Fire ant funding approved, but still a hard road ahead

Photo: Biosecurity Queensland's science manager, Ross Wylie (left), and Queensland Control Centre director, Geoff Kent (second left), with Invasive Species Council's Andrew Cox and Reece Pianta during a fire ant briefing.

Biosecurity Queensland’s science manager, Ross Wylie (left), and Queensland Control Centre director, Geoff Kent (second left), with Invasive Species Council’s Andrew Cox and Reece Pianta during a fire ant briefing.

In late July Australia’s nine federal, state and territory agriculture ministers signed off a ten-year, $411 million red fire ant eradication program.

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It is a great victory in the battle against an insidious invasive species. It’s not the end of the fight though – it’s the beginning of a long hard road to a fire ant free Australia. What should we expect from the new eradication program?

In recent months new fire ant nests have been regularly found outside of Queensland’s containment zone.

In June a nest was discovered at Beerwah, 70km north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast. Another infestation at Carseldine in Brisbane’s northern suburbs was identified at a similar time. Earlier in the year nests were also found in the inner Brisbane suburb of Holland Park; fire ant nests had never been found here before.

The most recent find was at Lowood, 6km to the west of Queensland’s fire ant official containment area, called a biosecurity zone.

Fire ants on the move

Genetic testing shows the recent spate of fire ant discoveries are not “new infestations”, as some media outlets have reported, but in fact outbreaks from the Brisbane infestation, and almost certainly the result of human-assisted transportation.

It is also clear that the majority of sightings are the result of a community that is now far more aware of the fire ant threat and actively engaged in reporting and controlling their spread.

Unfortunately, people continue to carry high risk materials likely to carry fire ants such as soil, mulch, pot plants, turf and hay in and out of the biosecurity zone without the required permit and clearance procedures.

The eradication program should take a harder line discouraging the illegal movement of these high-risk materials and identify and prosecute those who break the rules.

Controlling hundreds of thousands of movements in and out of the containment area each day is obviously a huge challenge, but it is essential and needs to be backed by the Queensland government prepared to use legal authority to address these high-risk spread vectors.

Years of funding uncertainty, limited resources, and little community engagement will not be turned around quickly. We should expect many more fire ant discoveries outside the biosecurity zone over the coming months. It is a sign surveillance is working.

Securing fire ant funding a huge win

Australia’s agriculture ministers have agreed to take action on every recommendation listed in the 2016 independent review of the fire ant eradication program and, most importantly, the required $380 million ten-year funding ($38 million per year).

The federal government and all the states and territories actually approved $411 million after indexing for inflation. This gives the eradication program much needed funding security and the ability to confidently plan ahead and recruit and retain good staff.

While funding had been the main impediment, there is more to do regarding program oversight, consultation and information flow. Early signs from the program are promising:

  • A new steering committee to “provide clear accountability and transparency” has been setup and held its first meeting in July. Later in the year an independent chair will be appointed.
  • There is a greater willingness to publicise new fire ant reportings, meet with stakeholders and conduct community training in ant identification.

We are encouraging the program to formalise a stakeholder reference committee with representatives from industry, agriculture, the environmental sector and community representatives to provide better two-way communication.

Winning full funding for fire ant eradication was a huge achievement and we want to see it put to good use.

Fire ants are now under the national spotlight. We will continue to play a monitoring role as the eradication program moves forward and maintain our critical voice and independent analysis. There is too much at stake to fail on fire ant eradication.

Send a message of thanks to Barnaby Joyce and your agriculture minister >>

Congratulate your agriculture minister

Sign the form below to send a thank-you message to state and federal agriculture ministers for the leadership they have demonstrated by supporting fire ant eradication.

Select your state and we will send your message (personalise it if you like) to the Deputy Prime Minister and agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, along with your own state or territory agriculture minister.

  • Optional, but including your address, especially your state, will increase the chance of a reply.
  • This will become the subject line of the email sent on your behalf. Its best if you change this so its in your own words.
  • This will be used to make sure your message goes to your state's or territory's agriculture minister (as well as Deputy Prime Minister Joyce).
  • Here's where you send your own message of thanks to Barnaby Joyce and your state's agriculture minister. It's best if you add your own views at the start or rewrite our suggestion. Once you're happy, click 'Send my email' and we will send an email on your behalf to your state or territory agriculture minister and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. We'll add the minister's name to the top and your details at the end and send you a copy.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

More info


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3 Responses to “Fire ant funding approved, but still a hard road ahead”

  1. If Australia has to be the first country to reduce the RIFA numbers and Restricted maps to 95% , Australia needs experienced staff trained by an experienced person. Such a person should be given the Australian of the Year Award, Prime Ministers Award and Royalty payment as a Tax Holiday. New Scientific Reforms have to be put in place. I am waiting for such changes to take place by wise Ministers. Only then will Australia be capable of signing up $Multi Million & $Multi Billion Dollar contracts with other Countries. Call me when Ministers have understood all my emails & letters.

  2. Additional $411 Millions will gradually get wasted by Bio security Directors, PhD, Managers, staff , Ministers who have no experience with aggressive Red Ants. The Summer months will prove my statement was true. RIFA are smarter than all those trying to eradicate or reduce their numbers.

  3. The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program has indeed been well-funded. $400m is a lot of public money. But Biosecurity Queensland wasted a lot of it on a slow, ineffective, trouble riddled ground force of 400 people to look for and kill fire ants – instead of implementing a program of intensive aerial baiting that US fire ant experts advised. And wasted even more on a helicopter mounted aerial surveillance system to detect fire ants from the air. The technology found a couple of dozen nests, missed thousands and the fire ant infestation tripled.

    Fire ants continue to be spread and to infest new housing estates well outside the Fire Ant Biosecurity Zone because Biosecurity Queensland has totally abrogated its responsibility to control movement of fire ant friendly materials like soil and mulch etc from fire ant infested areas to previously fire ant free areas. In 2002, the program had a team of about twenty qualified Biosecurity Inspectors who identified and worked with businesses that moved or dealt with fire ant carriers to help them develop risk management plans to mitigate their risk of spreading fire ants, to audit those plans regularly and to prosecute those who did not comply. But not any more. There is very little the mere handful of Biosecurity Inspectors can do in an infestation that is now ten times worse than in 2002, and businesses that deal with high risk materials no longer need to have risk management plans.

    We have to hope that the permanent committee that will now oversight the program is a lot more thorough than previous ones who were criticised for a poor oversight of public money. But the fear is that they will fall for the same stories that the Invasive Species Council is: eg The program has not been poorly resourced. This is not ‘the beginning of a long hard road to a fire ant free Australia’ It is 16 years into a fire ant fiasco. And ‘controlling …movements in and out of the containment area is.. a huge challenge’ BECAUSE Biosecurity Queensland has progressively abrogated its responsibility for doing just that.

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