The Invasive Species Council have expressed alarm after federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt today confirmed that no decision on increased funding for fire ant eradication had been made at a meeting of agriculture ministers in Perth.
‘We had high hopes going into this meeting today that, after two years of delay, Minister Watt would show genuine leadership by announcing a serious funding package to achieve fire ant eradication,’ said Invasive Species Council spokesperson Reece Pianta.
‘But instead of a funding boost, Minister Watt indicated Australians will see a funding reduction this year! The $60 million announced today is in fact less than two thirds of the $94 million spent on eradication efforts last year.
‘There are no excuses for this delay, underfunding and inaction. We know the level of funding needed, we have wall-to-wall Labor governments on the mainland and we know what is at stake if fire ants are allowed to spread across Australia.
‘The lack of funding comes despite fire ant eradication being a key agenda item at the meeting and the government’s own report in 2021 finding that an urgent boost of $200-300 million per year over 10 years would be needed to achieve fire ant eradication in South East Queensland.
‘We are already seeing fire ants breach containment lines in Queensland and today’s failure almost guarantees fire ants will cross the Tweed River into NSW and spread west through the Murray Darling Basin.
‘The ongoing lack of clarity about the fire ant funding going forward undermines eradication efforts and risks all the good work that has been done in recent years.
‘A fire ant invasion will be much worse than the cane toad. They will devastate 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.
‘Modelling suggests that if fire ants spread across the continent they could cause over 100,000 extra hospital visits in Australia every year,’ said Mr Pianta.