The Invasive Species Council has today released secret government documents that detail at least a $49 million shortfall in fire ant funding for 2023/24, risking the spread of the super pest across Australia.
The explosive documents reveal that, due to insufficient funding, eradication and surveillance on the ground in Queensland this year has been cut in half from what is needed.
They also reveal that there will be no systematic action to stop the westward or northern spread of fire ants, with action confined to stopping the spread into NSW.
‘The window to stop dangerous fire ants taking over Australia is rapidly closing, but instead of the urgent funding boost needed, we have more dithering and delay from the federal government. This is risking failure,’ said Invasive Species Council spokesperson Reece Pianta.
‘When we saw these alarming documents, our worst fears were realised. They reveal planned eradication and surveillance work has been cut by more than half this year due to delayed funding.
‘This is outrageous. We are in a race against these fire ants and the fire ants are winning.
‘Queensland and NSW have shown leadership by committing to the full level of funding needed. Inexplicably, the federal, Victorian and WA governments are still dragging the chain.
‘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.
‘There will be no systematic eradication and only limited surveillance work being undertaken on the western or northern boundaries of the outbreak this year, risking spread into the Murray Darling Basin and North Queensland.
‘It’s in the interests of every state in Australia to urgently fund the eradication efforts in Queensland. NSW is at extreme risk of being invaded, with the latest outbreak close enough for a single queen ant’s flight to spark a fire ant infestation across the border.
‘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 increases the odds they will sneak into other parts of Australia,’ Mr Pianta said.
At the July 13 Agricultural Ministers Meeting, all governments committed to ongoing fire ant eradication and to this new response plan.
So far, only Queensland ($61 million or 10.3% of the total needed 2023-37) and NSW ($95 million or 16%) have made public commitments in line with the cost sharing arrangement set out in these documents.
What the documents reveal
To achieve eradication by 2032, the National Fire Ant Eradication Program needs $133 million in 2023/24, as part of a $592 million spend over the next four years (Response Plan 2023 – 2027, page 29).
However, Queensland has developed a revised and reduced work plan (Appendix 4) on a budget of only $84 million due to delays in funding commitments by the Commonwealth and other states (excluding NSW).
The serious implications of the budget reduction include:
- A greater than 50% reduction in the proposed treatment area for 2023/24 – from a 10km horseshoe around the entire fire ant infestation area (across the Moreton Bay, Somerset Regional, Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim and Gold Coast Council areas) to a 5km strip only in the Scenic Rim and Gold Coast Council areas and no systematic eradication treatment in the other council areas.
- A reduction in the surveillance target from 17% to 8% of the area.
- Cuts to funding for compliance and public communication/education.
Background information on fire ants:
- 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).
- The 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 – this compares to $94 million spent in 2022/23 and only $60 million committed for this financial year.
- Recently Australia’s governments committed to ongoing fire ant eradication but have not yet committed any new funding to fight fire ants in Australia. Fire ant eradication is being led by the Queensland government but is funded by all Australian governments because fire ants are a threat to the whole country.
- 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.
- Almost all of Australia is climatically suitable for fire ants.