A secret report finally made public today, thanks to campaigning by the Invasive Species Council, reveals Australia’s inadequate response to fire ants.
‘Fire ants are an inferno – we need to treat it like the emergency it is,’ said Invasive Species Council fire ant campaigner Reece Pianta.
‘The choice is stark: Australia cannot afford to live with a fire ant future, but we are not investing anywhere near enough to protect the Australian way of life.
‘Our governments need to pay the fire ant eradication bill now while we can still afford it.
‘We either invest now or say goodbye to what we love about our outdoor lifestyle like the Aussie barbecue and our kids playing safely in the local park,’ said Mr Pianta.
The report – a review into Australia’s fire ant eradication efforts – outlines that urgent action is needed to prevent the $1.2 billion burden fire ants will become for the Australian economy. The report presents an option to eradicate fire ants in time for the 2032 Olympics if more resources are invested in containment, suppression and eventual eradication.
‘The report finds an immediate increase in the program to eradicate fire ants over the coming decade is the most cost effective option,’ said Mr Pianta.
‘The time for fire ant half measures is over. We can’t afford to live with fire ants.
‘The recommended sweeping changes to the fire ant eradication program would double or triple investment in fire ant eradication – which is still far cheaper than the cost of living with fire ants.
‘Fire ants pose an annual $1.2 billion threat to Australia’s economy. They will be in New South Wales any day now.
‘Fire ants can raft in flooding events to infest new areas in river systems. They cross continents and oceans in shipping containers and create high density infestations that outcompete local wildlife.
‘Modelling shows they will be in Sydney by 2035 if we fail to eradicate them. They are already closing sporting fields on the Gold Coast and impacting local cane fields and schools. They are a major threat to agriculture and have caused land to become unproductive in the United States where they are prolific.
‘Households will bear the brunt with damage to electricity and water systems and the costs of treating backyards and gardens to make them livable. Fire ants will also cause thousands of hospital admissions every year.
‘Fire ants can be fatal – they have killed more than 85 people in the United States.
‘As long as there are fire ants in any part of the country, all of Australia is at risk,’ said Mr Pianta.
Background notes for editors:
This review, four years into the Ten-Year Plan, finds that, although the current program is significantly slowing spread of Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) in and out of Southeast Queensland, it will not be able to eradicate or contain RIFA within the scope and budget of the Ten-Year Plan. Page 7
The Panel recommends Option A, as the benefits of RIFA eradication outweigh the ongoing, perpetual costs of the ant’s impacts and management under Options B and C. Page 10
Political will, combined with a stronger coalition for action and governance changes, are needed to pivot the program to a multifaceted approach making RIFA control truly a shared responsibility. Page 10
The inadequacy of funding and subsequent loss of momentum in implementing previous review recommendations between 2015 and 2018 set RIFA eradication back some years. Page 92
If national eradication of RIFA is to be continued, then the three pillars of Contain, Suppress and Eradicate across and beyond the whole operational zone need to be pursued. Due to the large and diverse geographic area of infestation in both rural and urban environments, the Program cannot and should not attempt to achieve the three pillars by undertaking all operations alone. It is critical that communities, industry and governments at all levels mobilise to address RIFA as the major national threat that it is. Page 92