Writings: Fire ants on North Stradbroke Island BECAUSE the Fire Ant Program does not control their spread.

Iconic North Stradbroke Island, Minjerribah, and possibly other islands in Moreton Bay, is infested with fire ants AS A DIRECT RESULT of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program NOT containing their spread.

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Twenty-one established nests across three properties were detected in March around Dunwich on iconic North Stradbroke Island/Minjerribah.

There is not a scrap of scientific evidence it was EVER feasible to eradicate the well-entrenched fire ant infestation found in Brisbane in 2001. Scientific advice was to tightly contain the infestation and bait it repeatedly to suppress it.  The Queensland government made a political decision to mount an eradication program that would attract national funding, rather than a containment program that would not.

The Fire Ant Program dismantled its large team of inspectors who worked with high-risk businesses to develop and audit Approved Risk Management Plans and discontinued the use of those plans, for fear the program might lose funding because it might look like it was not confident of eradicating the pest. The chase after the last ant to kill it has literally come at the expense of containing their spread.

Instead, the Fire Ant Program dumped the responsibility for not spreading fire ants onto the public by imposing a General Biosecurity Obligation under the Biosecurity Act 2014. It obliges everyone to take all reasonable precautions for ensuring they don’t spread fire ants.

Industry representatives at a Fire Ant Program stakeholders forum in May 2018 said they were happy to accept their General Biosecurity Obligation, but they wanted the Fire Ant Program to fulfil its own obligations by re-establishing a large team of compliance officers, re-introducing the use of Approved Risk Management Plans for high risk enterprises and Quality Assurance programs for suppliers to help them mitigate their risk of spreading fire ants, by approving land development plans and by controlling the movement of fire ant carriers in and out of biosecurity zones. None of that happened.

The independent auditor of the program in 2019 said controlling the spread of fire ants, either by natural spread or human-assisted movement, is a central and essential element of the Fire Ant Program and while the Queensland Biosecurity Act 2014 provides for regulations to control the movement of fire ant carriers and penalty infringements notices for non-compliance, the program does not impose them.  

Fire ants have continued to spread unabated. In 2001, they were detected in around 40,000ha in South-East Queensland. The infestation is now twenty times worse, at around 800,000ha, and the pest is continuing to spread out of control.

But Reece Pianta from the Invasive Species Council told ABC Radio Brisbane on 27th March, with evidence to the contrary that ‘containment has been going pretty well’ And with no evidence at all said, ‘Without the program, they would have spread to most of eastern Australia by now’ and supported the Fire Ant Program dumping containment responsibility onto the public when he said, ‘as far as possible, people are self-regulating and understanding the compliance and it is better that people are aware of that instead of imposing some sort of big stick approach.’ 

The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program’s General Manager, Graeme Dudgeon, told ABC radio Brisbane on 27th March the nests on the island were reported by a member of the public and the program had destroyed them.  He did not say that destroying nests by direct injection has the potential for spreading the pest as they escape treatment via lateral tunnels. He said the program had surveyed most of the island and not found other nests but did not say that young nests can remain underground and undetectable for some time.  Now, after the horse has bolted, he said the program was trying to find out how the ants might have got onto the island in things like potted plants, soil and gravel and the program was now talking to businesses that might bring those sorts of things onto the island.   He did note, however, that fire ants can fly up to 5km from their home nest, multiple times in a year, and, rightly so, was worried about other islands in the Bay being infested.

And rightly so, he said people on the island need to know what fire ant nests look like and to check their properties, because, not only has the Fire Ant Program abandoned any containment effort, it has also abandoned any pro-active, wide spread surveillance for fire ants.  As the independent scientific review said in 2009/10 said, the program’s treatment and surveillance methods do not work.

Time to hold the Queensland Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Mark Furner, accountable for the continuing spread of fire ants and the waste of close to $1b of public money.

3rd April 2023