General News

1 May, 2024

Fire Ant meeting called

The confirmed number of fire ant nests on the Oakey Army Aviation Centre grounds rose by 54 this week to a total of 132 nests, with a Community Information Meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at the Oakey Urban Landcare Centre.

These fire ant warning signs have been placed throughout town. INSET: Fire ants - photo, Barry Rice
These fire ant warning signs have been placed throughout town. INSET: Fire ants - photo, Barry Rice

At this stage, the ants have not spread from the Swartz Barracks grounds, and all nests have been treated by the Biosecurity teams.

A spokesperson from the National Fire Ant Eradication (NFEA) program said the cause of the outbreak was yet to be determined.

“Our team is making great progress in looking for and treating fire ants following the detection in Oakey,” they said.

“Since the nests were reported on 16 April, we have surveyed 137 hectares for fire ants and proactively treated a further 184 hectares as a precautionary measure.

“Compliance and tracing investigations are continuing, to help determine how the ants arrived in the area.

“Our engagement team is also out and about in the community informing residents about the detection and educating them about the impacts of fire ants, what to look for and how to report.

“We can confirm that all fire ant nests originally detected are contained to one infected property and have been treated.

“It is not unusual for remnant ants to re-establish nests before they die from the treatment.  This does not mean the ants are spreading.

“The site is being closely monitored and any nests that re-emerge will be destroyed as quickly as possible.”

The spokesperson said eradication activities will occur up to 5 kilometres out from the detection site to protect the area and ensure no undetected fire ants and nests remain.

The 5 kilometre radius includes all residences in the township of Oakey.

“This radius is treated because ants have been known to fly 4 to 5 kilometres,” the spokesperson said.

“Part of this process is tracing the origins of these nests, and our program is conducting testing to determine genetics, social form, and prospect for spread, be that by flight, land, or waterway.

“We have demonstrated that by working together as a community we can be successful in fighting fire ants, as was seen in Gladstone, more recently Kleinton...

“Everyone has a legal obligation to report fire ants within 24 hours of sighting them.

“Residents and businesses can play their part by:

- looking for and reporting suspect fire ants online at or by calling 13 25 23

- providing NFEA teams with property access to conduct eradication activities

- taking proactive steps not to spread fire ants.”

These invasive pests like to nest in organic materials, such as soil, hay, mulch, manure, quarry products, turf and potted plants, and human-assisted movement – knowingly or otherwise – poses a risk to Australia’s environment, economy and outdoor way of life.

Fire ant biosecurity zones and associated movement controls are in place to stop the spread of fire ants.

Anyone dealing with organic materials sourced from within Queensland’s fire ant biosecurity zones must use fire ant-safe practices if they intend to move the product to a new location.

In late news, Member for Condamine Pat Weir says he has received a briefing from the National Fire Ant Eradication program.

“They’ve got a pretty good idea of where they’ve come from, but they are
just putting together the genomic sequencing,” Mr Weir said.

“There have been no new nests found, and the most recent nests had no queens.

“They rate the likelihood of spreading as being extremely low as there has been no rainfall.

“I said I was extremely disappointed with the community awareness response and they agreed.”

Sniffer dogs will be coming out next week.

Mr Weir said it was important that the outbreak be stopped on the Base.

“I’m aware I don’t want another bad news story about Oakey, but there’s been a major biosecurity lapse there,” he said.

“I ask everyone to  be vigilant and report any suspected activity.

“The alarm Bells have been ringing for years about fire ants.”

Oakey Chamber of Commerce executive member Dave Cooper said it was extremely concerning that the outbreak had occurred in Oakey.

“(We’ve had) a false sense of security that the Government have been controlling fire ants,” he said.

“It’s gut-wrenching.

“We’ve kind of been living in this realm of ‘It’s not going to happen here’.”

Mr Cooper said if fire ants made it onto the Downs it would change the way locals operated.

“As a business, we do earthworks (moving), he said.

“The biggest impact will be on the agriculture industry.

“There’s got to be people working on the problem and making it go away.

“We’re all very close to the Army Base. It’s not out of the area, it’s right here in town”

Federal Member for Groom, Garth Hamilton is calling on all agencies involved in the response to detection of fire ants in Oakey to prioritise containment, decontamination and communication.

Mr Hamilton said it was important that biosecurity agencies and the National Fire Ant Eradication Program (NFAEP) work with the local community to provide more information about the risk and spread of fire ants in Oakey.

“Local residents and businesses are concerned about the lack of information being provided and we need to see state and federal agencies cooperating and sharing information,” he said.

“The NFAEP is responsible for the detection, containment and managing the biosecurity risks posed by fire ants.

“We do not need a blame game, we need heightened coordination and information sharing between levels of government, agencies responsible for responding to this detection and better engagement with the local community.”

Agricultural industry, biosecurity experts and downstream communities are concerned about the risk of spread via the Murray Darling.

“This risk goes beyond that of Oakey and the Darling Downs, and risks further downstream contamination in the Murray Darling,” Mr Hamilton said.

“I am calling on all levels of government and the relevant biosecurity agency to be upfront with our community to better help manage the risk and prevent further spread.

Mr Hamilton had raised his concerns with Minister for Agriculture, Murray Watt and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles.

A Community Consultation Meeting is planned for tomorrow afternoon (Thursday 2 May) 4.30pm at the Oakey Urban Landcare Centre at 50 Kelvinhaulgh Road.

Four speakers from the National Fire Ant Eradication Program will be speaking at the meeting and fielding questions about the outbreak.

Ring 0409 633 352 for further details.


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