House debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018


Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018; Second Reading

9:31 am

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018 strengthens penalties for existing offences, and amends the nation's sabotage offences, to deal with acts of food supply contamination that now pose a clear and unprecedented risk to the safety of the Australian community and to the livelihoods of our nation's food producers.

The consequences we have witnessed from the contamination of strawberries demonstrate the public anxiety, the economic loss and the terrible real-world harm that one rogue actor can cause.

This harm has been amplified by a rapid escalation in copycat offenders and the perpetrators of hoaxes.

This bill is intended to send the simplest, clearest and strongest of messages. The behaviour we are now witnessing is not a joke. It is not funny. It is a serious criminal offence, and we denounce it, and offenders of it will face very serious consequences.

Contamination of goods

It is already illegal to intentionally contaminate with the intention of causing public harm, alarm or significant economic loss. It is also a crime to threaten to contaminate goods, or make false statements about the contamination of goods for one of those purposes.

However, recent events have demonstrated that the existing maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is not sufficient.

The bill will address that by increasing the maximum penalty to 15 years imprisonment for those offences.

This will send a strong signal to would-be offenders by placing the penalty at an equivalent level to offences dealing with matters such as child pornography and the funding of terrorist organisations.

The clear and manifest risk we also see demonstrated by recent events appears to be inspiring hoaxes and copycat offenders. These people need to know that if they engage in such conduct they will be committing a very serious crime.

Accordingly, this bill will create new offences that apply where a person contaminates goods, threatens to contaminate goods or makes false statements about the contamination of goods and is reckless as to the causing of public alarm or anxiety, of economic loss, or of harm to public health.

These offences will attract a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.


There is also a third change with respect to Australia's sabotage offences contained in this bill. The government recently modernised Australia's sabotage laws to address the unprecedented threats that we now face as a nation. These threats are constantly evolving, and our laws must evolve to keep pace.

These laws currently apply to the sabotage of public infrastructure and carry maximum penalties of between seven and 25 years imprisonment.

Australia's food supply infrastructure is also clearly of critical importance to our national security and the wellbeing of our citizens.

Accordingly, the bill will expand the sabotage offences so that they would cover the sabotage of Australia's food supply, where such conduct is intended to prejudice our national security.

Further action

The bill marks an important step towards ensuring that our food supply infrastructure is afforded the same protection as other pieces of our critical infrastructure.

This work must continue. The issue will be raised with state and territory counterparts to encourage them to strengthen their own laws to ensure a robust, nationally consistent approach to the protection of our food supply.

It is important to remember the human toll this is having on Australian farmers and, indeed, a whole range of participants in the agricultural sector, who are already doing it tough. Helping our farmers and farming communities is a high priority of this government, and we have committed $1 million to deal with the crisis and help get the industry back on its feet.


The events of this week represent large-scale criminality relating to food products in Australia.

Strong action is required to deter and punish those who would target our food supply infrastructure. Their actions hurt the Australian community. They sabotage the livelihoods of growers, communities, towns and whole regions. They unnecessarily frighten people away from enjoying the beautiful, fresh and healthy produce our farmers grow. This bill demonstrates that the government will not stand for it.

It is the first duty of every government to keep its people safe, and we are committed to doing so. This bill takes us a further step down that path, and I commend it to the House.

Leave granted for second reading debate to continue immediately.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Opposition Business (House)) Share this | | Hansard source

Speakers have been asked to keep their speeches within a reasonable time frame on the understanding that it's the intention of the House to have the bill passed this morning.

9:36 am

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

As Australians would be aware, since 13 September this year, there have been a number of confirmed cases of people finding needles in strawberries. While the initial reporting concerned Berrylicious and Berry Obsession strawberries from Queensland, police and health authorities have warned of copycat cases across Australia. On 19 September it was reported by the AAP that:

Australia's strawberry contamination scare has now spread across six states …

The Minister for Home Affairs said on Wednesday that there were up to 100 reported cases, although many of these were believed to be hoaxes.

In response to these and other stories of needles being found in fruit, some supermarkets have pulled strawberries from their shelves. In addition, a number of trade partners—including Russia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom—have reportedly blocked Australian strawberry imports. This is a block that we would all, I'm sure, sincerely hope is removed as soon as possible. It is a completely unacceptable situation. It's having a devastating impact on strawberry farmers across our country. The fear and potential panic that has been created in the community is completely unacceptable as well.

