15 February 2024

Mandatory importation restrictions announced to stop red fire ants from infesting Canberra

| Claire Fenwicke
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fire ant close up

Red fire ants can have devastating impacts on the environment and human health. Photo: Invasive Species Council.

The threat of a fire ant infestation has led the ACT Government to announce new mandatory importation restrictions effective immediately.

It means that potential carriers of fire ants cannot be imported from fire ant-infested areas of north-eastern NSW and southern Queensland.

This includes organic mulch, soil (or anything with soil on it), baled material like hay, potted plants, turf, agriculture or earth-moving machinery, and mining and quarrying materials.

Environment, Parks and Land Management Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the new restrictions would reduce the risk of red imported fire ants spreading into the ACT.

“The restriction applies to a 5-kilometre radius of the fire ant nests recently found in South Murwillumbah and Wardell in north-eastern NSW,” she said.

“It also applies to areas in south-east Queensland declared as fire ant biosecurity zones including Redcliffe, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Gatton.”

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Materials already in transit cannot be brought into the Territory unless they’ve met certain treatment criteria.

“Importers of these materials from affected areas will need to meet strict import conditions like using heat treatment or applying an Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority-approved chemical for the control of fire ants and providing a plant health certificate,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“Protecting our environment and community from the damage fire ants can cause is a top biosecurity concern. I want to assure the community that we are taking swift and decisive action to protect the Territory.”

Importation restrictions had been hinted at at the end of last year when the ACT Government announced funding of $5.1 million towards the pest’s eradication.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries previously announced restrictions on the movement of fire ant carrier material as well, under an emergency biosecurity order.

Fire ants were detected in South Murwillumbah, NSW, on 24 November 2023. More ants were found in Wardell, NSW, on 19 January.

“The introduction, presence and spread of fire ants in NSW may have a significant biosecurity impact on the economy, the environment, and the community because of the ability of fire ant colonies to harm ecosystems, reduce crop yields, harm human health, damage infrastructure, and prevent the use of outdoor and amenity areas,” a biosecurity (fire ant) emergency order noted.

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There are steps the community and businesses can take to protect the ACT’s biosecurity, including:

  • Checking the measures that must be implemented before entering the ACT with hay, turf, soil, mulch, potted plants or machinery from NSW and Queensland
  • Be on the lookout for unknown plant and animal species – for assistance identifying an ant, call 02 6258 5551
  • If you think you have seen fire ants or their nests, do not disturb or touch them. Contact Access Canberra on 13 22 81 during business hours.

There is a free fire ant compliance tool available online.

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But if worse comes to worst, we’ll all be eating insects soon enough, because the climate ain’t gonna fix itself, don’t you know

With no actual quarantine control at the border, not sure how will the ACT “police” people moving from SEQ or northern NSW to the ACT with house or garden plants. Yes I know they shouldnt be bringing them but I bet there are people that do

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