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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

ABC - Queensland Country Hour
Thursday, 3 April 03

Subject: War on Fire Ants

The Federal Government has set its sights on the eradication of tramp ant species such fire ants and yellow crazy ants. The government's declared the ants a key threatening process under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Environment Minister Doctor David Kemp told Julie Doyle that means work can start immediately on a national framework to eradicate the pests.

Dr Kemp:
And that national framework will be the foundation for a national threat abatement plan, so that if there is a danger of these tramp ant species, as they're called, coming into Australia in the future, people will be educated about them.

There'll be proper systems for surveillance and monitoring in place right around the country. The quarantine and border control officers will be alert to the danger that these ants pose. And there'll be an opportunity to develop contingency plans in the states and territories for a range of these species.

We mentioned there a range of species, we're not just talking about fire ants, how broad will this plan be?

Dr Kemp:
Well it will cover the whole species of tramp ants. As you know, in addition to the fire ant in Queensland, we had a very serious invasion of the yellow crazy ant on Christmas Island, which is one of the world's renowned areas for the red crab population, and has a quite unique environment.

It took a very significant campaign from Parks Australia and Monash University to bring that crazy ant under control. And it has been highly successful. It's used aerial baiting with helicopters. So we've had now two successful campaigns against these imported tramp ants.

And this National Threat Abatement Plan that we'll be putting in place now under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, will make sure that Australia is much better placed in the future to deal with these threats.

Is the aim eradication or just control?

Dr Kemp:
Well the aim is certainly eradication, if that is possible, and we're pushing on with this five year program in Queensland. It's costing $123 million from the commonwealth and the states to completely get rid of the fire ants. So far they're not completely eradicated, but they're certainly significantly reduced in range and under control, as is the crazy ant on Christmas Island.

So if... eradication is certainly the objective, and if eradication doesn't take place, then clearly there has to be very extensive control measures.

Doctor David Kemp, Federal Environment Minister.

And Queensland's fire ant control program is being used as the model for the control of evasive ants across Australia. The red imported fire ant is considered to be the most dangerous of all exotic ants, it's an urban menace for householders and their pets, it's a threat to native wildlife, and if it escapes to agricultural areas, it poses real problems for stock and crops.

For the last three years the Queensland Fire Ant Control Unit has been attempting first to contain then eradicate the menace. The project's costing around $20 million and will run for four years. Manager of the operation, the DPI's Ian Douglas, says it's a model that can be used if there is a will by the government and the community.

Ian Douglas:
We rely on principles that are well established for any pest or disease in many respects. And that's having adequate abilities to diagnose and to conduct research and development to having a successful surveillance program so we can find out where the pest is and limit the area of it.

In this case a treatment program in... and where our program is based primarily on the use of very lowly toxic baits that the ants take to their nests and feed to their queens. And finally is a... some means of preventing the ongoing spread of the ant or the pest whilst this is going on.

So we have a risk management program, and as part and parcel of that there are some requirements to address the risks of movement of ants.

Ian, one of the biggest elements of the program that you didn't mention is the community interaction about the fire ants. I've never seen a campaign that's focused on the public as much, because as you said, it's an urban problem and it makes people's life hell if they've got ants.

Ian Douglas:
Exactly right. And the community is really solidly behind us. It was recognised from the outset that any agency coming in attempting to eradicate an ant species like this was destined to fail without the support of the public. And we've worked, you know, side by side with the public so far, and we have certainly continued to do that.

We put a great deal of emphasis on trying to provide information to the community, and also working specifically with community groups. In fact, we've got a quite a large number of volunteers that work through community watch groups and support the program. And that's been terribly valuable to us.

I know it's a program that's going to run over a number of years, but just how widespread is it around Brisbane these days?

Ian Douglas:
Well we're treating an area of around 40,000 hectares, which is a large area to treat. It involves around about 100,000 land parcels in the Brisbane area. And in addition to that we're conducting surveillance on about 130,000 land parcels, so a slightly larger area.

But that's still a very small area compared to the potential range of the ant in Australia. So we have a window of opportunity to eradicate the ant. The bait treatments we're using are working, and we're proceeding on plan.

But the eventual success of the program will always depend on the ability to identify where the ants are. We conduct a surveillance which assists in that, but the community based surveillance is probably even more important for identifying where some pockets of these ants might persist.

Ian Hill... Ian Hill... Ian Douglas, rather, Manager of the Queensland Fire Ant Control Unit. Sorry Ian. He was speaking to Robyn McConchie.

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Commonwealth of Australia