THE SPREAD of fire ants to Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast highlights problems in biosecurity and urban sprawl into rural areas.
We were involved in the first fire ant outbreak in Australia, which started from the devastating and destructive ant being imported in pots in a container from Mexico, then crawling across to our property.
For a start, we were then, and still, struggle to understand why a shipping container from Mexico to Brisbane would not have been inspected by Australian Customs.
For a start, Mexico was then part of the drug trail from Columbia (and a Mexican drug lord had just been caught in Melbourne), and it had a large number of suspected agricultural diseases, from foot and mouth to banana and sugar cane diseases and problematical pests and insects, including fire ants.
Surely a container marked as having garden pots coming from a rural area of Mexico should have been inspected.
Surely every Customs minister from 2001 until the current Peter Dutton should be instructing Customs that border security is not just an election slogan, but requires real work of opening and checking ALL suspect containers, even if that pings-off importers.
Then once the ants were detected, not by the Mexican pot importing garden centre but a neighbour who got bitten in her veggie patch and did some basic research, the search and destroy mission was slow, bureaucratic and politically correct.
As soon as we were alerted to this ant — that we had never heard about — by the neighbour across the creek, we did a search and found some. A rattle around the shed found a very effective poison starting with ‘D’ whose name must never be mentioned in politically correct company.
We mixed, carefully for our own health, various strengths of ‘D’ and poured and sprayed it over the few fire ant colonies. Within days the ants were dead. Poking a crowbar down and around the ant holes proved difficult — they were dead at the bottoming the colony as well as the surface. Job done!
Unfortunately, a truckload of dirt from one of the properties neighbouring the garden centre spread the ants to some new urban estates.
After a whole stack of bureaucratic federal/state committee meetings, the fire ant task force was set-up, employing largely work-for-the-dole people to find any colonies and spread organophosphates pellets. These are partly effective, but safe for amateurs such as work-for-the-dole people. The bureaucrats would not allow more powerful chemical killers, like old faithful ‘D’, to be used.
Despite up to 400 people spreading the organophosphates pellets, fire ants spread with, largely, urban sprawl around Brisbane. All that movement of machinery and truckloads of soil and timber (mainly the imported stuff) into new housing estates was largely unregulated — and politicians weren’t going to stop urban sprawl even for the sake of stopping an ant with huge negative consequences for agriculture — let alone the amenity of going to your local park or footy ground without a potentially deadly sting.
Some ants spread from the Port of Brisbane and surrounding container parks, where the original uninspected Mexican garden pot container traversed, to Gladstone and Sydney. These outbreaks were limited in number and quickly contained, largely though an urgent, professional pest control approach.
But in greater Brisbane, the threat remains real, despite half a billion dollars of spending over 15 years, because the response has been politically correct rather than a bluntly honest war effort.
Just as the current response to white spot disease in prawns has been to sacrifice the few — fish farmers and fishermen — for the sake of not offending or slowing the importers or disturbing the urban sprawl.
Biosecurity requires a much more bluntly honest, real cause-and-effect approach. If we allow the politicians and bureaucrats to take the importers first / politically correct approach, Australia’s clean, green reputation will be threatened by more than just fire ants.