The Morrison government has responded by proposing some changes to Commonwealth laws that the government says that it hopes will assist in deterring and in prosecuting the individuals who have engaged in what are obviously recklessly destructive behaviours. Specifically, this bill would amend section 380 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code to increase the penalties for existing Commonwealth offences relating to the contamination of goods from a maximum period of 10 years in prison to a maximum period of 15 years in prison. Those existing offences apply to a person who contaminates goods with the intention of causing public alarm or anxiety in Australia, widespread or nationally significant economic loss in Australia through public awareness of the contamination or possible contamination of the goods, or harm to or creating a risk of harm to public health in Australia.

In addition, the bill would amend section 380 of the Criminal Code to introduce new offences. The new offences would mirror the existing offences, except that they will apply to a person who contaminates goods and is reckless as to whether this will have one of the consequences I've just outlined in relation to the intention offence. So what those additional mirroring offences propose to do is introduce an additional fault element for this kind of offence.

I should say that this range of food contamination offences was introduced into the Commonwealth Criminal Code in 2004 following work done by the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee. As with much of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, these provisions replicate offences that already existed then and exist today at a state and territory level. So there are, obviously in different forms, a range of food contamination offences with very serious penalties already in state and territory law. I should note, just to give some context to what is being put forward here by the government, that the reports of sentences and convictions relating to Commonwealth law do not record that there has ever been a conviction under any of these Commonwealth criminal offences. There have, of course, in the intervening period since 2004 been a range of convictions under state and territory law for food contamination offences.

The other aspect of this bill, quite different to the increase in penalties for the existing Commonwealth offences and the introduction of a new fault element of recklessness, is an amendment to the definition of public infrastructure in section 82 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code so as to include a provision that infrastructure that relates to providing the public with food is to be included in public infrastructure in future. Also to be included is food that is intended for the public and is produced, distributed or sold by a constitutional corporation for the purposes of constitutional trade and commerce. If the amendment to the definition of public infrastructure is passed, a person will commit an offence if: the person engages in conduct that results in damage to food infrastructure or to food that is intended for the public and is produced, distributed or sold by a constitutional corporation for the purpose of constitutional trade and commerce and the person intends that the conduct will, or is reckless as to whether the conduct will, prejudice Australia's national security or advantage the national security of a foreign country; the person engages in conduct that results in food infrastructure or food becoming vulnerable to misuse or impairment or to being accessed or modified by a person not entitled to access or modify it and the person intends that the conduct will, or is reckless as to whether the conduct will, cause prejudice to Australia's national security; or the person engages in conduct and does so with the intention of planning to commit one of the offences referred to above.

I would note, for the assistance of the House, that section 82 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code contains the sabotage provisions which were recently introduced as part of the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill introduced to the parliament by the former Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, on 7 December last year. Those sabotage provisions carry penalties ranging from, in some cases, a maximum of seven years imprisonment to, in other cases, a maximum of 25 years imprisonment. I would have to say that a curious device has been adopted here by the government in its rush to introduce some legislation to deal with the problem of contamination of strawberries. It's a matter of concern that the government may well not have thought through all of the possible unintended consequences—and you've only got to state it to understand how curious it is—that might attach to redefining public infrastructure so as to include food in the way this bill proposes to do.

We have not had time to ascertain the reasons for the fact that there have been no cases recorded of conviction against any of the existing offences in part 9.6 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. As I said, they were first introduced in 2004. But it may very well be, and it's likely, that authorities use equivalent state and territory criminal offences in relation to the contamination of goods and food. Those state and territory offences have a broader application than the equivalent Commonwealth offences, due to the constitutional limitations on the Commonwealth's legislative power.

Labor is supporting this bill, but I would note that having such a short time frame between the drafting and the passage of legislation to amend the Commonwealth Criminal Code is highly unusual. The introduction of new criminal offences is not something that should be taken in any way lightly. The opposition received the draft of this bill at 6.05 pm yesterday and has had little time—and the public has had no time—to fully consider what the consequences of this legislation might be. It seems entirely possible that there are unintended consequences particularly, as I mentioned, in relation to the introduction of a new definition of public infrastructure. I call on the government to review the operation of this bill carefully over the coming months to ensure that the changes to our criminal law that this bill will introduce do not have unintended consequences. I appreciate the shortness of time we have, because it is the government's intention to pass this bill through the parliament today, but I ask the Attorney-General and the government to consider whether an amendment might be possible to provide for a statutory review of these provisions within 12 months of the commencement of the legislation simply to ensure that a thorough look is had at the consequences, unintended included, of passing legislation in this manner.

I am minded to say that this legislation should not be regarded as a substitute for something that as yet has been absent—that is, a coordinated national response. We all should be asking what else could be done, in such a coordinated national response, to assist our farmers. The people of Australia must be protected from food contamination, but they already are by a range of state, territory and Commonwealth laws. Farmers must be protected, but practical action is needed in addition to this legislation in order to get to the problem that has emerged. One might have thought that consideration of whether rewards should be increased and whether the Commonwealth can provide the assistance of officers of the Australian Federal Police to state and territory police forces who are working on this problem might be a more practical approach than simply legislating. One of the real matters that should always be taken into account by this parliament in legislating is that legislation, particularly the criminal law, looks backwards. It can operate only when perpetrators have been located, and practical action should be taken right now to ensure the perpetrators are located and apprehended and their activities brought to an end.

