2001 US fire ant experts said, contain the infestation. Biosecurity Queensland didn’t.
In mid 2001, fire ant experts from the USA said the infestation in south-east Queensland was as bad as anything they had seen in the USA. They said we had a remote chance of eradicating fire ants if we defined the boundary of the infestation, tightly contained the infestation to within the boundaries and repeatedly baited the whole infestation.
That didn’t happen. In 2002, the teams surveying the boundary were diverted to the chase after the last fire ant to kill it. The infestation has gone from 40,000ha in 2002 to over 500,000ha now.
The Plant Protection Regulation 2002 made it illegal:
- for a person to move a fire ant or fire ant friendly material like soil, mulch, potted plants, turf, baled hay or straw without an inspector’s approval.
- for a land owner in a restricted area to excavate, move or stockpile more than 1m3 of soil without an inspector’s approval.
- for a land owner in a restricted area to treat fire ant nests on their property without an inspector’s approval.
- for a land owner in a restricted area to move fire ant friendly material, to inside or outside the restricted area, if they reasonably believe it is not infested with fire ants, without signing a Fire Ant Declaration and getting an inspector’s approval.
The Plant Protection Regulation 2002 made it mandatory:
- for a business person carrying on commercial activities in the restricted area, that an inspector reasonably believed may spread fire ants, to implement an Approved Risk Management Plans – approved and audited by an inspector.
- For Biosecurity Queensland to publish maps of the fire ant restricted area through-out Queensland.
Biosecurity Queensland’s response has been to:
- Disband its large team of biosecurity inspectors.
- Cancel the requirement for high risk enterprises to implement Approved Risk Management Plans.
- Publish Fire ant Biosecurity Zone maps that are a year or more out of date and that do not cover the whole infested area. The current National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program: Fire Ant Biosecurity Zones, dated 27 May 2020 but published on 13 May 2020) does not includes infested areas in Bracken Ridge, Camp Mountain, Beerwah and Fernvale.
- Create a policy of ‘Self -management of fire ants’ to dump the risks and costs of treating fire ants onto property owners.
- Issue a mere handful of infringements notices since 2001.
The Biosecurity Act 2014 enabled Biosecurity Queensland to dump the responsibility for containing the spread of fire ants onto the public.
In 2016, the Biosecurity Act 2014 created a ‘General Biosecurity Obligation’ which means people and organisations living or working in fire ant biosecurity zones have a legal responsible to take all reasonable precautions to ensure they don’t spread fire ants. It applies to commercial growers, land owners and backyard gardeners whose work or hobbies involves moving or storing fire ant friendly materials. If people do not meet their ‘General Biosecurity Obligation’ they can be penalised.
Industry representatives at a Fire Ant Program stakeholders forum in May 2018 said they were happy to accept their General Biosecurity Obligation, but they wanted Biosecurity Queensland to fulfil its own General Biosecurity Obligation by simply doing its job. By:
- Re-instating the large team of Biosecurity Inspectors it dismantled to identify high risk enterprises, work with them to develop risk management plans, audit those plans and, if necessary, prosecute those who failed to comply. Biosecurity Queensland has not.
- Reintroducing the use of Approved (Fire Ant) Risk Management Plans for high risk enterprises and Quality Assurance programs for suppliers to help them mitigate their risk of spreading fire ants. Biosecurity Queensland has not.
- Approving land development applications, subject to them containing suitable fire ant management plans. Biosecurity Queensland has not.
- Controlling the movement of fire ant carriers in and out of biosecurity zones, including weekend markets. Biosecurity Queensland has not.
- Keeping the Fire Ant Biosecurity Zones map and information on risk mitigation measures up to date. Biosecurity Queensland has not.
Fire ants keep spreading like wildfire because Biosecurity Queensland does not and has never stopped them spreading.
Time for a Royal Commission to hold Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Mark Furner, and the Fire Ant Program Steering Committee to account for wasting $500m of public money and for inflicting a worsening fire ant infestation on the Australian public.
19th May 2020.