Fire ant barbs exchanged in ministers’ local derby

Queensland’s two agricultural heavyweights of the political arena are going toe-to-toe over fire ants, a contest electrified by the buzz of a looming federal election.

Nov 09, 2021, updated Nov 09, 2021
Nationals leader David Littleproud may face a challenge from within the National Party. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Nationals leader David Littleproud may face a challenge from within the National Party. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has ditched state allegiance in favour of tribal colours to lay the boot into his Queensland counterpart Mark Furner over the state’s attempts at controlling fire ants in the south east corner.

In a feisty exchange between the pair, Littleproud has called Furner a “failure” at leading the pest control program, claiming the Queensland Agriculture and Fisheries Minister has allowed Queensland to get “burnt” by not stepping up to the responsibility of his portfolio.

In a stinging retort, Furner said Littleproud’s comments should be viewed within “the shadows of a federal election”.

“Mr Littleproud is clearly trying to distract from his own failures, such as abandoning his long-promised biosecurity levy, an ag visa that hasn’t brought in any workers, and the National Party’s botched climate policies,” he said.

Amid the fiery political rhetoric is an ongoing campaign to keep fire ants contained, a long-running project that has been at the centre of expensive and concerted biosecurity efforts since the pests first breached quarantine lines at the Port of Brisbane early this century.

The project is jointly funded by the states and Commonwealth, with the Queensland Government remaining the lead agency to deliver the program, the largest ant eradication campaign ever undertaken anywhere on the planet.

That’s because fire ants remain confined to South East Queensland, but have the potential to spread fast and wide with devastating consequences for agriculture, particularly livestock, domestic pets and outdoor lifestyle.

Queensland’s performance is crucial to the national interest in keeping the ants at bay, although the eradication campaign is orchestrated by a national steering committee, which remains independent from government.

Sources close to the project say fire ant controls deployed throughout South East Queensland are guided by the best available science, the same approach the state government has taken when listening to advice on public health or the environment.

The program is one month into the 2021-22 treatment season and teams are already well ahead of schedule with over 47,000 ha treated, according to a department spokesperson.

“After intensive eradication treatment in the Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim and parts of Ipswich, we have found fire ant numbers have been significantly knocked down in these areas,” they said.

The few remaining nests are the focus of our follow-up treatment or clearance activities, which includes surveillance over a number of years before we can confidently say fire ants are no longer present.”

But Littleproud is adamant the Queensland Government is off-target and outside budget.

“They’ve simply failed,” he said.

Littleproud is also incensed that the Federal Government was forced to bring forward a further $18 million in funding, taking the Commonwealth’s total contributions to above $212 million, “because Mark Furner and the state government have not been over the program”.

Furner said Littleproud appeared to misunderstand the project’s objectives and the governance framework underpinning its operation.

“It seems David Littleproud is unaware this is a national program overseen by a national steering committee – a big concern when the Commonwealth is a key stakeholder,” he said.

“The national program has made real progress since funding was agreed four years ago with thousands of hectares treated.

“Without it, fire ants would have spread as far north as Bowen and as far south as Canberra.”





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