13 December 2023

Importation restrictions under consideration as ACT pledges millions to red fire ant eradication

| Claire Fenwicke
Join the conversation
fire ant

The ACT has committed its full portion of funding to eradicate the red imported fire ant. Photo: Invasive Species Council.

The Territory has upped its investment in the fight against red fire ant infestation, announcing $5.098 million towards the pest’s eradication.

Red fire ants were previously confined to south-east Queensland but have been marching further south throughout the year.

The invasive species has crossed the border into NSW with the first red fire ant infestation for the state detected on 25 November.

Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the ACT Government has committed its full portion of funds for the National Fire Ant Eradication Program to show the Territory’s commitment to being a national player in protecting and preserving the environment.

“Invasive species are marching down Australia’s east coast. There’s no doubt about it, this is a crisis. Every level of government must work together to protect Australia,” she said.

“Without joint action, this invasive species will reach every part of Australia.”

READ ALSO Hot tips to keep your home comfortably pest-free this summer

According to the Department of Primary Industries, fire ants are dark reddish-brown with a darker black-brown abdomen and range in size from two to six mm long. Their ant nests are distinctive mounds of loose, crumbly or fluffy-looking soil with a honeycomb appearance, up to 40 cm high, with no obvious entrance holes.

Red imported fire ants can kill native plants and animals, sting people, pets and livestock, damage electrical and agricultural equipment, and damage ecosystems “beyond repair”.

In some cases, their stings can be fatal to humans.

fire ants

Red fire ants have an incredibly painful sting, which can lead to a fatal allergic reaction in some people. Photo: Supplied / Barry Rice.

Minister Vassarotti said this showed the pest didn’t just threaten the environment, but our food production as well.

“So far, work to address fire ants has slowed their spread. But, after a review of the program, it was clear that Australia needs to increase its resourcing to this pest,” she said.

“As ACT Minister for Environment, I was pleased to agree to increased resourcing and recognize the importance of fully meeting our share of the costs.

“As custodians of the bush capital, we have a responsibility to protect our local environment from this aggressive invasive ant.”

The ACT Government is also considering introducing restrictions under the Pest Plants and Animals Act 2005 for the import of organic material from infected areas of NSW and south-east Queensland.

This could include mulch, woodchips, compost, sand, gravel, soil, hay and other baled products.

READ ALSO Wood heater smoke causes up to 63 avoidable deaths per year in the ACT, researchers say

The Invasive Species Council has applauded the ACT’s funding commitment, calling on other states to now front up their share of the money.

Advocacy Manager Reece Pianta said the ACT Government had shown “important leadership” in the fight against one of the “worst super pests” invading the country.

“The ACT has now joined NSW, Queensland and the Federal Government in committing their fair share toward the current four-year, $592 million fire ant eradication funding agreement,” he said.

“But there is still a $135 million hole in the current program’s funding because of bureaucratic delay and dithering by Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.

“It’s time for those other states to follow the ACT’s lead and step up before it’s too late.”

Mr Pianta said if red fire ants were allowed to spread across Australia, their impact would be greater than cane toads, rabbits, feral cats and foxes combined.

“They will devastate Australia’s environment and agriculture, cost our economy billions annually and we could see over 140,000 extra medical visits every year as they sting Australians at the park or in the backyard,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if you are in Perth or Penrith, Bendigo or Byron Bay, the whole of Australia will be invaded if fire ants are not eradicated.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Capital Retro8:11 am 17 Dec 23

For the ACT to prevent the spread of this species into the Territory effective, 24/7 controls will have to be established at borders like the cattle tick and fruit fly controls were between states.

Canberra is already an AQIS “rural destination” which requires shipping containers from interstate ports to be fumigated inside and steam cleaned outside before they can leave the port of entry and be roaded to Canberra. It’s a very expensive procedure.

I wonder how strict the customs people are with international travelers coming to Canberra by air?

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.