Writings: Biosecurity Queensland's hit-and-miss Fire Ant Treatment Program throwing good bait and good money after bad. A case for the Federal Integrity Agency.

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Biosecurity Queensland says ‘It is vital we treat all properties. Just one missed nest will jeopardise our eradication efforts.’  But Biosecurity Queensland’s fire ant treatment program has always been hit and miss.

In 2001, international experts said to immediately and urgently, bait the entire 40,000ha infested area, by air, 3-4 times each year for 3 years and to tightly contain the movement of fire ant carriers out of the area.  

Instead, Biosecurity Queensland chose to use federal money to create a slow cumbersome workforce to treat only specific areas, with a reduced number of treatments, some just getting a single injection of insecticide, and to dismantle its team of compliance inspectors.  

By 2009, the independent scientific review team said the infestation had blown out to 93,000ha because Biosecurity Queensland could neither find fire ants nest nor kill them and said the program should revert to a containment program.

But Biosecurity Queensland continued to do more of the same.  The $411.4m 2017-27 Fire Ant Program’s ‘progressive rolling treatment strategy’ targeted the relative low infestations in the rural areas in the west of the infestation at the expense of the densely infested cities to the east.

If the 2017-27 plan was on track, by now, the rural areas of Lockyer Valley and the Scenic Rim would be 95% clear of fire ants and the treatment program would be rolling into Brisbane and Logan Cities and Ipswich, but not yet the heavily infested Gold Coast city.

The result now is 500 suburbs in Brisbane, Ipswich, Gold Coast, Redlands and Logan cities and the Scenic Rim, Moreton Bay, Somerset and Lockyer Valley regional areas are now infested with fire ants. 

Biosecurity Queensland’s revised 2022-23 treatment program is, again, more of the same, targeting only Ipswich city and the Scenic Rim region, with some areas getting only one or two applications of bait – just throwing good bait and good money after bad.

The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program has wasted close to $1b of public money and a constantly expanding fire ant infestation threatens the whole country. This is a case for the incoming Federal Integrity Agency.  

3rd October 2022