The focus of Biosecurity Queensland’s $411.4m National Red Imported Fire Ant Ten Year Eradication Plan for 2017-27 was the western edge of the spreading infestation in the farm-lands of the Lockyer Valley and the Scenic Rim in south-east Queensland.
Every year so far, Biosecurity Queensland has under-treated the Lockyer Valley and the Scenic Rim and underspent on its budget.
In 2017-18 Biosecurity Queensland planned to treat 84,000ha of the Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim three times. They treated it twice and underspent their budget by $3.76m
In 2018-19 Biosecurity Queensland planned to treat 165,296ha of the Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim three times. They treated it just over one and a half times and underspent their budget by $5.2m
In 2019-29, Biosecurity Queensland planned to treat 165,296ha of the Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim three times. By 31st March 2020, at the end of the treatment season, they had treated it just over one and a half times and underspent their budget for staff, bait and aircraft by $12.6m.
Biosecurity Queensland’s solution to its failure is to dump the costs and risks of treating fire ants onto property owners. Up until now Biosecurity Queensland has told property owners they cannot treat nests on their own properties for fear of getting stung or making the fire ants spread. In a major back-flip, the program’s Steering Committee, chaired by Dr Wendy Craik, has endorsed a program of ‘self-management’ to allow property owners to treat nests on their own properties. The risks remain.
Untrained property owners are likely to cause a nest to split and spread and do more harm than good. Fire ants very sensitive to movement near their nests– even approaching footsteps. Worker ants can move the queen and the brood out along long lateral tunnels before their nest is treated.
Untrained property owners are likely to get stung in the process of treating a nest. Fire ants will aggressively swarm anything that approaches their nest – and sting repeatedly. People who are allergic to their sting can suffer anaphylaxis.
Fire ant bait is expensive. Biosecurity Queensland recommends property owners use Distance (which contains pyriproxyfen) and costs $169.00 for 5kg, or Synergy (which contains hydramethylnon plus pyriproxyfen) and costs $112 for 500g, or Amdro (which contains hydramethylnon) and costs $600 for 10kg or Advion (which contains indoxacarb) and costs $138 for 450g. If property owners can now treat nests on their own properties they are more likely to use cheap but dangerous and ineffective chemicals like petrol.
Biosecurity Queensland acknowledges that the cost, the size, the labelling and the availability of fire ant baits to the general public is a deterrent from them using them. Instead of improving their own capacity to run an effective and cost efficient fire ant program, Biosecurity Queensland is turning a 100% publicly funded fire ant program into a market opportunity for private industry. Biosecurity Queensland is inviting members of chemical, pest management and nursery supply industries to meeting on Monday 28th September 2020 to consider ways to market less costly fire ant baits to the general public.
Biosecurity Queensland has spent over $600m of public money on a fire ant infestation that has blow out from 40,000ha to 600,000ha. Biosecurity Queensland has been walking away from its responsibility to find and kill fire ants and to stop them spreading for years. The public find most of the nests, Biosecurity Queensland under-treats infestations and does not control the movement of fire ant infested materials from infested to clean areas.
It is inevitable that the public will end up treating their own properties, because Biosecurity Queensland can’t. This is an admission the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, run by Biosecurity Queensland, is an utter failure, and those responsible for that failure need to be held to account. Time for a Royal Commission.
18th September 2020