New fire ant discovery a wake-up call

Fire ants have been found in a new location in Australia. An infestation at Beerwah on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast was reported to Biosecurity Queensland by a keen-eyed property owner.

Confirmed by genetic tracing, this new infestation came from Brisbane and shows how easily and unpredictably fire ants can spread into new areas. Biosecurity Queensland acted quickly, alerting the public, running ant identification workshops and training sessions and mobilising community support for survey and control operations.

While this work is underway, the new find has broader implications. This infestation, about 70km north of the fire ant biosecurity zone, demonstrates controls put in place to prevent fire ant movements are insufficient. It is also a reminder that the window to do something about fire ants is closing rapidly.

The eradication program is ramping up, but we are still waiting for the meeting of Australia’s agriculture ministers on July 26 to provide a clear and unequivocal statement that fire ants are being taken seriously and that every state, territory and the federal government is ready to go the distance on a full eradication program.

We need you to add your voice to the call for action on fire ants by joining our social media Thunderclap!

Create your Thunderclap now

Why fire ant eradication failed in the past

In the early part of last decade Australia’s fire ant eradication program suffered from short-term funding, only operating for five years at a time. Victory against the country’s fire ant infestations was declared too soon, and as funding was cut undiscovered fire ant nests required the work to start over again.

While the infestation area continued to grow, funding remained fixed and increasingly unstable. For the last four years, funding was approved one year at a time.

The program was secretive, closed to the community and cumbersome and many of the findings from past expert reviews were ignored.

Of course, it is easy to second guess these mistakes with the benefit of hindsight but how do we avoid making serious mistakes in the future?

We have developed a report on what we consider to be the seven essential governance recommendations for the national red imported fire ant eradication program. These are:

  1. Design an effective governance approach, including by consulting stakeholders and seeking the advice of experts
  2. Ensure structures and processes provide robust oversight and accountability to funders, industry and the community.
  3. Make sure decision-making is transparent so that stakeholders understand the rationale for decisions and can have confidence in the program.
  4. Develop a comprehensive eradication plan that includes techniques, costings, assumptions, milestones, roles, and responsibilities.
  5. Create an independent body to ensure the program is managed effectively.
  6. Involve experts from relevant fields for program design, advice and review.
  7. Make sure the community and industry is meaningfully engaged in the program.

We call this governance – it’s the detailed management structures and decision making about the most effective way to spend the fire ant eradication money.

Our last chance

The independent review of Australia’s fire ant eradication program released in December was very clear that the window of opportunity to eradicate fire ants is closing – the identification of fire ants on the Sunshine Coast is a terrible reminder of how easy it is for these ants to spread to new areas.

If Australia’s agriculture ministers do not set a clear course at their meeting later this month it will almost certainly mean we have missed our chance to eradicate this deadly invader.

The federal government, New South Wales and Victoria have all publicly committed to full funding of the fire ant program. Several states have told us off the record they will be supporting the program.

Many organisations have joined our statement of concern calling for a full, ten-year, $380 million eradication program, including the National Farmers Federation, AgForce, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the North Queensland Conservation Council.

Join our Thunderclap campaign

We now need you to support our last push by joining our Thunderclap campaign. You can sign up with your Twitter and Facebook account to participate in the social media blast >>

By joining us on Thunderclap, on the morning of July 26, when Australia’s agriculture ministers meet to decide the fate of the fire ant eradication program, a message will be automatically posted to your Facebook or Twitter accounts calling for full funding of the program.

We hope our Thunderclap campaign, along with last-minute lobbying efforts and media coverage, ensures Australia gets the fully funded, well-governed fire ant eradication campaign it deserves.

There is no aspect of our lives that will not be impacted by a fire ant infested Australia. This is the last opportunity for us to do something about it.

More info

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6 Responses to “New fire ant discovery a wake-up call”

  1. Correct Rob Burton. The current fire ant program is failing because Biosecurity Queensland cannot find fire ants, cannot kill them because their baits don’t work, and they continue to spread because the Queensland government refused to implement the ‘aggressive containment’ regime US fire ant experts said was crucial, in 2001. The government’s argument was that a containment program would look like they were not confident in eradicating the pest – and if so, the Commonwealth and other States would stop funding 90% the program. The Queensland government’s token gesture towards containment was legislation making it illegal to move fire ants with no inspectors to prosecute those who did and a few fading road signs. We now have neither a fire ant eradication program or a fire ant containment program. We have a fire ant fiasco.

