Authorities have rushed to contain a potentially deadly threat with fears failing to do so could have huge and 'devastating' ramifications for NSW and the rest of Australia.
Sniffer dogs and biosecurity experts are searching for more signs of red fire ants in an area south of Ballina in northern NSW after a nest was discovered on Saturday by a gardener who endured "blistering" pain from bites.
A biosecurity control order has been imposed to prevent the movement of goods that could carry the pests. Goods including mulch, soil, compost, agricultural equipment and more cannot be moved out of the 5km zone around the site.
The National Fire Ant Eradication Program warns the spread of fire ants could have "devastating impacts on Australia's unique native flora and fauna". They have the ability to eliminate some native species and eat seeds and insects while attacking birds. Humans suffer extreme pain from bites from the aggressive fire ant, which in rare cases can prove deadly.
They were first detected in 2001 and its believed they were brought in to Australia via shipping containers from America.
Since November, the pests have spread more than 100km south and continue to travel into NSW after Queensland gave up a 20-year fight to contain the ants last year.
A photo shared by the NSW Department of Primary Industries shows the destroyed nest fenced off to the public, with the surrounding area treated by chemicals. The department is now quickly trying to determine if the ants have spread further than the site at Wardell.
Nationals leader blasts 'slow' response to fire ants
Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has blamed Labor for being “too slow to act” on its red imported fire ant response program.
He said the latest infestation is another sign Labor has “lost control” of eradicating the pest and the latest discovery should trigger an urgent review of funding.
“The whole country has been put at risk of fire ants because Labor was too slow to act,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Ballina is one of the most popular tourism areas in the country – it’s no small issue that this slice of paradise risks having its tourism title destroyed by fire ants if Labor doesn’t get on top of this.
Fire ants create raft to escape flood waters
The pests have been seen forming “floating rafts” to escape floodwaters in the state, sparking warnings they could spread even further south.
“The Invasive Species Council warned red imported fire ants were at risk of spreading beyond current containment zones and that parks, school playgrounds and beaches have been closing over summer due to fire ants,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The Commonwealth should have been showing leadership on this issue but continued to drag the chain. Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is nowhere to be seen on this.
“Fire ants could also devastate wildlife and cut agricultural output by up to 40 per cent.”
Fire ants are less than a centimetre long and reddish-brown in colour. They become aggressive when disturbed and sting multiple times.
With AAP and NCA Newswire
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