New Powers for Officers to Prevent Transport of High-Risk Materials

Officers from Queensland’s agriculture department and the New South Wales department of primary industries have been granted the authority to conduct vehicle searches in an effort to prevent the illegal transportation of “high-risk” materials that may contain red fire ants. Individuals residing in a designated zone in southeast Queensland who are found moving materials such as soil, hay, and potted plants into NSW without a permit could face fines of up to $1.1m, while companies could face penalties of up to $2.2m. Transporting certain materials such as turf, fodder, and mulch has been restricted for several months, but both states are now escalating their enforcement efforts due to increased seasonal demand for livestock feed and landscaping supplies. There is a heightened risk of fire ants being unintentionally carried across the border from Queensland into NSW.

To ensure compliance with the rules, government biosecurity officers can now conduct vehicle inspections at the border, and the police will be involved, including vehicle searches with sniffer dogs. Surveillance cameras at border crossings, typically used for monitoring livestock, will be utilized to watch out for any movement of high-risk materials.

Last month, a fire ant nest was discovered just 5.5km from NSW’s northern border, prompting calls for immediate action to prevent the spread of this invasive pest. The nest was found in Tallebudgera on the Gold Coast, marking the southernmost detection of fire ants. Following this discovery, the National Farmers Federation and the Invasive Species Council emphasized the need for urgent funding for eradication programs to prevent the further spread of the ants.

The NSW government has already committed $95m over the next four years to the National Fire Ant Eradication Program. The potential impact of fire ants on health, lifestyle, and the economy if they were to cross the border into NSW is a driving force behind these efforts. NSW Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty expressed the government’s commitment to doing everything possible to prevent the spread of fire ants and emphasized the importance of individual responsibility.

Moriarty recently visited the Tweed Heads region in northern NSW to meet with the cross-border task force composed of various government agencies working to prevent fire ants from infiltrating Queensland’s southern border. Since its initial detection in 2001, these venomous insects have infested a significant portion of southeast Queensland, with the ability to colonize vast areas and administer painful bites to humans.