4 March 2024.

AgForce will highlight the need to further ramp up fire ant eradication methods in evidence presented to a Senate Inquiry on Monday March 4.

Queensland’s peak representative body for farmers will raise concerns that funding delays from federal, state and territory governments are compromising the eradication program for Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA).

The Senate Standing committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport is conducting the inquiry into Red Imported Fire Ants in Australia.

AgForce Biosecurity committee chair Belinda Callanan says there are rising concerns that the wrong bait is being used when other more direct and fast-working alternatives are available.

“Numbers in the suppression zone are growing,” Ms Callanan says.

“Evidence for this includes an ant randomly turning up in a mail parcel, and fire ant rafts on floodwaters indicating high population density.

“Eradication teams need to remain active in the suppression zone, combined with work undertaken by councils, businesses, schools, sporting groups and private landholders. The suppression zone it the beating heart of RIFA in Queensland. To eradicate RIFA we need to strike at the heart.”

She says it’s crucial that state jurisdictional control is removed to improve the eradication of the fire ant, rather than being caught up in wrangling over which governmental body is responsible. 

“The species is well established in the zone,” she says. “There are a mix of landscapes including high density urban, peri-urban and rural. That creates communication difficulties and the need to get cooperation from a large number of very diverse people. 

“We are dealing with a small flying insect that is highly invasive and at times, goes underground so it’s hard to detect. It can be moved around by people or by wine and water.”

AgForce Biosecurity committee member Ken Cunliffe says this super pest does not recognise bureaucratic timeframes, and the longer it’s delayed the more likely fire ants will become entrenched.

“Queensland’s FTE cap is leading to a short-term staffing situation where retention of skills and knowledge is near impossible,” Mr Cunliffe says.

“Staff should not be employed on a short-term basis, and mechanisms are needed to promote deserving front-line staff to higher managerial or coordination positions to ensure that their learned on-ground knowledge is incorporated into decisions making."

AgForce Senior Policy Advisor Dr Annie Ruttledge says while good progress has been made of late it’s crucial that this not be lost.

While AgForce is not requesting a complete overhaul of fire ant eradication efforts, Dr Ruttledge says better partnerships with local councils and state governments are now critical to ensure the fire ant is eliminated from Queensland landscapes altogether.

“Questions are being asked about why eradication is taking so long. Education was slow to start and was also interrupted and underfunded,” Dr Ruttledge says.

“The community and industry were until recently, not being involved or listened to, despite considerable scientific and practical experience.

“Funding remains uncertain and timeframes for eradication are completely unrealistic.”

Dr Ruttledge says the fire ant eradication strategy needs to be enhanced to better blend the two approaches of community-based and larger orchestrated control operations.

“A wider cross section of both industry and academics is needed on the advisory panel - not just government representatives,” she says.

“More emphasis is needed on helping agriculturalists. Large landholders have complicated landscapes with sizeable and porous borders often including waterways. They are at a high risk of infestation. 

“Control costs and time required are high. Product needs to be supplied freely to large landholders in the zone.”

She says she still believes eradication is possible, and it’s pivotal that government bodies do not lose sight of that goal.

“While eradication has not been achieved in south-east Queensland, it has been achieved elsewhere in Australia,” Dr Ruttledge says.

“Moreover, RIFA has had a much lower rate of spread in south-east Queensland than would have been the case if there was not eradication program.

“But the time for deliberating is over, now is the moment to really listen and act on the advice being received by this inquiry.”

For media comments contact: 

AgForce CEO – Michael Guerin 0488 002 092