Writings: Fire ants infest new school in Ripley, between Brisbane and Ipswich in SEQ. Huge urban development, huge infestation. Review say Biosecurity Qld fails to control the movement of fire ant carriers. Time for a Royal Commission.

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A huge fire ant nest, a metre long, threatens the safety of students and staff of the newly opened Primary School and Secondary College at Providence in the Ripley Valley.  

The Ripley Valley, between the cities of Brisbane and Ipswich in south east Queensland, is the site of one of the largest urban growth areas in Australia with potentially 50,000 homes for 120,000 residents.

People illegally or accidentally moving fire ants in fire ant friendly material like soil, mulch, compost and turf is the main reason fire ants now infest over 600,000ha of south-east Queensland. Biosecurity Queensland reported fire ants in new housing estates in Ripley in 2017. Hundreds are still there – in schools, homes, playgrounds and parks.

The independent Effectiveness and Efficiency Review of 2019 said people and organisations unlawfully moving fire ants beyond the area of the infestation and people and organisations creating fire ant friendly habitat are a serious threat to the program.

The reviewer was very critical of Biosecurity Queensland’s poor response to the very real problem of human-assisted spread of fire ants.  

Biosecurity Queensland

  • Inspects only a fraction of high risk enterprises, encourages voluntary compliance, describes most infringements as minor and has not imposed a single infringement notice on offenders.
  • Does not approve land Development Applications to ensure developers mitigate their risk of introducing fire ants,
  • Has not employed the full complement of funded compliance officers
  • Creates Fire Ant Biosecurity Zones that do not cover the whole infestation.

The responses from Biosecurity Queensland and the Steering Committee of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program to the reviewer’s recommendations are just as weak.

The reviewer recommends imposing costs on those responsible for creating fire ant habitat. Biosecurity Queensland’s response is to ‘further investigate.’

The reviewer recommends making effective use of penalty infringement notices and prosecution provisions to improve compliance with movement controls. Biosecurity Queensland’s response is to ‘consider publishing any penalty infringement notices that are issued’ – nothing about actually imposing them.

The reviewer recommends examining the feasibility of inspecting loads of fire ant carriers destined to cross the program’s operational area and imposing a levy to cover the costs. Biosecurity Queensland’s response is to ‘investigate’ by the end of 2020.

The reviewer recommends the program URGENTLY acts on the recommendations of previous reviews concerned about the human-assisted movement of fire ants. Biosecurity Queensland’s response is to engage an independent party to examine the current suite of movement controls – but still nothing about taking  action.

It has been illegal for a landowner in a biosecurity zone to move a fire ant or fire ant friendly material like soil, mulch, potted plants, baled hay or straw since 2002. Biosecurity Queensland has totally abandoned its responsibility to prevent unlawful, human-assisted movement of fire ants.  

It is time for a Royal Commission to hold Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner and Fire Ant Program Steering Committee Chair Wendy Craik to account for the waste of $500m of public money and a worsening fire ant infestation.

6th July 2020