New fire ant outbreak highlights need for federal biosecurity inquiry

The outbreak of red imported fire ants at Gladstone, recently confirmed as a separate incursion to the existing fire ant population around Brisbane, shows the need for an inquiry into Australia’s preparedness for new environmental invasive species, the Invasive Species Council said today.

“Invaders such as red imported fire ants can create havoc in the Australian environment and a Parliamentary inquiry is a good way to learn from recent quarantine failures about how we can improve our state of preparedness,” said Andrew Cox, Invasive Species Council CEO.

“With Biosecurity Queensland genetic testing showing that the red imported fire ants at Gladstone arrived separately from those in southeast Queensland, it is clear that the quarantine system has failed successively against one of our most serious invaders.

“Other failures in recent years have resulted in the establishment of Asian honeybees, myrtle rust, pigeon paramyxovirus, and smooth newts and multiple new infestations of yellow crazy ants.

“The Invasive Species Council first called for a Parliamentary inquiry into our preparedness to tackle the arrival of new environmental pests and weeds when the deadly fungus, myrtle rust, was detected in Australia in 2010.

“These recent cases all show the immense difficulty and high costs of eradicating invaders once they establish. Much more planning and surveillance is directed to high priority agricultural threats than to environmental threats. A parliamentary inquiry would examine how we can address this deficiency.

“The red imported fire ants in Gladstone probably arrived about two years ago from goods imported from the USA. Eradication efforts are so far looking promising and affected businesses and landholders are cooperating well.

“The red imported fire ant is a 2-6 mm long brownish or coppery ant, with a very painful sting. When disturbed, they swarm from their nest like an erupting volcano and repeatedly attack. The ants would transform natural systems, eliminating much of the native ground fauna.

The Greens supported an inquiry prior to the September 2013 Federal election, while Labor and the Coalition are yet to commit.

“The environmental biosecurity inquiry would review the systemic failings in contingency planning, surveillance and responses to new environmental invaders to Australia.

For comment: Andrew Cox, CEO, Invasive Species Council on 0438 588 040.

For more information: Eradicating Red Imported Fire Ants: Too Devastating To Fail


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