Media: Fire Ant Fiasco. Sofie Formica 4BC radio Brisbane interviews Dr Pam Swepson. 7th October 2021

Now showing category: In The Media

Temps are climbing. Summer certainly feels like it’s on the way and some people may have got a drop in the letter box from the Queensland government, telling them to be wary about fire ants.

Now to be honest, I though we were wrapping up on this issue. But five years into the conversation, it seems that we’re still trying to figure out how to get rid of fire ants!

So, I thought it would be great to have somebody on to just remind all of us what we’re looking for and exactly where we’re at.

Dr Pam Swepson is a fire ant writer and researcher and she is joining me now on 4BC Afternoons. How are you Dr Swepson?

PS        Very well thank you Sofie. And thank you for the opportunity.

SF        Now am I like most people? Did I sort of think that fire ants were not something we really needed to be too concerned about anymore?

PS        They are one of the most invasive pests in the world and they are out of control in Australia. This isn’t a five-year problem, this has been a twenty year disaster – a Fire Ant Fiasco – that’s been coming for twenty years, and it’s been inevitable.

The fire ant Eradication Program got off on the wrong start from the beginning, the infestation has blown out from 40,000ha in 2001 to over 650,000ha now, its cost the tax payer $600m and they are now out of control.

And the program is now dumping the responsibility to manage the fire infestation, which will cover all of Australia, or most of Australia, dumping all of the responsibility away from themselves and onto the public.

SF        Well, I’m so glad to have you on to talk about this because I do sound like a city girl when I say things like ‘I didn’t realise fire ants were a problem.’ Especially when I can see that they’re affecting areas that I love to visit so much.

The program’s eradication efforts are currently focussed west of the infestation that’s in the Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim and parts of Ipswich. And population numbers in those areas, are they increasing or are they dropping?

PS        The infestation has continued to spread. It’s a fairly wide-spread infestation from the Bay, from Redlands, all the way through to Gatton. Because of the particular ant, it’s not a dense infestation, but it’s very wide-spread. We’ve got fire ants up as far as the Sunshine Coast, down to the New South Wales border, from Redlands to out beyond Gatton, as you say. 650,000ha are now infested with fire ants.

The program has claimed that it got rid of some in some areas, but all the reviews of the program say it has never collected any performance data, so it can’t prove its eradicated anything.

But the facts that are irrefutable are the amount of money that’s been spent and the amount of area that is now infested by fire ants because of the fire ant program that started in 2001 which was inevitably going to fail.

The reason for the fire ant program, really, is, and people don’t realise, is that Queensland only puts in 10% of the money, the rest of the money comes from the Commonwealth and the other States. So, for as long as this program has been going on, now twenty years, it has pumped an enormous amount of money into Queensland Treasury on the ‘promise’ of eradication, when there was never ANY, never been a scrap of scientific evidence that it was EVER feasible to eradicate a highly entrenched infestation in 2001.

SF        So, Dr Swepson, what do we need to know?

PS        People need to know how to look after this for themselves. After having paid $600m tax-payer dollars, tax payers in South East Queensland are now going to have to pay for their own treatment themselves. Back in 2001, the American experts said if we didn’t eradicate fire ants or we didn’t contain their spread, the only option left would be self-management.

And that’s what the program is doing now. It’s walking away from doing anything and dumping all the responsibility onto the public.

So the public need to learn how to find fire ants. They’re not easy to find. There is some decent information on the web about how to find fire ant nests.  

And how to treat them. There are a lot of crazy ideas about how to treat fire ant nests which are more dangerous to the householders than to the fire ants. And fire ant baits are expensive! The proper ones are expensive, so this is another cost the government is now dumping back onto the public.

And also making sure that they don’t bring fire ants onto their property if they are getting soil or mulch or spreading it from their property. And for businesses.  A lot of the fire ant spread in south-east Queensland has been because of the huge amount of development that’s gone on. And there’s been no control on soil or mulch that’s been moving in the huge amount of development that’s been going on in the whole area I’ve been talking to you about. That’s been the major cause of spread. Truck and trailer loads of soil and mulch.

SF        And I think another thing that it would be great to have you tell us, briefly if you can, Dr Swepson, if you find yourself in a situation where you have them or get attacked by them, what do you do if you get bitten by fire ants?

PS        You get yourself to a doctor. They have a terrible sting. Most people will just get burning stings, that’s why they are called fire ants – because the sting feels like a burn. But some people are allergic to the sting and can go into shock, particularly if they’ve been stung a number of times. We’ve had a number of people in south-east Queensland who have suffered anaphylactic shock as a result of fire ants. Keep away from them.

SF        Dr Swepson, I can’t thank you enough for spending a little time to re-educate all of us, particularly me, on fire ants. We may check in with you again in a couple of weeks. Dr Swepson thank you so much for being on 4BC Afternoons.