    • You are absolutely correct Pam. Having been part of the token team of inspectors for almost 5 years, and having grown frustrated with making suggestions which were continually ignored, I have no faith in the current leadership team.

      While BQCC loves to point to the success they had in Gladstone, I point to Gladstone as proof of what I am saying.

      Gladstone was successful because a lot of early work went into establishing meaningful and effective movement controls by engaging with the large and powerful industries and organisations that were key stakeholders. Initially Gladstone Ports Corporation and some of the multinational companies involved were very cautious and concerned, due to a difficult public relations climate as the Curtis Island workforce was being reduced.

      But through working hard to establish open and honest discussion with the various stakeholders, we were able to establish an excellent level of cooperation while implementing quite strict but effective movement controls.

      I know, because I was there for all of that early period. It was the one time in my 5 year term with BQCC that I was able to bypass the latte sipping bureaucrats who are the cancer killing the program, and speak directly to the Director of that time – a Director who understood how important movement controls are to containing RIFA.

      Unfortunately, this level of compliance with movement restrictions has never been possible in South-East Queensland because the legislation is flawed/ineffective and there has never been sufficient engagement with the non-agricultural industries that are key stakeholders.

  2. The current program is doomed to fail in its current form.

    The reasons are more easily understood by first reading the “Seven essentials: fire ant eradication program recommendations” article released on this same website in June 2017.

    Because the current program fails dismally to incorporate any of the first 5 elements of effective governance outlined in this article, they naturally have also failed to incorporate the final 2 elements, which are

    (1) Involve experts from relevant fields for program design, advice and review.
    (2) Make sure the community and industry is meaningfully engaged in the program.

    RIFA affects many stakeholders outside of agriculture. In particular, construction & development industries and therefore local government, and various other state government departments are – or should have been – major stakeholders in this program. You cannot rely on movement controls developed by plants and animal industry experts, or legislation covering agricultural industries, and expect it to be effective in controlling the movement of thousands of trucks and millions of tonnes of material moving around South East Queensland every day.

    The design of movement controls should have been developed by involving experts from the major industries, state government departments and local governments that are major stakeholders. Instead, power hungry career public servants have clung tightly to control of the program, and have actively squashed any and all ideas that they perceive threaten the status quo.

    The Integrated Development Assessment System should have been used as a vehicle to develop far more effective movement controls that would have been understood and followed by the development, construction and development industries. Instead, DPI/DAF or whatever name they’ve chosen this week, decided to design ridiculous, unenforceable legislation in the Plant Protection Act 1989 and then expected this would somehow magically stop the movement of soils and other risk items throughout South-East Queensland.

    Now even worse with the Biosecurity Act. How the hell is a construction company, large scale developer, landscaper, transport company, council road maintenance crew, quarry operator, et cetera, going to understand what their General Biosecurity Obligation is, and how this will help prevent the spread of RIFA.

    What a joke!

  3. Committing 10 years of funding to an eradication program, rather than a containment program, when it may not now be, or may not continue to be cost effective to eradicate fire ants and to commit 10 years of funding to an agency that has wasted $400m of public money in an incompetent attempt to eradicate fire ants is financially reckless with public money and poor governance.

  4. This is critical, long term work requiring bipartisan political support. PLEASE respond with an “all in one go”action.

  5. Tyrone Fernandes 17 July, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Biosecurity staff with no RIFA experience portray themselves to be experts, i.e. “Jack of all Trades Master of None”. Experts only collected a handsome salary for 16 years but RIFA are smart creatures. RIFA did outsmart the Americans for over 85 years and they will continue to outsmart Qld CEO,Directors, PhD spin doctors who have no experience.
    In a game of Cricket, Rugby, Soccer, etc incompetent players are replaced by other new players.
    In Politics , citizens get rid of Politicians who have not performed well during their term in office.
    But in the Aussie Scientific field incompetent Spin Doctors, CEOs, Directors never get replaced until retirement.
    Hence how can Australia ever progress?