17 Sep 2021

Destructive drywood termites attacking Queensland homes, but a government fumigation program is axed

The Queensland government is being accused of abandoning residents whose homes are being eaten by the world's most destructive drywood termite.

Brisbane's bayside suburbs as well as Maryborough, Bundaberg, Townsville and Rockhampton all have slow spreading infestations of the invasive West Indian drywood termite.

Since the 1960s, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has paid for any outbreaks of the foreign invader to be treated, by tenting entire houses and fumigating them.

But in January, it quietly ended the free fumigation program and hasn't confirmed if people on a waiting list before it expired, would be helped.

Sara de Graaf thought children were leaving sand on her back verandah, before the small pile that kept returning after being swept away, was identified as frass, or termite droppings.

In July, a pest controller told the pensioner it would cost upwards of $35,000 for the first treatment of her old Queenslander in the Brisbane suburb of Lota, but reassured her that the government would pay.

She was shocked to learn he was wrong and that the program had been dropped.

"I think it is abominable, I think it's disgusting," she said.

"I'm a pensioner, no way can I afford to pay $30-40,000 to get this done.

"I can't afford it so what do I do, let my house fall to bits and be eaten away? I don't know, I need help."

Hard to detect

Drywood termites do not need contact with soil, so they are not deterred by measures used to prevent more common subterranean termites getting into buildings.

They are also not as easy to detect, because their smaller colonies work within the wood and do not leave visible tracks.

A Queensland government spokesperson said millions of dollars had been spent on fumigation treatment over the decades and the prevention and control program was ended after a two-year review.

The statement explained that rolling annual inspections of buildings near West Indian drywood termite detection sites had not stopped the pest and that "a community-based approach is necessary to manage the impacts and minimise further spread".

John Murray is the Queensland chairman of the Australian Environmental Pest Management Association, which had lobbied the government to keep the free fumigation program in place.

"If the cost is now over to the homeowner I suspect a lot less people can afford the upfront cost of treatment and subsequently there'll be more likely infestations," Mr Murray warned.

And there is no peace of mind for people who have had a standard pest inspection because pest controllers aren't actively looking for West Indian drywood termites.

"They are not covered under the standard timber pest inspections that all pest controllers undertake for most homes on an annual basis, because they're not covered in the Australian standards for termite management," Mr Murray said.

Di Mason has lobbied every politician she can think of to help her 86-year-old mother who was quoted $46,000 for treatment of her Brisbane bayside home.

She said people had been "definitely abandoned and basically left to flounder".

"All they've done is make the decision that they're not going to fumigate and they have put absolutely nothing in place to help people who have got an infestation," Ms Mason said.

Last financial year the Queensland government paid $480,569 to fumigate 12 residential and commercial buildings.

Ms Mason has been told that people who had asked for help to have their homes treated before the program ended, had been "flicked".

"Their houses weren't fumigated, despite the fact that they were on a waiting list," she said.

The government would not confirm that and advised that the question of honouring that waiting list, was "still under consideration".

In the 2014 biosecurity act report, government officials identified that around 15 buildings were being treated per year at a cost of less than one million dollars.

"Without a prevention and control program in place, the total cost of the community to managing West Indian dry wood termites in Queensland, would be expected to rise more significantly over time, potentially reaching tens of millions of dollars each year as the pest spreads," the report read.

"I just can't believe that they've done it (dropped the program), it's just so irresponsible," Ms Mason said.

The Queensland government spokesperson said they were implementing a two-year transition program to assist the community, industry and local government in developing tools for improved detection and alternative treatments for the pest.

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-08-22/west-indian-drywood-termite/100374758

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