Finally, it's already symptomatic of this chaotic Morrison government that tremendous energy can be applied to some matters while a whole range of other government activity is simply languishing. What happened, one might ask, to the foreign donations bill introduced to the parliament on 7 December last year? What has happened to energy policy? What has happened to climate policy? One could go on. It is clear that the government can summon energy to do things in a hurry when it wants to. It ought to be applying the same energy to a whole range of other government inaction on which we are simply left lamenting the lack of government policy.

9:49 am

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018. I just want to speak to the consumers, the growers and the people of Australia to explain why we support this legislation and our view about the current matters. We fully support our growers and we fully support our farmers. We will support these laws. The shadow Attorney-General has gone through some of the issues and concerns with these laws; however, we will support them.

Very briefly, on the actual laws: they pose very strict penalties. They will act, we hope, as strong deterrents for anyone considering the stupid, cowardly and, frankly, bizarre act of tampering with fruit and vegies that Australians eat. I acknowledge that there are already significant laws in the state and the Commonwealth. We are proposing to amend these Commonwealth laws and, on this occasion, we will support that. But, in the broader sense—and I'm keen to talk to the Prime Minister about this—as some of the immediate urgency around the contamination of some brands of strawberries abates, I think we need to have a national discussion about what we could have done better in the last few days.

Tampering with food, though rare, is not unprecedented, but it seems that this matter has caught our authorities and experts off guard. So I believe that, whilst we wouldn't want to assume that all matters are resolved, we should have a discussion about what can be done better. The first of those, I want to suggest, to improve people's confidence, is the need to review our interjurisdictional arrangements with regard to food sabotage incidents. I think the national crisis management protocol would be useful in situations like this and, given there are international implications with our brand and quality of our exports, the Commonwealth government should be the one to lead it.

So far, whilst everyone has tried to do the very best they can, it would appear that some of the process has been uncoordinated between the states, with different states and authorities taking different approaches. I think, even now, with the benefit of near hindsight, talking to growers, it would appear that some of the approaches may have caused significant damage to the industry, fed the media frenzy and, indeed, perhaps incited and invited copycats. Labor wants to see us adopt a different approach to stop this kind of incident turning into a major crisis with long-term, potentially harmful implications for the industry. We need to have a better way of handling this nationally. This issue, although rare, should not have caught our authorities off guard, and I think some of the coverage and some of the debate and different responses have potentially caused more harm than some of the initial nasty acts of sabotage. Another suggestion I've heard in recent days is to set up a procedure similar to the plant and animal emergency response whereby a mechanism is used to address the issues in a coordinated way between all levels of government and industry. This means we could possibly provide compensation to affected industries through a levy set at zero but activated in an emergency response.

We can work through these ideas over coming days, weeks and months, but this does need to be on the COAG agenda. Labor notes that there are other horticultural issues which have been languishing and which need addressing, be it the contamination of our prawn industry with white spot, concern over the poisoning with the frozen berries and, indeed, some debate and issues around rockmelons. We need stronger action and coordination so that we are not immediately responding to issues in the frame of a crisis but rather anticipating potential challenges, and then we can react in a calm and cautious manner, a sensible way, which doesn't cause greater damage than even some of the damage we are trying to remedy.

I would also like at this point to invite Australians to spare a thought for the fruit pickers, for the casual and itinerant workforce, who rely upon this seasonal work for their sustenance. I hope the government will not be inflexible at the Department of Social Security with people who might be forced back onto unemployment benefits because the work they had expected—picking fruit—has been snatched away from them as a result of this immediate situation. But here and now, I say to the people of Australia: the most important thing this parliament can do is show our complete confidence in the quality and safety of the food that Australian farmers and growers produce. I think the most immediate and important short-term action isn't to thunder about all of the other issues but to rebuild confidence in the strawberry industry—or, to put it in other words: any of us who has the opportunity to speak publicly on this matter should not use our position to inflame fear but rather to rebuild confidence. So I would like to thank all of the honourable members who have shown strong support for growers in a host of innovative and entertaining ways. It doesn't matter if it is the member for Longman, the member for Hunter or the member for Casey, our Speaker—every member in this place who represents strawberry growing communities. We understand how important it is to buy and eat strawberries as usual—and maybe even a bit more than usual.

