Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said Labor’s announcement to put aside $268 million over four years in federal funding to stop the spread of red imported fire ants was delayed and not enough.
Mr Littleproud said the funding was a belated announcement that had wasted precious time.
“The Response Plan in July said $593 million was required over the next four years to control the pest, including immediate funding for 2023-24,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program strategic review also estimated that at least $200 to $300 million per year was required. Labor’s funding was needed four months ago, which puts the time-critical response at risk. Unfortunately, the lack of action and the delays in funding undermines previous work that had been done under the Coalition Government.”
Mr Littleproud added it took The Nationals to call for a Senate inquiry, which will assess the current and any proposed response plans plus evaluate funding, for Labor to finally act.
“The Commonwealth also should have been showing leadership on this issue but we now have to wait for other states to put their funding forward.
“The Invasive Species Council is warning red imported fire ants could now spread beyond current containment zones into western Queensland and New South Wales. The pest is just five kilometres from the New South Wales border on the Gold Coast and was also recently discovered on the outskirts of Toowoomba, meaning the fire ant has made it across the Great Dividing Range for the first time.
“The frightening thing is that if it gets up above the Great Dividing Range, it could potentially get into the Murray Darling Basin, and that could effectively see the fire ants go right down to Adelaide. It would impact the whole country and have devastating consequences.”
In other news, The Invasive Species Council have welcomed the announcement today of $268 million in funding for fire ant eradication by federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.
Reece Pianta, Conservation Officer at the Invasive Species Council, said:
"This $268 million funding announcement by the Albanese Government today is a really significant moment in the battle to stop one of the worst super pests invading the whole of Australia.
"This is important leadership from Treasurer Chalmers and Minister Watt that will mean that work can now ramp up on the ground to stop fire ants spreading.
"Australia is world leader when it comes to tackling ant invasions and the experts are telling us that fire ants can still be eradicated with a significantly ramped-up program of baiting, surveillance and community engagement.
"This is only step one in achieving eradication and saving Australia's wildlife, agriculture and outdoor lifestyle from the devastating impacts of fire ants.
"The pressure must now shift to the Victorian, Western Australian and South Australian Governments who have yet to commit to their share of funding for eradication.
"We understand these states will be considering their level of funding and urge them to step and unite with Queensland, NSW and the federal government to stop fire ants in their tracks.
"Eradication will take at least a decade and so while this four year funding announcement is very welcome, work should start immediately on developing the next funding package so that we do not have any more delays.
"We also know that the government’s own recent review recommended a higher level of funding than what has been committed to achieve eradication.
"If, as we suspect, the funds are not sufficient then there needs to be a clear pathway to quickly get new funds into the program.
"Fire ants are one of the world’s worst super pests and, if they are allowed to spread across the continent, their impact will be greater than cane toads, rabbits, feral cats and foxes combined.
"It’s in the interests of every state in Australia to urgently fund the eradication efforts in Queensland. NSW is at extreme risk of being invaded, with the latest outbreak close enough for a single queen ant’s flight to spark a fire ant infestation across the border.
"Earlier this year, Victoria had a fire ant incursion with a Queen ant found on a freight pallet from Queensland. Victoria is lucky the system caught it this time, but every year we fail to eradicate these super pests increases the odds they will sneak into other parts of Australia." Mr Pianta said.
Background information on fire ants:
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).
The 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 – this compares to $94 million spent in 2022/23 and only $60 million committed for this financial year.
Recently Australia’s governments committed to ongoing fire ant eradication but have not yet committed any new funding to fight fire ants in Australia. Fire ant eradication is being led by the Queensland government but is funded by all Australian governments because fire ants are a threat to the whole country.
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.
Almost all of Australia is climatically suitable for fire ants.