Writings: Will Biosecurity Queensland's Fire Ant Program still exist in January 2022? 20-year fiasco. Fire ants out of control. Budget out of control. Chief Biosecurity Officer says no extra money, no program. Time for a Royal Commission.

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Chair of the Steering Committee of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, Dr Wendy Craik, has not released the program’s Annual Report for 2020-21, completed in July nor the independent 2021 Efficiency and Effectiveness Report, completed in August, to the public. Why not?

90% of the program’s funding comes from the Commonwealth and other State and Territory governments. Continued funding depends on evidence the program is eradicating fire ants. The fact is the fire ant program is a fiasco. Fire ants are out of control and so is the budget.

The 2019 Efficiency and Effectiveness review of the $411m Ten Year Fire Ant Eradication Program 2017-27 said the infestation blew out by 80,000ha in the first year and the budget blew out by $36.5m. This was on top of the 2001-2017 program that saw the infestation blow out from 40,000ha to a 400,000ha and the budget blow out from $123.4m to $400m.

The program’s report to Steering Committee in May was more evidence of failure.

  • Public reports of fire ant nests had increased 50% on the last treatment season, up to 15,000.
  • Nine significant detections were found outside the operational area of the program, including those on the Gold Coast and in the Scenic Rim Region because the program does not control the human assisted movement of fire ant carriers.
  • Fifty-five detections of fire ant nests were found inside Treatment Area 1, the Lockyer Valley, the program’s highest priority treatment area, because the treatment effort was so poor.

The program’s response to an increased infestation and a reduced budget is to reduce the number of treatment rounds, give up expensive nest injections which are no more effective than standard baiting, prioritise treatment over containment and push self-management onto high density residential areas. Even that would require the national funders to cough-up another $33.3m for the program to keep running from January to June 2022.

Queensland’s Chief Biosecurity Officer, Malcolm Letts, said in July that if the program’s budget was exhausted by December 2021 and if there was no extra funding coming from the national funders, the Queensland government would stop the program.

So, will the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, will the twenty-year Fire Ant Fiasco, continue to exist in January 2022? Time for a Royal Commission to hold the Fire Ant Program Steering Committee and Biosecurity Queensland to account for an out-control fire ant infestation and the waste of $600m of public money.

10th December 2021