To all Australians, I simply say: we have encountered food scares before and we've come through the other side with no worries whatsoever. So, on the way home tonight, or if you're in the supermarket on the weekend, we encourage people to grab a punnet for yourself and a punnet for the nation. We encourage them to have them fresh or to go into the favourite recipe, to put them to use. We would encourage the major supermarket chains: now is not the time to be hunting the best bargains you can off strawberry growers, but, instead, to recognise that we need to reassure people about the quality and confidence of our food chain. So we say to Australians: cut your strawberries up; don't cut your farmers out. Chop the strawberries up; don't throw them out.

9:55 am

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The seat of Fisher is home to around 20 strawberry growers. Horticulture and agriculture are very, very important to the Sunshine Coast. It is an extremely unfortunate set of circumstances that has arisen to require this government, our federal government, to act in the way that it has done today. Our federal government is acting to protect our agricultural sector across Australia, but, in particular, from my own perspective, in my own patch of Fisher. It is looking to protect strawberry growers and all of our farmers as a result of what can only be described as reckless and heinous offences which are being committed by people who think that this is some sort of a joke.

I call upon all Australians to remind each other that these are people's livelihoods that we are talking about. Strawberry growers like Rick Twist in my electorate have already really faced the economic pinch. It's tough enough to be a strawberry grower now in Australia without idiots going and putting pins and needles in strawberries to intentionally sabotage their livelihoods. These are mums and dads, brothers and sisters. They employ many people on the Sunshine Coast. For example, Suncoast Harvest strawberry growers in Beerwah have had to lay off 100 people as a result of this incident. It's not just the strawberry growers; it's the pickers and everybody else that relies upon those farms. If you think that this is funny, if you think this is some sort of a joke, law enforcement across Australia, the federal government, and the state and territories, will stop at nothing to hunt you down and to prosecute you to the full extent of the law.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination Bill) 2018 increases the penalties for these sorts of offences from 10 years to 15 years. This government, our government, is sending a very, very strong message that it will not tolerate this sort of recklessness, this sort of criminal activity. I want to pay my respects and thanks to all those hardworking farmers in my electorate, like those at Braetop Berries, Strawberry Fields, Oakland Farms, Roy's Farm, and, as I said, Suncoast Harvest at Beerwah, and over a dozen other farmers in my electorate, who are now, as we speak, having to destroy their crops. So, if you have been guilty of this sort of damage, I'd urge you to turn yourself in, because we will find you and we will prosecute you. You are better off turning yourself in now.

I can't let this moment pass without identifying the cheap political points that the member for Isaacs tried to raise. At a time when we should be coming together on both sides of the House on this issue, he couldn't help raising cheap political points. Of course we are acting very, very quickly to look at and resolve this issue. Of course this government will undertake any reasonable reviews, given the speed at which we are rushing this legislation through. Of course we will do that. Now is not the time to be scoring cheap political points, and I'd urge those members opposite—for instance, the member for Longman, who I know will want to speak on this because this issue impacts upon her electorate as much as it does mine—not to be scoring cheap political points.

10:01 am

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

The strawberry contamination scandal has had, and will continue to have, a devastating impact on the sector, its growers and all those along the supply chain. Understandably, it has caused very real concern in our local communities. The spectre of pins in strawberries paints a particularly graphic picture in our minds, because healthy strawberries are the first choice for parents feeding young children. It's issues like these that bring us together as a parliament, and they should. It's the role of the opposition, so far as it is able, to support the response measures of the government. It is in that spirit that we support the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018.

The penalty increases contained in this bill may act as a deterrent. They can certainly do no harm. But, unlike the previous speaker, I stand by the concerns expressed by the shadow Attorney-General. They are very, very real, and it is questionable whether moving the penalties from 10 years to 15 years is going to be any form of deterrent for people so intent on these reckless acts. But, acts taken in response are no replacement for acts taken to avoid these crises in the first place. That's the real work of this parliament. Let us not think that our work begins and ends with the bill we're debating and considering today.

Our key objectives going forward must be threefold. We must do all we can to assist the state policing authorities, we must both strengthen food security frameworks and improve Commonwealth-state cooperation and coordination and we must also do all we can to rebuild consumer confidence, both here and in our export markets. There has been no shortage of evidence in recent days to suggest that Commonwealth-state cooperation, coordination and harmonisation is not what it could be or should be. We saw that with the white spot outbreak in our prawn sector when, clearly, the Commonwealth was slow to advise the state of its concerns. We saw it with fruit fly in Tasmania, when we saw a blame game open up between Commonwealth and state governments, and we saw that sheeted home with the abolition of the Standing Council on Primary Industries, the key COAG committee for the agriculture sector—a committee this government abolished.

