THE Invasive Species Council have expressed alarm after federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt confirmed that no decision on increased funding for fire ant eradication had been made at a recent meeting of agriculture ministers in Perth.
Council spokesperson Reece Pianta said the lack of a leadership of the federal minister exposed Western Australia to risk of fire ants.
“WA is definitely suitable to fire ants, and if they aren’t adequately managed they will spread here, causing medical admissions, disrupting ecosystems, shutting down outdoor areas, and reducing agricultural productivity,” Mr Pianta said.
“Modelling suggests that if fire ants spread across the continent to Western Australia they could cause over 100,000 extra hospital visits in Australia every year.”
Mr Pianta said the council had expected a serious funding package to achieve fire ant eradication.
“But instead of a funding boost, Minister Watt indicated Australians will see a funding reduction this year. The $60 million announced is in fact less than two thirds of the $94 million spent on eradication efforts last year,” he said.
“We know the level of funding needed, and we know what is at stake if fire ants are allowed to spread across Australia.
“We are already seeing fire ants breach containment lines in Queensland and [this funding] failure almost guarantees fire ants will cross the Tweed River into NSW and spread west through the Murray Darling Basin.
“A fire ant invasion will be much worse than the cane toad. They will devastate our native wildlife and cause billions of dollars in lost agricultural production every year.”
He said in Queensland they were already seeing sports fields and beaches closed due to the extremely painful sting inflicted by fire ants.
Last week a new outbreak of the highly invasive fire ants was discovered 5.5km from the NSW border at Tallebudgera pony club.
“If fire ants spread across Australia they will be worse than rabbits, cane toads, foxes and feral cats combined.”