In a desperate bid to cover up the disaster that is the $411.4m Ten Year National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program 2017-27, that follows on top of the disastrous $400m 2001-2016 program, Biosecurity Queensland spins more lies.
In a brochure sent to landowners in the Scenic Rim, Lockyer Valley and parts of Ipswich, west and southwest of Brisbane, Biosecurity Queensland claims fire ants are ‘all but eradicated’ because it has applied bait to 165,000ha of land in its priority area: meaning it treated 82,500ha just twice. This is WELL short of the six rounds it was funded to apply over 84,000ha between 2017 and 2019, and well short of the twelve rounds over three years international experts recommended in 2001.
Biosecurity Queensland says fire ants are ‘all but eradicated’ because none of its monitoring sites show any sign of fire ants. The independent Effectiveness and Efficiency Review of the program in 2019 said Biosecurity Queensland’s methods for selecting monitoring sites and its methods for inspecting those sites have never been independently evaluated.
Program scientists’ claim that, without the program, fire ants would have spread to Mackay in the north, Goulburn in the south and Quilpie in the west is utter nonsense. New infestations are constantly being found beyond the operational area of the program. In 2017 the Queensland Audit Office found, as multiple independent reviews have found, Biosecurity Queensland cannot ‘always demonstrate it has successfully achieved the ultimate aims’ of its programs: ie eradication, because it does not capture reliable and consistent performance data and has no methods for evaluating its progress towards eradication.
The independent scientific review of the program in 2004 said Biosecurity Queensland needed to develop a Proof of Freedom protocol to validate any claims that an area is free of fire ants. That protocol needed to include the area’s history (invasions and re-invasions), its treatment regime and its survey history. Biosecurity Queensland STILL does not have a Proof of Freedom protocol to support ANY claims fire ants are ‘all but eradicated’ from the Scenic Rim, the Lockyer Valley and parts of Ipswich.
Biosecurity Queensland is now dumping the responsibility for post-treatment surveillance onto landowners: asking them to ‘play their part.’ The public has indeed played their part. 70% of new detections have been made by the public. But as the Queensland Biosecurity Capability Review said in 2015, sharing responsibility with the public means sharing the decision making. Biosecurity Queensland only engages with the public when it wants something from them – advice on policy or legislation – or to tell them to do something – in this case, search for and report fire ants.
Biosecurity Queensland’s claim it is an international leader in fire ant eradication because no other country is attempting to eradicate a well-entrenched infestation that now covers cover 600,000ha; fifteen times worse than when they were detected in 2001. This is because no other country would be stupid enough to try when the only sound, scientific option is to tightly contain a well-entrenched infestation.
It is time for a Royal Commission to hold Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner and chair of the Steering Committee of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, Dr Wendy Craik, to account for the waste of $600m of public money and a worsening fire ant infestation.