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Byron Shire
September 22, 2023

Deadly fire ants just north of NSW border

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The South American fire ant. Photo Invasive Species Council.

A new outbreak of the highly invasive and potentially deadly fire ants has been discovered 5.5km from the NSW border at a pony club in Tallebudgera, says the Invasive Species Council (ISC).

Spokesperson, Reece Pianta said, ‘It puts NSW at extreme risk of being invaded by the highly destructive pest species’. 

‘The distance is now close enough for a single queen ant’s flight to spark a fire ant infestation across the border.

‘Fire ants will devastate our native wildlife and cause billions of dollars in lost agricultural production every year.

‘In Qld, we are already seeing sports fields and beaches closed owing to the extremely painful sting inflicted by fire ants.

100,000 extra hospital visits per year

‘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.

The ISC is calling on Australia’s governments to ‘urgently fast-track funding for a ramped up and effective eradication program’.

Mr Pianta said, ‘The government’s own strategic review estimated that at least $200 to $300 million per year will be required for ongoing efforts to achieve eradication by 2032. But instead, they have only committed $60 million for this financial year, which is $34 million less than was spent last financial year’.

In a press release on July 13, 2023, federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt (Labor), said the $60 million being spent on eradication efforts, ‘just this financial year, is nearly four times what had previously been committed’. 

Despite the ISC and the federal government being at odds over budget costings, it appears the feds and states have some catch-up to do when it comes to releasing the funds to address fire ants.

Still work to be done

Qld Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner (Labor) released a statement on Tuesday admitting, ‘There is still work to be done to finalise budgets with the jurisdictions, but the fight against fire ants is already scaling up’.

He said the National Fire Ant Eradication Program is now focusing on ‘scaling up operations to strengthen containment and compliance and intensify program-led and community treatment using an outside-in approach’. 

‘New containment areas will form a horseshoe around the infestation, spanning from Moreton Bay in the north, west to the Lockyer Valley, east into the Gold Coast and south to the Tweed Shire’.

Spread by humans

He said, ‘Human-assisted spread poses a significant threat to the National Program’s effort to eradicate fire ants.

‘Residents and industries such as earthmoving, quarries, nurseries, civil construction and primary producers move materials that can carry fire ants every day.

‘Under the new response plan the National Program will scale up compliance activities across the region. 

‘The compliance team will aim to conduct up to 12,000 audits annually to ensure maximum possible compliance with restrictions on moving these materials’. 

Warned years ago

In March 2017, invasives.org.au reported that US fire ant expert, Dr Robert Puckett, arrived in Australia ‘as part of a national tour of Australia to warn the country that it needs to act immediately to get rid of the super pest’.

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