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Queensland residents and businesses asked to tackle fire ants as Government devolves responsibility

ByRick Schafer

Brian Williams, Environment Reporter | The Courier-Mail  | JULY 29, 2013 12:00AM

AFTER years of tackling southeast Queensland’s fire ant outbreak on its own, the State Government will make a radical change and ask residents and businesses to treat infestations themselves.

Agriculture Minister John McVeigh said it was a significant move because previously only fire ant staff were permitted to treat nests.

This method was overly bureaucratic and an archaic approach that resulted in a backlog.

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But the move has been attacked by Opposition agriculture spokesman Tim Mulherin, who described it as nothing more than a cost-cutting exercise that put at risk 12 years of work trying to wipe out the pests.

Mr Mulherin said that despite the best intentions of property owners, there was a chance of doing more harm than good.

“I have concerns about this approach,” he said. “Will people be sufficiently trained to recognise fire ants and not eradicate other harmless types?

“Will they be able to apply the correct treatment measures including the safe use of toxic chemicals?

“Has the national management committee agreed to this approach?”

Mr Mulherin said the Government had cut back on funding for the program, which was in addition to national cost-sharing arrangements.

“That is probably why they are behind schedule and are looking for ways to cut costs,” he said.

Mr McVeigh said the Government had made changes to deliver a more cost-effective program.

The Government was making better use of helicopter-borne infra-red technology to find nests and had simplified reporting and classification.

In 2011-12, $21.6 million allowed an operational area of 89,500ha to be covered in treatment and surveillance. In 2012-13, $17.9 million had allowed 105,000ha to be covered.

Using the old methods, to achieve 100,000ha ground surveillance would cost an estimated $32 million and require 480 full-time staff.

The program currently had 126 staff and seasonal workers were hired as needed.

The requirement for all treatment of fire ants to be completed by or under the direction of departmental staff had been removed to reduce red tape for commercial operators.

“This measure has enhanced the ability of businesses to continue to trade by treating their properties and minimising the chance that they may move fire ants,” Mr McVeigh said.

“These businesses still require an approved risk management plan that outlines their proposed treatment activities.”

Mr McVeigh said commercial baits and poison were available and anyone using the products should comply with labelling requirements.

“Residents … must remember that it remains a legislative requirement … for any fire ant infestation to be reported to the department,” he said.

“This will allow follow-up treatment and surveillance … to ensure all fire ant nests in the area are found and killed.”

A Biosecurity Queensland spokeswoman said the Government did not endorse individual products or stores but consumers should ask for products with the active ingredient hydramethylnon. This was used by biosecurity staff.

“There are baits available from large hardware, produce and chemical stores,” she said. “Hydramethylnon … has specific registration for use against fire ants. People can also use any product that is listed generally for use against ants … We understand products are available.”

DuPont and BASF market fire ant baits and products are available on eBay.

Biosecurity staff flood nests with insecticide and then the surrounding area is baited with a granular corn base bait that has been coated with either methoprene or pyriproxyfen.

Deep injection and drenching of mounds takes a day or two to eliminate the colony.

Anyone moving fire ants or material such as soils, hay and plants out of a restricted area risks a penalty up to $75,000 for individuals and $375,000 for corporations.

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