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D-DAY FOR FIRE ANTS

RIFA is in the firing line in a government report that warns of disaster if greater measures are not taken to combat the invasive species. 

A secret government report into Australia’s fire ant menace has warned the nation’s agricultural ministers that unless the eradication program is quickly scaled up the nation will suffer billions of dollars in damages to people, business and the environment.

“Fire ants will be a massive hit to our economy, our environment, our healthcare system and our outdoor lifestyle if we do not act now,” said Invasive Species Council CEO, Andrew Cox.

A special senate motion was needed to force the federal government into releasing the independent review of Australia’s $330 million fire eradication program.

“This secret government report shows eradication is still possible and in our nation’s interest but the time to act is rapidly diminishing,” Mr Cox said.

Key facts from the report:

  • If not eradicated, fire ants will become Australia’s worst pest, worse than the combined impacts from rabbits, cane toads, foxes, camels, wild dogs and feral cats, which cost Australia an estimated $964 million each year.
  • The total impact of fire ants to southeast Australia alone is estimated at up to $43 billion over the next 30 years.
  • All state and federal governments have spent a total of $329 million since 2001 eradicating fire ants from Australia.
  • If the eradication program had not been mounted from 2001, fire ants in Brisbane would now have spread south to Sydney and north to Mackay and Rockhampton.
  • If not eradicated, by 2030 fire ants will cost our healthcare system about 140,000 medical consultations and 3000 anaphylactic reactions each year and possible deaths.
  • There is a 95% probability that eradication will be achieved in ten years, given a treatment, surveillance and program budget of $38 million each year.
  • Fire ant infestations in broad scale agricultural areas would result in a reduction in agricultural output of 10% for cropping, 20% for livestock and 40% for beef, immediately affecting Queensland’s Lockyer Valley and scenic rim farming communities where fire ants are already present in low numbers.

The independent technical report recommended the Federal Government double its efforts and spend $380 million over the next decade on treatment and surveillance to stop the march of the ants.

The current program is currently funded through a combination of state and federal funding, however with tightening of budgets over recent years, the current program is more of a maintenance program trying to restrict the spread, rather than an eradication program.

Most recent estimates suggest the ant colonies are about 50 kilometres from the New South Wales border.

“We cannot afford to be idle – federal, state and territory governments must immediately commit to fully fund a 10-year eradication program,” concluded Mr Cox.

Garry Webb from Sumitomo Chemical, who supply product to the Fire Ant Control Program said, “The discussion around future funding has been in the air for a while. Many experts agree, this is really the ‘last chance saloon’, to attempt eradication. Clearly the pressure is building in Canberra.”

A statement from Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce said, “Federal and State Governments are considering a future eradication program, which will be on the agenda for the first agricultural ministers meeting in 2017 currently scheduled to take place in May.”