The new fire ant response plan aims to clamp down on the recent incursions and limit the spread of the invasive pest.
Following on from the overdue release of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Strategic Review (written in August 2021, released in June 2023!), the commonwealth and state governments have responding by releasing a new fire ant response plan, to cover the next four years (2023-27).
The strategic review, which was carried out four years into the original ten-year program, concluded that, “although the current program is significantly slowing the spread of RIFA in and out of SEQ, it will not be able to eradicate or contain RIFA within the scope and budget of the Ten-Year Plan.” This being primarily due to underfunding but also operational and technical issues.
The news of the update could not be more timely, as fire ants have recently been discovered just 5 km from the NSW border in the Tallebudgera Valley. With alates regularly flying 1-2 km (and up to 5 km with wind assistance), experts are betting they may already be south of the border. The new biosecurity area now extends from Moreton Bay in the north, out to the Lockyer Valley in the west and just south of the NSW border.
In announcing the Queensland Government response, The Honourable Mark Furner, the Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, and Minister for Rural Communities, said there would be a real focus on preventing the movement of fire ants out of the containment area through human-mediated transport. Significant movement restrictions are in place for material that could contain fire ants such as soil and landscaping material.
“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 three years imprisonment for the most serious aggravated offences.” A scaled-up compliance team aims to conduct 12,000 audits annually. Although the new fire ant response plan says it will address the issues raised in the review, details and budget increases have yet to be confirmed.