There's a fine line between acting decisively, as the government says it's doing today, and putting unnecessary fear into the community. I'm not convinced that the government has walked that line sufficiently carefully over the course of the last couple of days. I don't believe it was helpful that the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Minister Littleproud, when asked about growing concerns about an overreaction and its impact on consumers, said this on Radio National this morning:

… that's totally fair. I've had representation to me that the state government in Queensland jumped the gun in publicising this when they were asked not to …

My first point is this: the minister for agriculture should authenticate that comment in the interest of a working relationship with the Queensland government. I thought that was a most unfortunate remark. Think about this: what he was saying the Queensland government should have been doing is not warning people at the first possible opportunity of the risks involved in the contamination of fruit.

I began by talking about the bipartisanship necessary, the way these issues bring the parliament together, but unfortunately it hasn't been all about that at all. We heard that again from the previous speaker. What the shadow Attorney-General said was perfectly reasonable, responsible and something that needed to be said.

In closing, I will say this: rockmelon producers who suffered the impacts of a listeria outbreak would have loved to have seen the same sort of attention from the government that the strawberry industry has had. I know the situation was slightly different, but the impacts on the sector were the same, and the media opportunities weren't as great. We all stand by the strawberry sector and all those within it. We need to keep working together to rebuild that community confidence.

10:06 am

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The shadow Attorney-General might think that it's best to kick the can down the road, and again go into a period of analysis, thinking and reflection, but we take no advice from Labor on this and we make no apology for moving swiftly and decisively.

What idiot puts a needle in a strawberry? What act of criminal recklessness should be tolerated? Absolutely none. This government is taking action and taking it quickly. There are three simple reasons why we need to have this bill passed and passed quickly: (1) for personal reasons (2) for economic reasons and (3) for reasons of national security.

Like many people in this chamber, I'm a parent. I've got a six-year-old little girl at home. I've got a seven-month-old little boy at home. Sabotaging a piece of fruit that could be swallowed by a child—anyone for that matter but particularly a child—is horrific.

The increase in penalties that this bill represents is needed. We need to ensure that particularly children who might be vulnerable are protected. We need a call out to the mums and dads to make sure not only that their kids are safe but that their kids are not doing silly things, trying to stick stuff in fruit. Make sure you and your children aren't putting things on social media. I heard from another strawberry farmer this morning who was complaining about images on social media of things in fruit going viral. Check out your kids' Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. Let's make sure that irresponsible activity on social media stops. We need to protect each other and our families.

There are serious economic reasons too. There are 300 strawberry farmers in Queensland. Together with the member for Fisher, and the member for Longman across the aisle, I'm from the Sunny Coast, which is the centre of strawberry growing in Queensland. We've already had one farmer close and100 businesses close down. We've had the Twist brothers that had to get out of the industry only a few weeks ago because it's such a tough industry to operate in after many, many years. I heard again from another grower, Di West, about some of the challenges of exporting strawberries amidst this existing crisis. I've spoken to the Strawberry Growers Association, who have similar concerns. This is having a detrimental impact on our economy. We are renowned across the world for food safety and food quality. Once these start getting challenged by reckless criminal behaviour, we need to take action and ensure the right deterrence measures are in place.

Lastly, this is also a matter of national security. We talk about security in strategic terms, and more recently we've been speaking about it in terms of general infrastructure. Food security is key to this country. We need to ensure our supply chains in the food industry remain secure and safe. If you put a needle or any other item into a food product, you are a coward and need to be deterred. If you support people who fearmonger on this or spread images on social media unnecessarily then you too are to blame. This is a time when this chamber and the country need to come together, and so this morning we need to ensure we're eating our strawberries. Tomorrow let's have strawberries on our yoghurt in the morning, a strawberry smoothie for morning tea and a few strawberries in a strawberry cheesecake at lunchtime. If you want, for anybody over the age of 18, maybe a strawberry daiquiri would be all right. Let this weekend be the weekend of strawberries and let's be proud. We are Australian, we love our berries and we're not going to cop any idiot trying to put anything more in our strawberries.

10:11 am

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Opposition Business (House)) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018 that's in front of us, and I suspect everybody will be supporting the legislation. The shadow Attorney-General, the member for Isaacs, made some points about the request by the opposition for a 12-month review. I refer to those, and in doing so I'm in no way indicating that anybody should oppose the legislation before us, but there are good reasons why there ought to be a 12-month review. It's something we are asking the government to consider, because we want to deal with it in the House and not have it come here after going to the Senate. The appropriate way for that to happen would be for government to bring in an amendment for a 12-month review, which is a simple piece of drafting and quite possible to be turned around quickly. There are good reasons for it.

