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Red fire ants: $400m committed to fight feral pest in Queensland

ABC News logo ABC News 27/07/2017 Jake Sturmer

A close up of the imported red fire ant found in Brisbane. Areas of Brisbane have become infested with the insect which has a savage bite that can kill people who suffer allergic reactions to its venom. © AAP Image/Queensland Department of Primary Industries A close up of the imported red fire ant found in Brisbane. Areas of Brisbane have become infested with the insect which has a savage bite that can kill people who suffer allergic reactions to its venom. Federal and state agriculture ministers will spend almost $400 million to try to eradicate the destructive red imported fire ant for good.

The potentially deadly pest has plagued south-east Queensland and there are fears it could spread across Australia.

The Queensland Government has responsibility for eradicating the insect, but feral-pest experts have previously raised doubts about the state's capacity to do so.

The Federal Government has put Biosecurity Queensland on notice and will create a new committee with an independent chair to oversee the attempted extermination.

"I am now calling on the Queensland Government to now deliver the goods to eradicate this insidious pest once and for all, and ensure this investment is wise money spent," Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

"In the US state of Texas alone, red imported fire ants are estimated to cost $US1.2 billion each year in control, damage repair and medical care."

Fire ants have the potential to be the worst invasive species to ever enter Australia. © Provided by ABC News Fire ants have the potential to be the worst invasive species to ever enter Australia.

The agreement means long-term certainty for eradication efforts, with $38 million a year committed for a decade.

Last year, the ABC revealed an independent review of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program found there was "only a small window of opportunity left" to wipe out the insect, which had the potential to be the worst invasive species to ever cross Australia's borders.

The Invasive Species Council, which previously raised doubts about the Queensland Government's ability to manage the program, has supported the new funding and improved oversight.

But the council will be ensuring the steering committee is truly independent and effective.

"Now that proper funding has been secured, we will be focused on ensuring improved oversight and governance of the program to make sure the funds are well spent," Mr Cox said.

It is now believed the fire ant could spread to 95 per cent of Australia due to the warm climate. © AAP Image/Department of Primary Industries, Queensland It is now believed the fire ant could spread to 95 per cent of Australia due to the warm climate.

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