New response plan has fire ants surrounded 

Published Tuesday, 25 July, 2023 at 10:53 AM

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities
The Honourable Mark Furner

  • Commonwealth and states back new plan to fight invasive ants
  • Tough approach to compliance with Biosecurity Act
  • Queensland funding backs efforts of national program

The National Fire Ant Eradication Program will toughen compliance measures as a new response plan puts preventing human-assisted spread at the heart of the effort to eradicate the invasive South American pest.

At the Agricultural Minister’s Meeting in Perth earlier this month, all jurisdictions unequivocally supported the important work being done by the National Fire Ant Eradication Program by endorsing new fire ant response plan 2023–27.

There is still work to be done to finalise budgets with the jurisdictions but the fight against fire ants is already scaling up.

The new plan addresses the recommendations of the recent Strategic Program Review and builds on the many things the National Program has learned over more than two decades of delivering the world’s most successful fire ant eradication program. 

The National Program is focusing on scaling up operations to strengthen containment and compliance and intensify program-led and community treatment using an outside-in approach.

The new containment area 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.

Targeted treatment areas for 2023–24 will encompass suburbs comprising parts of the City of Gold Coast, Scenic Rim and Southern Downs local government areas.

The National Program will continue to prioritise any detections found in targeted areas and outside of the containment boundary, including those recently found on Minjerribah, in Kleinton and Tallebudgera.

The National Program’s work will be complemented by the Fire Ant Suppression Taskforce (FAST), which has been separately funded with a $37.5 million investment by the Queensland Government. This will include community self-treatment projects in Ipswich, Logan and on the Gold Coast.

Highest risk of spread

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. Intelligence gathering will assist the compliance team to target the highest risk and most non-compliant industries.

The National Program has developed a “fire ant material movement advice tool” to help industry understand and comply with the requirements for moving fire ant carrier.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities Mark Furner:

“This new focus on compliance shows that the National Fire Ant Eradication Program is serious about enforcing the rules that prevent fire ants from spreading,” Mr Furner said.

“Under the Biosecurity Act there are penalties of up to $470,000 or 3 years imprisonment for the most serious aggravated offences. 

“For businesses or persons who fail to discharge their General Biosecurity Obligation, compliance officers have powers under the Biosecurity Act to shut down worksites until a biosecurity risk is mitigated.

“No business wants to lose weeks of work or future work as a result of fire ants, and the way to stop that is by following the rules.

“The National Program cannot eradicate fire ants alone. We need the community, industry and all levels of government to play an active role in managing fire ants on property they own or manage.

“No other place in the world has contained fire ants as successfully as this program has. 

“Had it not been for the National Program fire ants would now infest approximately 100 million hectares in an arc of country from Bowen in the north, west to Longreach and south to Canberra. This would impact the economy by an estimated cost of $2 billion per year, forever.”