It is very rare for us to deal with legislation of this sort of urgency. The last time I can remember an emergency shadow cabinet meeting that took place only just having received a draft of legislation was back in 2005, when an amendment to an antiterrorism law was brought forward by the Howard government because people were planning an actual attack on sites in Sydney. There was a real threat, the legislation went through both houses that day and arrests took place a few days later. What we're doing today is a very unusual thing. With that in mind, all the normal processes of inquiry understandably aren't able to happen when it is that unusual. A review period allows the parliament to still do its job.

Many of the speeches we're hearing from each side make clear that to some extent today in the parliament we are using a piece of legislation to send a message far more substantive than changing the law, and no-one wants to stand in the way of that message. To oppose the legislation would create the worst of all messages, and no-one's going to do that, but it is worth thinking through why there ought to be a review. What we have in front of us, while incredibly serious, is different to the emergency terrorism legislation we dealt with under the Howard government, with all the advice of the agencies that came through at that time. I don't know what the implications are, other than for this particular issue, of redefining our legislative definition of public infrastructure to include a strawberry, but that's in front of us right now.

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The food supply chain.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Opposition Business (House)) Share this | | Hansard source

The supply chain issue is there. If you look at the amendment, it deals with both the facilities and the food itself. It deals with both. That interjection shows that not every member of parliament is across the legislation that's in front of us. That's not a reason to vote against it. If we have members who are here in the chamber listening to the debate and giving interjections that are contrary to the legislation that's in front of them, that's the precise reason why we need to make sure that we have a 12-month review.

We are also opening up a change in sentencing, which is the most significant part of sending a message. Often when we change maximum sentencing periods in the parliament, it's off the back of a view that judges have not been bringing down sentences that we believe are consistent with the intention of the parliament, where we think sentences have been too brief and, therefore, we have said: 'No, we will increase the maximum sentence. That will send a message to the legal system.' That's not what we're doing today, because there are no recorded convictions, so it can't be the case that we think the sentences to date have been too soft. That's because, without convictions, there have been no sentences under the current legislation.

We're increasing a maximum to make that public statement, and no-one wants to get in the way of that public statement. But it does mean the maximum sentence that we are adopting today is more than the maximum sentence in some jurisdictions for statutory rape, more than the sentence for human trafficking and more than the sentence for strangulation in a domestic violence circumstance. Working through the implications of that is something we all have to do. We have two jobs in this place. We are members of parliament leading a public debate. We are also legislators. Today, we have decided the importance of leading that public debate is so important that we will take some short cuts. We're all in this. We're all making the same decision—me too. We decided that we will take some shortcuts on what we would ordinarily do in terms of due diligence on legislation. That's the decision we've made.

In the face of that, we shouldn't, in the same breath, say, 'We will never be legislators on this particular issue.' The right thing to do is to say: 'We will send the message today, loudly and clearly. We will make it clear the level of offence that is there for people who've performed these acts. We will make clear the level of support that is there for Australia's strawberry growers.' That's the right decision today; but, at some point, unless we have a review clause in, we will never do the other part of our job as legislators. We do need to work through what the implications are. There might not be any. But we need to have, at some point, the full context of what the long-term implications are of a very significant redefinition of public infrastructure. We do need to work through what the impact is of changing the relativities on different sentencing and whether we believe that we've now got those relativities right, given where it stands next to other crimes that we would all believe are among the most heinous that could be committed.

What the opposition is saying to the government today is, 'We're not going to play the game of moving an amendment insisting on it or having the House have to hang around in case we can get it through the Senate.' We're simply saying that we want everybody here to do all of their jobs. We're all doing the job properly today of leading a public debate. No-one should pretend there's not bipartisan support and cross-party support on that—there is. As we are not applying the normal due diligence we would to a piece of legislation, a review period will make sure that we fulfil that responsibility as well.

10:19 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We can all reflect in this place that Australia has a wonderful reputation globally for producing high-quality fruit and vegetables and, more generally, agricultural products. To have to stand in this place and speak about a piece of legislation such as this as a result of the actions of people who have no consideration for the welfare of their fellow citizens is, for me, a very disappointing day. As we stand here today, we have a situation where many strawberry farmers around this country are in significant and dire financial circumstances as a result of the actions of individuals who have been determined to damage the reputation of that industry through putting needles in fruit in our shopping centres and in our supermarkets. That somebody can even come up with the idea of doing that is beyond belief. At least in this House today we see a bipartisan response to the issue and, more importantly, a timely response, which is critically important to restore the confidence of the Australian public in our fruit and our vegetables, particularly, in this case, our strawberries.

