New federal biosecurity funding advisory panel welcomed

Invasive Species

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

The Invasive Species Council is set to give evidence to the Senate fire ants in Australia’s inquiry on Monday March 4.

Key recommendations include:

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

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.

The Senate Committee will hear evidence on Monday 4 March in Brisbane, Tuesday 5 March in Newcastle and Monday 18 March in Canberra. The committee will report in mid-2024.

Quotes from Reece Pianta, Advocacy Manager, Invasive Species Council

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

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

‘The eradication program has done a great job so far containing fire ants – we need to unleash its full potential for fire ant eradication.’

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

‘The cost of fire ants to Australia will run to billions of dollars per year from livestock and crop losses and health system impacts. Fire ants will cause devastation to iconic wildlife populations like echidnas, platypus, koalas and turtles.’

‘Fire ants are funded out of agriculture department budgets, but the health system and environmental impacts will far exceed agriculture impacts.’

‘The cost of fire ant failure is so great that fire ant eradication must succeed.’

Background information on fire ants:

  • The fire ant senate inquiry commenced on 18 October 2023. More information is available here.
  • Six nests were reported by a property owner in South Murwillumbah in north-eastern NSW, 13 kilometres south of the Queensland border. A nest was also identified by a gardener at Wardell, south of Ballina in NSW and about 85 kilometres south of the Queensland border.
  • Fire ants are dark reddish-brown with a darker black-brown abdomen and range in size from two to six millimetres long. Their ant nests are distinctive mounds of loose, crumbly or fluffy-looking soil with a honeycomb appearance, up to 40 centimetres high, with no obvious entrance holes.
  • Red imported fire ants can damage electrical and agricultural equipment, sting people, pets and livestock, kill native plants and animals, and damage ecosystems beyond repair.
  • Those who breach the emergency biosecurity order could face significant penalties with fines for breaches reaching up to $1.1 million for an individual and up to $2.2 million for a corporation.
  • A ten-year proposed eradication program has been developed, with $592 million required in the first 4 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 because full commitments have not yet been made by the South Australia, Western Australian and Tasmanian Governments.
  • 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 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).
  • 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. Australia has managed to contain fire ants in south east Queensland for 20 years however under-resourcing has prevented successful eradication.

About the Invasive Species Council

The Invasive Species Council campaigns for stronger laws, policies and programs to protect Australia’s native plants and animals from environmental weeds, feral animals and other invaders.

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