Fire ants: 20 years of government failures

Fire ants: 20 years of government failures

A whistleblower claims Logan residents are dealing with out-of-control fire ants due to more than 20 years of systemic failures.

Her comments follow several weeks of residents reaching out to MyCity Logan about issues with fire ants and the official eradication program.

Dr Pam Swepson, a former policy officer and community engagement officer for the government’s initial fire ant eradication program, said more than $1 billion had been thrown at the issue, only for it to be 20-times worse than it ever was.

“When the Americans investigated in 2001, they said it was as bad as they had ever seen in the United States and that it was too entrenched to eradicate,” Dr Swepson said.

“They said, ‘the best you should be doing is putting tight containment around it and bait to suppress it’ – that was when the infestation was between 40-50,000 ha.”

She said, at the time, there wasn’t enough funding to run that type of program.

“The Queensland government decided to mount an eradication program as a jobs program for unemployed, or under-employed, unskilled workers,” Dr Swepson said.

“That was the beginning of the end.”

She said her role as a policy officer was to draft progress reports on the program.

“I knew that those reports were overstating the success of the program and not reporting serious issues threatening it,” she said.

“I raised my concerns internally, but to no response.”

In 2005, Dr Swepson left the program and began speaking publicly about its downfalls.

“People were originally told not to treat their own property,” she said.

“A billion dollars of taxpayers money later, and now they’re dumping those responsibilities – both costs and risks – onto landholders and councils.”

Logan City currently falls under what is called a “suppression area”.

A spokesperson from the National Fire Ant Eradication Program said this meant residents in the area would need to look for, report and treat fire ants themselves.

“… until eradication treatment reaches their area,” the spokesperson said.

“This proactive approach prevents the pests from building more nests and infesting your property and the community.”

Dr Swepson said the idea of a suppression area “means nothing”.

“Suppression and eradication are results, not treatment methods,” she said.

“They’re hoping to suppress, but there’s no data.

“Right from the beginning, the program has never collected any data on anything, so I don’t know what suppression means.”

The program spokesperson said eradicating the ants would “not be easy”, but authorities were aiming to do it by 2032.

“Working together is key to eradicating fire ants from Australia once and for all,” she said.

“Australia’s Fire Ant Response Plan 2023–27 focused on strengthening containment and compliance, and intensifying program-led and community treatment using a systematic, outside-in approach.

“As fire ants are cleared from areas, treatment will progressively move inwards until all areas are free of fire ants.”

Dr Swepson said there was “not a chance” fire ants would be eradicated by 2032.

“It is just nonsense,” she said.

“We will never eradicate it – it’s now 20 times worse than it was.

“What we need to be doing… is give the national funding to local councils to put in movement controls and get professionals in to do scientific and technically advised treatment of properties.”

The post Fire ants: 20 years of government failures appeared first on MyCity Logan.