WA's long-running silence on national fire ant threat must end

Media Release |

Labor and the Coalition must end their silence on one of the most important long-term issues facing Western Australian voters – eradicating fire ants from Australia. 
“For too long Western Australia has stymied action on eradicating fire ants from Australia,” Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said today.
“The state’s lack of support contributed to the unwillingness of the other states to fund the fire ant eradication program for more than a year, one of the factors that allowed the ants to spread.
“Perth is under threat, having narrowly avoided infestation in 2011 when fire ants were intercepted in western Queensland on mining machinery headed for WA.
“Western Australia has played the spoiler role for too long. This needs to change if Australia is to have a chance of eradicating fire ants, one of the world’s worst invasive species.”
A secret report released late last year shows nowhere on the Australian mainland is safe from fire ants if they are not eradicated.
“Fire ants would change Western Australia’s outdoor way of life due to the ant’s aggressive swarming behaviour and intense sting,” Mr Cox said.
“The ants would occupy backyards, parks and sport fields without regular bait treatment. They would also severely impact our farmers and the environment.
“In Texas, where fire ants are beyond eradication, taxpayers and land owners cough up US$1 billion a year in damage and control efforts. In the US, over 85 people have died from allergic reactions to fire ant stings.
“Labor and the Coalition must commit WA to playing its part in the national eradication effort. Otherwise all Western Australians risk losing their backyards to fire ants.”
A letter from WA’s department of agriculture and food received by the Invasive Species Council and released today says it is “technically feasible and cost beneficial” to eradicate red fire ants and “supports” the 10-year eradication program, but confirms a final decision will need approval from an incoming government.
A meeting of Australia’s agricultural ministers planned for May will decide whether to double the funding needed to eradicate fire ants or to abandon the program altogether. If all states cannot agree to the extra funds, fire ants are likely to expand, making eradication technically impossible.
An independent review presented to agricultural ministers last year confirmed that red fire ants can still be eradicated from Australia, but will require $38 million each year, up from the current $18 million. Western Australia’s contribution would be $1.9 million a year (4.9%).
Prior to 2016, the Western Australian government refused to fund the eradication of fire ants from southeast Queensland. All other state and federal governments had contributed.
Later this month the Invasive Species Council is embarking on a one week national emergency tour to warn Australians of the dangers of fire ants. US fire ant expert Dr Robert Puckett will be travelling the country as part of the tour, which finishes in Perth on March 24.

For comment

  • CEO Andrew Cox 0438 588 040.

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