A parliamentary inquiry will examine Australia’s efforts to eradicate invasive fire ants amid claims it has suffered from chronic underfunding.
The senate inquiry will look at what has been done so far to defeat the South American super-pest, which has recently been detected on North Stradbroke and Macleay islands.
The inquiry will consider whether the national eradication program has been adequately funded by the federal and state governments and assess what Australia stands to lose if the war is not won.
In countries where the pest is well established, there have been vast implications for human and environmental health, and agriculture.
The Invasive Species Council says funding problems have plagued the eradication effort.
It hopes the inquiry will expose the impact of funding delays in the fire ant’s stronghold in south-east Queensland, where ants have also been found perilously close to the NSW border.
“The whole of Australia will be invaded if fire ants are not eradicated in south-east Queensland,” conservation officer Reece Pianta said.
“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.”
A review of the eradication program has warned it will fail without an urgent gear shift and far more money.
Almost the entire country is considered suitable habitat for fire ants.
The only possible exceptions are Tasmania’s high country and the Snowy Mountains, but as the climate changes, even those pockets might not be safe.
The inquiry is due to report back by April next year.