Writings: Fire ant nest as big as a small car, in Pallara in Brisbane's south-west. Inside Biosecurity Queensland treatment area since 2001. Fire Ant Fiasco. Time for a Royal Commission.

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The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program invited members of chemical and pest management organisations to an online forum about fire ant baits and treatments on 28th September 2020.

One attendee asked what a new housing development in Pallara in Brisbane’s south-west had been treated with. The old broken nests he saw told him the site had been treated before, but he said, whoever treated it before didn’t do a very good job. He was shocked by the sheer number of nests on the site – one as big as a small car.

The enquirer said Biosecurity Queensland would not tell him what the site had been treated with, when he phoned them. They did tell him it was last treated in 2011. So, he was asking again.

Pallara, 19km from Brisbane’s CBD is close to the epicentre of the biggest fire ant infestation in south-east Queensland. Fire ant nests were first discovered in Pallara in 2001. It has been inside Biosecurity Queensland operational area since then and treated many times, obviously to no effect. This very well established fire ant infestation is putting the safety of the residents of the new housing estate at risk.

The new appointed Director of Strategy of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program answered by stating the painful obvious – the site had become re-infested – the ants had moved out of the treated nests and built bigger and better ones.  He told the enquirer the program knows that Pallara is infested, but Pallara is not currently scheduled for regular baiting four times a year.  According to the program’s Ten Year Eradication Plan 2017-27, Pallara is not scheduled for regular treatment until 2021-22 – ten years since the last time it was treated. The Director of Strategy said the best the program could do until then, was to treat specific nests. But he said, because the program has a backlog of 11,000 reports of fire ant nests, the program wants private pest controllers or residents to do that. The fire ant program receives $65m each year to find and kill fire ants and to stop them spreading. What are they doing with the money?

The Director of Strategy knows from the independent Efficiency and Effectiveness Review of the Ten Year Fire Ant Eradication Program (2017-27), in December 2019, there is no scientific basis for the program’s west to east treatment strategy. The decision to prioritise treating new infestations in farming land in the Lockyer Valley and the Scenic Rim region on the western edge of the infestation over treating the well-entrenched infestations in the cities to the east – Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Redlands and Gold Coast cities – was a policy decision, made by an agricultural department, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and an ex-president of the National Farmers’ Federation and currently Chair of the fire ant program’s oversight committee, Dr Wendy Craik.

It is time to hold all Queensland Ministers for Agriculture and the Chairs of all the program oversight committees since 2001 to account for wasting over $650m of public money and seeing the fire ant infestation blow out from 40,000ha to 650,000ha.  Time for a Royal Commission.

2nd November 2020