Fire ants on the march from Queensland

Venomous fire ants are considered one of the world's most invasive species.

Venomous fire ants are considered one of the world's most invasive species. Photo: AAP

Australia’s agriculture ministers have failed to agree on funding for a program to combat invasive fire ants despite identifying the “very real threat”.

The venomous ant has been on the march in recent months with authorities concerned the super pest will break containment lines and spread from southeast Queensland to NSW.

But while ministers agreed “serious action” was needed, they were unable to put a dollar figure on their commitment.

“We do need to go through budget processes before we can walk out into a press conference and promise money,” federal minister Murray Watt told reporters in Perth on Thursday.

Senator Watt said he expected up to $60 million more would be spent up to June 2024 fighting fire ants.

A recent Biosecurity Queensland report found an extra $593 million was needed for the national eradication plan.

A separate review of the eradication strategy found at least $3 billion would be needed over the next five years.

“We’ve essentially agreed to the plan going forward, but most of the jurisdictions have yet to go through their budget process to secure the funding,” Senator Watt said.

“I couldn’t really put a dollar figure on how much we’ll spend over the next few years.”

More than $140 million was set aside in June by the NSW and Queensland governments.

Fire ants are considered one of the world’s most invasive species.

The stinging, swarming pest is native to South America and poses a serious risk to agriculture, public health and native environments.

They’ve been in Australia since 2001 when they were found in Brisbane.

Some $411 million was set aside under a 10-year plan approved by all Australian governments in 2017.

The Invasive Species Council, which has campaigned for the ant’s eradication, said the lack of clarity over funding undermined efforts.

“The lack of funding comes despite fire ant eradication being a key agenda item at the meeting,” council spokesperson Reece Pianta said.

The meeting also discussed strategies on tracing produce and the agriculture sector’s role in tackling climate change, with ministers agreeing to strategies on both.

“We know that consumers in international markets want to know more than ever before about where their food is coming from,” Senator Watt said.

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