The Fire Ant Infestation in south-east Queensland has blown out from 40,000ha to over 800,000ha since 2001 and is spreading out of control. The Fire Ant Program budget has blown out from $123.4m for 5 years, to $800,000+m over 22 years. There is no scientific evidence it was ever feasible to eradicate a well-entrenched fire ant infestation from SEQ. Scientific advice as to contain and suppress the infestation. The Queensland government mounted an unscientific eradication program to access national funding, not available for a containment program, to create jobs in Queensland. On 15th May 2023 the Queensland Minister, Mark Furner, said the program will continue for yet another year with more public money, but... On 9th May 2023, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry reported in the 2023-24 federal budget papers that an independent review of the Fire Ant Program 'may have significant financial implications.' Likely that is the review conducted by Dr Helen Scott-Orr, ex Inspector-General of Biosecurity in 2021 that Australian governments have been sitting on. Likely it is even more scathing that the independent review conducted by Mr Bernard Wonder, ex Deputy Director of the department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in 2019. He said: Fire ants continue to spread The program does not contain the spread of fire ants. The program is unscientific. Oversight of the program by the Steering Committee is poor: the budget has blown out and the program has no outcome focussed performance indicators or reliable performance data. Time those who are responsible for an out of control fire ant infestation and the waste of public money are held to account. 22nd May 2023
The fire ant infestation in south-east Queensland is spreading out of control. Since 2001, it has spread from approximately 40,000a to 800,000ha – nearly four time the size of the Australian Capital Territory. Fire ants are now in Victoria and on iconic Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay. At the the same time, the budget of public money has blown out from $123.4m for 5 years to over $800,000m for twenty-two years….so far.
On 15th May 2023, Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Mark Furner, told the Australian Agriculture Ministers’ meeting the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program would limp along, wasting more public money, for another 12 months, claiming if the pest got established nationally it would cost the nation $5.3b.
There is not a scrap of scientific evidence it was ever feasible to eradicate the well-entrenched fire ant infestations detected in Brisbane in 2001. Scientific advice was to tightly contain the infestation with controls on the movement of fire ant friendly materials out of infested areas and to bait the areas repeatedly to suppress the infestations: cheaply and effectively by air. Queensland Minister for Primary Industries in 2001, Henry Palaszczuk rejected scientific advice to create an eradication program that would attract national funding rather than a containment program that would not. He used national funding to create a jobs program for 400 unemployed people, to search for and treat fire ant nests, to address Queensland’s high unemployment rate. Independent audits of the program said the slow, incident prone ground-force was the greatest drag on the efficiency of the program. But Minister Palaszczuk created a cash cow of national funding that all subsequent Queensland Ministers of Agriculture have continued to milk to create jobs in Queensland.
The cost to the nation now, of an out-of-control fire ant infestation, is a lot more than Minister Furner’s estimate of $5.3b. In 2001, the Australian Bureau of Resource Economics estimated if the program contained the infestation to the original 30,000ha it would cost the nation $8.9b over 30 years. By 2009, when the infestation had tripled to 90,000ha, ABARE revised their estimate to $43b over 30 years. The infestation is now over 800,000ha and spreading. Goodness knows what the long-term impact on the Australian economy, environment and lifestyle will be of an out-of-control infestation of red imported fire ants – one of the world’s worst invasive species.
On 9th May, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry reported in the 2023-24 Federal Budget papers that ‘an independent review of the program for Red Imported Fire Ant in Queensland has been undertaken and the outcomes of consideration of the review findings by the Queensland and Australian governments may have significant financial implication.’ It is likely that review is the Efficiency and Effectiveness Review of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, conducted by Dr Helen Scott-Orr, ex-Commonwealth Inspector General of Biosecurity, in 2001. Australian governments have been sitting on that report since 2021. Likely it is even more scathing that the independent Efficiency and Effectiveness Review of the program conducted by Mr Bernard Wonder, ex Deputy-Director of the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in 2019.
Mr Wonder said:
Fire ants continue to spread. In 2017-18, the program’s operational boundary increased by 21%, up to 600,000ha, fifteen times what it had been in 2002. Significant infestations are always being found beyond the operational area of the program.
The program does not contain the spread of fire ants. The program imposes no costs on the movement of fire ant carriers outside the program’s treatment area and no penalties on those who create fire ant friendly habitat.
The program is not scientific. The program’s rolling west to east treatment strategy is simply a policy decision to prioritise rural areas over the heavily infested cities in the east and was reducing the number of recommended treatments.
Oversight of the program by the Steering Committee, chaired by Dr Wendy Craik, was poor. The budget was overspent by $365m. The program has no outcome focussed performance indicators and no reliable performance data.
Time those who are responsible for an out of control fire ant infestation and the waste of public money are held to account.