I reflect on a local strawberry farmer, Laura Hendriksen, who runs a fabulous little strawberry farm out at Chambers Flat, and the impact on their business. It's a small family-run business and it's her life. My officers have been out to see her this week, and I know this has had an impact. But the other opportunity that arises out of this and out of restoring the confidence in the community is that we can support businesses such as Laura's. I will give credit to the Queensland state government for the steps that they have taken to help our strawberry farmers in this difficult time. Equally, we also, as a government, have stepped in to help them.

So, whilst the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018 is about strengthening the penalties for the people who commit these heinous acts, more importantly, over the past few days, both at a federal level and at a state level, we've seen governments being prepared to step in and support our farmers so they can get through this difficult period and rebuild their businesses and put back onto the shelves the quality product that they have always provided to the Australian community. I thank Senator Amanda Stoker for bringing a large number of punnets of strawberries into our party room meeting this morning; we were certainly able to enjoy those strawberries at the whips morning tea.

I say to my community of Forde and the broader Australian community: take the opportunity this weekend to go and buy strawberries. Support our farmers. The best way we can support our farmers is actually to buy their product, safe in the knowledge that they have taken the steps and the measures—and I know Laura Hendriksen has with their strawberry farm; they've bought metal detectors to ensure the quality of their fruit. Go and support Laura and her strawberry farm over the weekend. Certainly, when I'm back in the electorate next week, I will be going to visit to see how they're doing. Go and support our farmers and our agricultural producers, because they do produce some of the best fruit in the world. We should be very proud of their capacity to do that and we should support them as much as possible.

I commend this bill to the House because it sends a message to those who have perpetrated these heinous crimes that we will not tolerate this, because it does our entire community an enormous disservice. It has cost people their jobs. It has cost people who have spent many, many years building their businesses their businesses and their livelihoods. I'm pleased to see today that in this chamber, on a bipartisan basis, we are supporting all of those people and calling out the people who have committed these heinous crimes for what they are—and that is cowards. They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Go out this weekend and support our local strawberry farmers. Buy a punnet or two of strawberries and ensure that we continue to have wonderful fruit on our tables, for ourselves, our children and the broader community.

10:25 am

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too, along with the speakers before me, will be supporting the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018, a bill that brings on stricter penalties for anyone tampering with our fruit and vegetables. I commend the Queensland Labor government for the very swift action and steps they've already taken in relation to supporting our strawberry farmers. We saw on the Monday just gone, on the Sunshine Coast, that Minister Mark Furner joined with the strawberry growers on the Sunshine Coast to work through strategies around how we move through what we're dealing with here. We've had the Palaszczuk government offer up support. It was good to see the federal government finally meet that support for our farmers yesterday as well. So I really commend the Queensland government on the steps they swiftly took in supporting the growers.

There are around 120 farms in the region I come from. Longman sits in the Moreton Bay region, nestled between Moreton Bay and a bit of the Sunshine Coast region. The farmers in the regions of the members who spoke before me make up some of those 120 farmers. Less than an hour ago, I hung up the phone after talking to one of those farmers, Gavin from Pinata Farms. Gavin and I spoke for some time before I had to head to the chamber. He's feeling a lot more hopeful. He looked out into the electorate just in the last 24 hours, and there are people lined up in their cars to get to the farm and buy strawberries. So he's feeling a lot more hopeful. He is hopeful because he is seeing his local representative and the government taking this matter very seriously. He said, 'We're actually starting to see improvements in demand.' As I said, there are cars lined up at the farms to go and collect strawberries to take home, cut up and, of course, consume.

I asked Gavin: 'What else can we do? What would be helpful?' He said: 'We don't need people to go out crazy and buy lots and lots more punnets. We need people to go back to their normal behaviour of what they would buy. We just need people to go back to their normal consuming behaviour. That's what would be helpful.' We are about two or three weeks out from the end of the season. I said to Gavin, 'What about next year?' He said, 'Susan, a lot of us still haven't paid for this year's planting, so we're going to need some help next year.' Like I said, the Queensland government coming out nice and swiftly and offering some assistance will go a long way to helping meet those costs so our farmers are able to plant next season.

The other thing that Gavin and I spoke about, though, is what a wonderful community we live in and that real sense of community we have. He said: 'It's uplifting for all of the farmers and the growers to see people in the community really getting behind them, folding in behind them, and getting the message out: cut up your strawberries, eat them up and go back to your normal consuming behaviour.' He also mentioned to me that there is a very strong message at this time to the banks, in particular, about making sure that they are applying a sense of consideration to farmers at this very difficult time. He calls upon the banks to play a role in supporting our farmers at this time.

