The Invasive Species Council have called for an urgent review of funding for fire ant eradication in response to the alarming news that three fire ant nests have been found at Murwillumbah in northern NSW. This is the first time that the south-east Queensland fire ant infestation has spread into New South Wales.
“This is a very alarming development,” said Reece Pianta, Conservation Officer for the Invasive Species Council.
“We have long feared that delays in adequate funding for the eradication program in Queensland would lead to fire ants crossing into NSW.
“Eradication is still possible, but only if Australia’s federal and state governments ensure that the level of resources meets the needs on the ground.
“This new infestation in NSW, when combined with huge recent increased costs of labour and materials due to inflation, means we no longer have confidence the current program funding is enough.
“We are calling on the Albanese Government to trigger an urgent review of the adequacy of fire ant eradication funding.
“Australia can’t afford our governments wasting more years underfunding the fire ant fight and risking failure.
“A comprehensive government study from 2021 found that between $200 and $300 million annually would be required over the next 10 years or Australia would face at least a $2 billion cost per year from fire ants forever. At the moment the planned funding is only half that amount.
“This find should also be a wakeup call for the Victorian, Western Australian and South Australian Governments who have yet to commit to their share of funding for eradication.
“There is still a $140 million hole in the current program’s funding because of bureaucratic delay and dithering by these governments.
“Fire ants are one of the world’s worst super pests and, if they are allowed to spread across the continent, their impact will be greater than cane toads, rabbits, feral cats and foxes combined.
“They will devastate Australia’s environment and agriculture, cost our economy billions annually and we could see over 140,000 extra medical visits every year as they sting Australians at the park or in the backyard.
“It doesn’t matter if you are in Perth or Penrith, Bendigo or Byron Bay, the whole of Australia will be invaded if fire ants are not eradicated in south east Queensland.
“It’s in the interests of every state in Australia to urgently fund the eradication efforts in Queensland and now in NSW.
“Earlier this year, Victoria had a fire ant incursion with a Queen ant found on a freight pallet from Queensland. Victoria is lucky the system caught it this time, but every year we fail to eradicate these super pests, increasing the odds they will sneak into other parts of Australia.
“Fire ants were also found in Fremantle, Western Australia, in 2019. This infestation was declared eradicated in October 2023,” Mr Pianta said.
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- Three nests were reported by a property owner in South Murwillumbah in north-eastern NSW, 13 kilometres south of the Queensland border
- NSW DPI, Fire Ant Eradication Teams from Queensland and Tweed Shire Council staff are chemically eradicating the infestation across a radius of 200 metres from the found sites.
- An emergency biosecurity order is now in place across a radius of five kilometres from the site in South Murwillumbah. This restricts movement of fire ant carrier materials: mulch, woodchips, compost, sand, gravel, soil, hay and other baled products.
- Fire ants are dark reddish-brown with a darker black-brown abdomen and range in size from two to six millimetres long. Their ant nests are distinctive mounds of loose, crumbly or fluffy-looking soil with a honeycomb appearance, up to 40 centimetres high, with no obvious entrance holes.
- Red imported fire ants can damage electrical and agricultural equipment, sting people, pets and livestock, kill native plants and animals, and damage ecosystems beyond repair.
- Those who breach the emergency biosecurity order could face significant penalties with fines for breaches reaching up to $1.1 million for an individual and up to $2.2 million for a corporation.
- A ten-year proposed eradication program has been developed, with $592 million required in the first 4 years. The NSW, Queensland and Commonwealth governments have committed to their portion of funding for this, but the program is still $140 million underfunded because no commitments have been made yet by the Victorian, South Australia, Western Australian, Tasmanian and ACT Governments.
- The 2021 National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program strategic review estimated that at least $200 to $300 million per year will be required for ongoing eradication efforts to achieve eradication by 2032.
- Fire ants can be lethal to humans, are expected to have a $2 billion per year impact on Australia’s economy if they get out of control, will devastate wildlife, cut agricultural output by up to 40% and may cause over one hundred thousand extra medical appointments each year.
- Fire ants can form rafts during flood events, stowaway in freight or soil, or spread by Queen ant flights of around 5 km per year (and up to 30 km in favourable conditions).
- Fire ants came into Australia in the late 90s in freight from the United States, they were found in 2001. Fire ants are originally from South America.
- Fire ants have spread across most of the southern United States, and are spreading in China at a rate of about 80 km per year. Australia has managed to contain fire ants in south east Queensland for 20 years however under-resourcing has prevented successful eradication.
- Almost all of Australia is climatically suitable for fire ants.