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April 22, 2024

Invasive Species Council gives evidence to federal fire ant inquiry

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Fire ant raft. Photo supplied

A Senate Committee inquiry will hear evidence today that changes are needed in Australia’s fire ant response – including the creation of an independent eradication authority.

Experience in other countries has shown that red fire ants damage electrical and agricultural equipment, sting people, pets and livestock, kill native plants and animals, and damage ecosystems beyond repair.

Key recommendations from the Invasive Species Council include:

  • a new independent fire ant eradication authority.
  • a rapid internal funding review.
  • increased funding over the next decade to achieve full eradication.
  • increased transparency, stakeholder inclusion and document publication.
  • a public awareness campaign to mobilise community eradication activity.
  • greater investment in fire ant population suppression in Queensland.

The Invasive Species Council says an independent fire ant program would have a greater capacity to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances in Australia’s fire ant response, including changes in resource and funding needs. The Australian Plague Locusts Commission provides a model of how a fire ant authority could work in practice.

Reece Pianta, Advocacy Manager for the Invasive Species Council. Photo supplied.

Changes urgently needed

Reece Pianta, Advocacy Manager for the Invasive Species Council, said ‘Despite government announcements late last year, more funds and key changes are needed if Australia is to be fire ant-free.

‘A new independent authority should be established with a free hand to pursue eradication openly and transparently,’ he said.

‘Recent progress in fire ant suppression and response reassures me we can turn the tide on fire ants in Australia, but it will be a long-term effort.’

Mr Pianta says the cost of fire ants to Australia could run to billions of dollars per year from livestock and crop losses and health system impacts, with fire ants also capable of devastating iconic wildlife populations like echidnas, platypus, koalas and turtles if left unchecked.

‘Fire ants are funded out of agriculture department budgets, but the health system and environmental impacts will far exceed agriculture impacts,’ he said. ‘The cost of fire ant failure is so great that fire ant eradication must succeed.’

The Senate Committee into fire ants will hear evidence today in Brisbane, tomorrow in Newcastle and Monday 18 March in Canberra. The committee will report in mid-2024.

Fire ants come in various sizes. DPI NSW.

A serious threat

A ten-year proposed eradication program has been developed, with $592 million required in the first four years.

The NSW, Queensland, Commonwealth, Northern Territory, ACT, and Victorian governments have committed to their portion of funding for this, but the program is still $40 million underfunded.

The 2021 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.

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.

Australia has managed to contain fire ants in south-east Queensland for 20 years, however under-resourcing has prevented successful eradication.

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