The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program is an abject failure. Fire ants are out of control. The program has an annual budget of $42m to do three things: find fire ant nests, kill them and stop fire ants from spreading. Biosecurity Queensland is dumping the costs and responsibilities to do all three things onto the public. Biosecurity Queensland does no systematic surveillance for fire ants. A vigilant public has reported 70-80% of new detections. Biosecurity Queensland cannot define the boundaries of the infestation with welcome, but ad hoc reports. Biosecurity Queensland has dumped the responsibility and costs of containing the spread of fire ants onto the public. Biosecurity Queensland disbanded its large team of biosecurity inspectors who worked with businesses to develop risk management plans and does not keep its Fire Ant Biosecurity Zones map up to date. Biosecurity Queensland is now dumping the responsibility and costs of killing fire ants onto the public if they don’t want to wait for months for Biosecurity Queensland to treat them. People are likely to use cheap, ineffective methods, like petrol, which will do more harm and good. People are likely to disturb a nest and cause it to split and spread before it is treated and people can get badly stung trying to treat a fire ant nest. After wasting over $500m of public money over seventeen years, the fire ant infestation is out of control and Biosecurity Queensland is walking away from the program, dumping the costs and responsibilities for finding and killing fire ants and for stopping them spreading onto the public, but keeping the $42m annual budget. Time for a Royal Commission. 13th January 2020
In his first ever newsletter to the building and development industries in December 2019, the General Manager of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, Graeme Dudgeon, wrote ‘Fire ants are a whole-of-community problem and one we need to fight together.’ The community has done its bit, but Biosecurity Queensland has not.
The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program has to do three things: find fire ants, kill fire ants and stop them from spreading. Biosecurity Queensland has dumped the costs and responsibility to do all three of those things onto the public, but keeps its $42m annual budget.
Biosecurity Queensland dumped the costs and responsibility for containing the spread of fire ants onto the public in 2014 when it imposed a General Biosecurity Obligation on industries and the public to take all reasonable precautions to ensure they don’t spread fire ants.
Industry and community representatives at a Stakeholders’ Forum in May 2018 said they were happy to accept their obligations but wanted Biosecurity Queensland to do the same by:
Instead Biosecurity Queensland threatens to prosecute those who do not comply. It has been illegal to move a potential fire ant carrier since 2002. To date, as far as I am aware, Biosecurity Queensland has issued just two infringement notices in seventeen years. Who is going to take Mr Dudgeon seriously?
When Mr Dudgeon wrote in the newsletter that the program’s current strategy was ‘You report and we’ll treat’ he acknowledged the program had long since given up conducting any systematic surveillance to detect new infestations and to define the extent of the infestation. Biosecurity Queensland trialled remote-sensing technology to detect fire ant nests by helicopter between 2010 and 2015. The trial was an utter failure. It found a total of 38 nests while the infestation tripled from 100,000ha to 300,000ha. Biosecurity Queensland has not re-introduced the practice or any other systematic surveillance program. Seventy to eighty percent of new infestations have been reported by a vigilant public, but Biosecurity Queensland cannot define the boundaries of the infestation with ad hoc inspections.
In his newsletter Mr Dudgeon told builders and developers that Biosecurity Queensland is now adopting a ‘self-management’ strategy, in effect dumping the cost and responsibilities of its treatment regime onto the public.
With a backlog of reports of thousands of untreated fire ant nests, Biosecurity Queensland is now allowing farmers, builders, developers and others to treat fire ant nests on their own properties. Their option is to wait months for Biosecurity Queensland to treat them, during which time the infestation can spread.
People paying for their own treatments are likely to choose one of the many cheap but ineffective methods found on the internet, like petrol. People with no experience of fire ants can cause a nest to split and spread before they can treat it. Both of these things can make the infestation worse. People with no experience of fire ants can get badly stung in the process of trying to treat a nest. It is unlikely Biosecurity Queensland will compensate the public for damage they can sustain doing its job.
After wasting over $500m of public money over seventeen years, resulting in a fire ant infestation that is out of control, Biosecurity Queensland is walking away from the program, dumping the costs and responsibilities for finding and killing fire ants and for stopping them spreading onto the public, but keeping its $42m annual budget. Time for a Royal Commission.