Writings: Fire ant program GM says 15x bigger infestation a 'small spread' as fire ants move into Witheren at the back of the Gold Coast. Time for a Royal Commission.

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General Manager of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, Graeme Dudgeon, told Steve Austin on ABC Radio Brisbane on 3rd June that he expected there would be significant infestations of fire ants outside the program’s operational area. He expected that fire ants would spread ‘a bit’. They were only a problem, he said, if they spread ‘a lot’.  He said since the program started in 2001, there has been a ‘relatively small spread’ of fire ants and this was evidence, he said that ‘the containment of the infestation has been quite extreme’. He added, that without the program which started in 2001, fire ants would have spread north into central Queensland and south past Sydney.

The fire ant infestation now covers over 600,000ha of south-east Queensland, up from the 40,000ha it covered in 2001. Mr Dudgeon says a fire ant infestation that is now fifteen times worse than what it was, is just a ‘relatively small spread.’  

A study of the program by Monash University in 2013 found ‘there was always an infested area outside the searched and treated areas (and) the southern and western boundaries of the invasion advanced at a steady rate (and) policy makers need to expect the infestation to continue expanding its range.’  

Mr Dudgeon’s claim that fire ants would now be in Central Queensland and south past Sydney without the efforts of the program are based on the calculated rate of spread of fire ants in Texas USA. Experts have calculated the rate of spread there to be about 13.4% per annum. Using the same formula, the rate of spread of fire ants in south east Queensland is much worse: around 17% per annum. Texas is not running an 18 year old, $500m, 600,000ha eradication program.  Does this mean the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program is making the infestation worse?

While Mr Dudgeon makes his claim that the program’s ‘containment of the infestation has been quite  extreme’, fire ants have spread into Witheren, at the back of the Gold Coast, about 25km from Nerang. This not unexpected, of course. Witheren is next to Clagiraba and Tamborine Mountain which are both already infested as fire ants continue their relentless and predicted march further south-west into the Scenic Rim and south towards the New South Wales border with the Gold Coast. 

Fire ants are now in the vicinity of the James Sharp Memorial Park Campground – a popular family camping ground on the banks of the Coomera River where children can fish and swim and canoe, and the thick rainforest and steep razor-back country of the Kokoda Army Barracks – home to the Australian Army Land Warfare Centre, part of the Royal Military College of Australia.

It is time for a Royal Commission to hold Queensland Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Mark Furner, and the program’s National Steering Committee to account for the waste of over $500m of public money and for inflicting a worsening fire ant infestation onto the Queensland public.

7th June 2020