Ahead of a crucial meeting of federal, state and territory agricultural ministers in Perth tomorrow, the Invasive Species Council are sounding the alarm about indications ministers will agree to an underfunded fire ant eradication program.
The future of the crucial eradication program will be debated at the meeting, but an analysis of recent announcements from the New South Wales and Queensland governments strongly indicates that any new funding announced tomorrow may be below what is needed to achieve eradication.
‘Alarm bells are ringing for us ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. Our analysis of recent state funding announcements suggests Minister Murray Watt and his state and territory counterparts may fail to adequately fund the eradication program,’ said Invasive Species Council fire ant campaigner Reece Pianta.
‘The prospect of Australian governments giving up on fire ant eradication is truly terrifying. It doesn’t matter if you are in Perth or Penrith, the whole of Australia will be invaded if fire ants are not eradicated in Queensland.
‘The government’s review report has said that at least $200-300 million per year is needed to eradicate fire ants by 2032 and save Australia from $2 billion in annual economic costs.
‘But recent New South Wales and Queensland funding announcements are consistent with total funding of around $130-150 million per year, well below what their own report has said is needed to achieve eradication over the next decade.
‘We are already seeing fire ants breaking containment lines in Queensland. Any further delay to increased funding for eradication will see them quickly taking over all of Australia.
‘We cannot risk another half-baked, underfunded program. There is just too much at stake to risk failure.
‘A fire ant invasion will be worse than the cane toad. They will decimate our native wildlife and cause billions of dollars in lost agricultural production every year.
‘In Queensland we are already seeing sports fields and beaches closed due to the extremely painful sting inflicted by fire ants,’ said Mr Pianta.
Fire ants are breaking containment lines in Queensland and nearing the point where eradication will no longer be possible if the current eradication program is not rapidly ramped up. The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication program strategic review from 2021 estimated that at least $200 to $300 million per year will be required for ongoing eradication efforts to achieve eradication by 2032 – this compares to just over $90 million per year currently spent.
Tomorrow (Thursday, 13 July) is D-Day with ongoing fire ant eradication costs on the agenda at a meeting of the federal, state and territory Agriculture Ministers meeting in Perth.
A decision will need to be made to maintain the commitment to eradication and increase the funding to achieve this. Any further delay or underfunding will lead to failure, with multi billion annual costs for the environment, health, society and agriculture.
Analysis by the Invasive Species Council of recent announcements by both NSW and Queensland governments indicate that an insufficient announcement will be made on Thursday of around $130-150 million/year – well below the $200-300 million/year the government’s own report calls for.
Evidence for an underfunded announcement:
Funding for the eradication program is based on the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA) which means the Commonwealth picks up 50% of the cost and the states/territories fund the other 50% based on their population levels. This means NSW funds about 15% and Queensland funds about 11%.
On 29 June, NSW announced $80 million for the fire ant eradication over 4 years. They have subsequently confirmed to us that this amount was in response to a program proposal for the Agricultural Ministers meeting.
Queensland announced almost $61 million over 4 years on June 13.
While the commonwealth and other states/territories have not announced their level of commitment, based on these NSW and Queensland amounts this suggests that the total funding will be about $134 million/year (see table below).
Last week the Qld Audit Office reported that Biosecurity Queensland (the lead agency managing the eradication program) had told them that $593 million over 4 years from 2023 to 2027 would be the cost of continuing with eradication (see page 25 here).
Either of these amounts are well short of the recommended amount of $2-300 million/year and suggest that an inadequate funding package will be announced on Thursday.