’
The Magee review of 2016 acknowledged it could not review the effectiveness of the program and could not provide advice on future options for the program: eradication, containment and/or management of fire ants because, as all independent reviews have noted, the program lacks any empirical data on the effectiveness of its treatment and surveillance methods. The Magee review could only give guidance about a future approach, not an optimal approach: ie an eradication effort, heavily dependent on the development of effective aerial surveillance technology which still does not exist.
‘The Ten Year Eradication Plan …starting treatment in the west and progressively moving to the east. …In Area 1, we’ve completed two seasons of bait treatment and are currently in our third.’
Biosecurity Queensland completed only one and a half rounds of three scheduled rounds of treatments in 2017-18 and was still completing the 2017-18 schedule in 2018-19.
‘How can we trust the plan? A national group of experts, (the Steering Committee) review the program at least twice a year.’
The Steering Committee, chaired by Dr Wendy Craik and with representatives of from the Commonwealth and all State and Territory governments, is responsible for the $411.m committed to the Ten Year Eradication Plan NRIFAEP SEQ 2017-18 to 2026-27.
An independent risk assessment of the program in December 2018 said the Steering Committee was failing to provide good governance of the program because in both 2017 and 2018 it did not assess or approve the program’s work plans until months after each operational year had commenced.
‘What happens if I lodge a suspect ant report? ..Every day we receive suspect fire ant reports from vigilant members of the public …between February and August this year we received nearly 6000 of them….Each report is reviewed and categorised. If the report is deemed suspect we arrange for an officer to visit the site, collect a sample and treat the nest.
Biosecurity Queensland was drowning in a backlog of around 9000 reports in May 2019 from a vigilant public. There are more now. The public report it can take Biosecurity Queensland weeks and months to treat fire ant nests they have reported on their properties.
‘What bait do we use for fire ant treatment? Fire ant treatment involves either baiting or direct nest injection or both.’
Biosecurity Queensland’s treatment regime of baiting and injecting fire ant nests is contrary to best practice advised by the United States Department of Agriculture. USDA recommends baiting and waiting for the baits to take effect and treating individual nests only when they pose a threat to the safety of people or animals. Treating individual nests is slow, expensive and likely to cause nests to split and spread.
‘We’ve won the war before. We have eradicated five genetically-distinct fire ant incursions from … the Port of Brisbane…the Brisbane Airport …and the Port of Gladstone….Modelling tells us without the efforts of the fire ant program, fire ants could be north to Mackay, south to Sydney and west to Cunnamulla by now.’
Independent reviews of the program in 2018, 2017, 2015, 2012, 2009, 2005, 2004 and 2002 have all said Biosecurity Queensland does not have and has never had a functioning information system and has never collected timely, reliable and accurate performance data.
Biosecurity Queensland is not, and has never been, in any position to make any claims of success.
Time for a Royal Commission.