In 2001, with scientific advice it was too late to eradicate a well-entrenched fire ant infestation and with advice to contain and suppress it, the Queensland government declared an eradication program to cash in on Commonwealth government’s biosecurity funding formula: cash for eradication, none for containment and suppression, Queensland puts in 10% of the funding but makes 100% of the spending decisions.
The first National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, 2001-16, wasted $400m of public money, the fire ant infestation got worse, but it pumped a lot of money into Queensland Treasury.
The second National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, from 2017-27, to cost another $400m, ran out of money by 2022. No evidence any ants have been eradicated, but plenty of evidence the infestation is worse, and a lot of money pumped into Queensland Treasury.
The Queensland government has now made a pitch for a third National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program 2022-32, to do more of the same, but this time, it appears, without national oversight.
In 2016, a national Steering Committee was established to have primary oversight of the program. It was made up of representatives from the Commonwealth and all State and Territory governments who fund the program and chaired by Dr Wendy Craik. Its performance has been woeful.
The 2019 Efficiency and Effectiveness Audit of the program said the Steering Committee was too closely aligned to the program and did not act like a Board of Management. Now, does the Steering Committee still exist?? It has posted no annual reports, work plans, meeting minutes or media statements on its website since 2021.
Is this the reason a new Executive Director of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program announced this month that the governance of a new 2022-32 program would come from the program’s own Senior Leadership Board. This is the equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse to ensure the program continues to pump a significant amount of public money from the Commonwealth and other States and Territories into Queensland Treasury.
Surely, this is a case for a Federal Integrity Agency.
28th November 2022