Writings: Biosecurity Queensland Fire Ant Program throws good money after bad. Budget blow-out from $123m to $560m. Infestation blow out from 40,000ha to 650,000ha. Time for a Royal Commission.

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Between 2001, when fire ants were first detected in south-east Queensland, and 2016, the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program blew its budget of $123.4m for five years out to $400m for fifteen years and the infestation blew out from 40,000ha to 400,000ha.

In 2016, the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments commissioned a review to determine the future of the program – as an eradication program or a containment and control program.

The reviewers acknowledge they could not determine the best future strategy for the program because the program does not collect reliable performance data. Nevertheless, in the face of budget blow-outs and infestation blow-outs, the reviewers recommended continuing the failing eradication program for another ten years with another $411m.  The Commonwealth and State and Territory governments agreed.

Three years into the Ten Year Fire Ant Eradication Program 2017-27, Biosecurity Queensland continues to blow the program budget and the infestation continues to blow out.

With an annual budget of around $42m, in 2017-18, the program underspent its budget by $2,840,031 while fire ants spread into nine significant sites, beyond the operational boundaries of the program.

In 2018-19, the program spent $52.9m, fire ants spread into another nine significant sites and the program added 77,713ha to its operational area.

In 2019-20, the program spent of $66.5m and fire ants spread into another eight significant sites.  

In July 2016, 284 suburbs in south-east Queensland were infested.  In December 2018, 309 suburbs were infested. In May 2020 427 suburbs were infested.  In December 2019, an independent reviewer said the infestation now covered 650,000ha – up from the 400,000ha in 2017 and up from 40,000ha in 2001.

By June 2020, three years into the Ten Year Fire Ant Program 2017-27, the program has spent $158.8m, approximately 40% of its budget.  

Eight months into the 2020-21 program, Biosecurity Queensland is yet to tell the public how much public money it has spent or how far fire ants have spread – likely because both the budget and the infestation continue to blow out.

The Fire Ant Program, under the jurisdiction of Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Mark Furner, is throwing more good public money after bad and increasing the public risk with an out of control fire ant infestation.  Time for a Royal Commission.

15th March 2021