Fire ants in the spotlight with Federal Senate inquiry viewing funding failures

The Invasive Species Council welcomes a Senate inquiry into fire ants. The inquiry will assess the cost of a fire ant invasion of Australia and the impact of delays to federal and state funding on the eradication program in south-east Queensland.

“Fire ants are a super pest which will devastate Australia’s environment and agriculture if they are allowed to spread across the country,” said Reece Pianta, Conservation Officer at the Invasive Species Council.

“They will cost our economy billions annually and we will see over 140,000 extra medical visits every year as they sting Australians at the park or in the backyard.

“It doesn’t matter if you are in Perth or Penrith, Bendigo or Byron Bay, the whole of Australia will be invaded if fire ants are not eradicated in south east Queensland.

“The good news is the evidence suggests they can still be eradicated with a significantly ramped-up program of baiting, surveillance and community engagement.

“The bad news is that delayed and inadequate government funding puts at risk the small window of opportunity we have left to stop their spread. 

“Underfunding by the Albanese Government means there is currently no systematic eradication work occurring to stop the western spread into the Murray Darling basin and the northern spread towards the Sunshine Coast. 

“This is a timely and essential senate inquiry that will put the costs and impacts of fire ants on the record and review the proposed fire ant response options.’

“For too long the public have had to rely on out-of-date reports and leaks from alarmed officials to understand what’s really going on with the fire ant eradication program. This is not good enough.

“Fire ants will not wait for the government to sort out its budget processes. Delay will mean failure and Australia can’t afford to fail,” said Mr Pianta.

Download the full leaked government response plan and appendices released by the Invasive Species Council.


  • Fire ant populations are surging in Queensland – now just 5 kilometres from the New South Wales border. Hundreds of new nests have been detected since June. Earlier this year a fire ant queen from Queensland was intercepted in Victoria. 
  • The Invasive Species Council recently released secret government documents that detail at least a $49 million shortfall in fire ant funding for 2023/24, risking the spread of the super pest across Australia.
  • The government’s proposed eradication response plan will cost $593 million over the next four years, co-funded by the commonwealth and all states and territories.
  • So far, only Queensland ($61 million or 10.3% of the total needed 2023-27) and NSW ($95 million or 16%) have made public commitments in line with the cost sharing arrangements required for the full proposed fire ant response plan.
  • Fire ants can be lethal to humans and government modelling suggests they will have a $2 billion per year impact on Australia’s economy if they get out of control. They will devastate wildlife, cut agricultural output by up to 40% and may cause over one hundred thousand extra medical appointments each year.
  • Fire ants can form rafts during flood events, stowaway in freight or soil or spread by Queen ant flights of around 5 km per year (and up to 30 km in favourable conditions).
  • The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program strategic review estimated that at least $200 to $300 million per year will be required for ongoing eradication efforts to achieve eradication by 2032 – this compares to $94 million spent in 2022/23 and only $60 million committed for this financial year.
  • Recently Australia’s governments committed to ongoing fire ant eradication but have not yet committed any new funding to fight fire ants in Australia. Fire ant eradication is being led by the Queensland government but is funded by all Australian governments because fire ants are a threat to the whole country.
  • Fire ants came into Australia in the late 90s in freight from the United States, they were found in 2001. Fire ants are originally from South America.
  • Fire ants have spread across most of the southern United States, and are spreading in China at a rate of about 80 km per year.
  • Almost all of Australia is climatically suitable for fire ants

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