The other thing we spoke about was the local economy, and it wasn't just with Gavin. On Monday I also spoke to Luigi Coco, who is the president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, and we talked about our local economy. Our farms consist of local workers—on Luigi's farm, for example, he employs 12 local people—supplemented by backpackers. You can spend winter walking up and down King Street in Caboolture and see lots of faces of those who aren't locals but are in our local community. They are living there and visiting our local businesses while they're out picking fruit on farms. Both Luigi and Gavin said that the other thing we have to consider is the cost to our local economy. Our backpackers come and enjoy the beautiful Pumicestone Passage and go out to the Glass House Mountains—they provide tourism dollars and they spend their money in the local shops. Their leaving two or three weeks earlier than they planned to leave will come at a cost to our local economy. It's a real testament to people like Luigi and Gavin, who are concerned about that. At a time when their own industry is really suffering, these farmers are thinking about other people and other businesses in the community. That's what's really beautiful about Longman. We consider everyone else—we think about other people and not just ourselves.

I am very anxious to get back to my electorate tonight. I'll go out to the farms tomorrow and next week and continue working with our farmers and the state government to work through this really difficult time. Going into next year we'll look forward to a good planting season early in the year.

The other thing I wanted to pick up on is that I had an opportunity yesterday to mention a school, Grace Lutheran College, that was visiting here. Our farmers aren't just farmers; they're parents, they're employers and they belong to community groups, such as sporting groups and other community groups. Yesterday we had Grace Lutheran College here and I met with Lachlan, who was here with his school group. Lachlan's parents are strawberry farmers. His mum has been very active in the media speaking about the issue that is plaguing our strawberry farms at this time. Lachlan said to me, 'We just need people to keep eating strawberries. This is what my family needs.' Sometimes we forget that while our farmers are our primary producers they are also parents and family people. Lachlan reminded me yesterday about that. He is a child of a farming community. His family relies upon this industry for their survival.

Labor will be supporting this bill. The speakers before me have outlined some concerns and some amendments, which we will be considering. But, for the most part, we do support this bill. We want to get the support to our strawberry farmers and we want to make sure that nobody is considering, in any way, shape or form, tampering with our fruit and vegetables. We want to make sure that our local growers continue to provide their produce to all of Australia. I commend them for their consideration for the broader community, as evidenced by some of the comments Gavin and Luigi have made to me over the last week.

10:34 am

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to begin by thanking the member for Longman for her very sincere comments and support for the industry, and the opposition generally for supporting this bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018. I rise today to support the hardworking strawberry growers across our nation but also in my electorate of O'Connor—people like Len and Neil Handasyde, whose family strawberry operations at Albany and Mount Barker employ dozens of people and inject a huge amount of money into the local economies, but also our larger growers in the Pemberton-Manjimup region, along the Channybearup Road, one of the richest horticultural regions in the country. Once again, they employ countless people and have a huge impact on our local economy.

The actions of a few individuals, whatever their original intentions were—whether it was to get back at the boss or whether it was a prank at the local supermarket—are nothing short of food terrorism. What they've done is strike terror into the hearts of families who are feeding their children, for the most part, a favourite fruit. In my family, it's a bit of a battle to get healthy food into my eight-year-old son, Archie, but strawberries are his favourite food and one of the things that my family relies on to keep our kids healthy and happy. So Tanya and I have had the discussion: we'll cut the strawberries up and continue to feed our family strawberries, not only to support the industry but also to maintain the health of our family.

I commend the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General for the decisive and quick action they've taken to increase the penalties for offences related to the sabotage of the food chain. In response to a conversation I had with Neil Handasyde yesterday, I'm particularly pleased to report that the bill will create new offences that apply where a person contaminates goods, threatens to contaminate goods and, importantly, makes false statements about the contamination of goods and is reckless as to causing public alarm or anxiety, economic loss or harm to public health. That's particularly important, because we've seen that it's not just the action of people inserting pins into fruit but also that people have made hoax or prank claims that we've seen pop up around the place and cause just as much damage as the original offences. As I said, I call on all Australians, particularly those in my electorate, to support the strawberry industry by going out and buying a punnet.

I want to report something that's been brought to my attention, which I think is a wonderful gesture. The Farmer Jacks independent supermarket chain in Perth have put up a notice in their shops that says that all the proceeds of a punnet of strawberries, $1.50, will be returned to the growers. That's an action they are taking to try to support strawberry growers through a very difficult time, and I absolutely applaud them for that. I urge Australians to get out and buy strawberries. Cut them up to make sure they're safe, but keep our kids and our families healthy on strawberries and support our hardworking strawberry growers. Thank you very much.

10:38 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

There are not a lot of strawberry growers in the electorate of Melbourne, but we do support them. I expect that this weekend at the Flemington Farmers' Market, at the Collingwood farmers market in Abbotsford and over in Carlton strawberries will be doing a roaring trade. I think anyone who's seen the pictures on television, in our newspapers and online, of strawberries being dumped in massive numbers, feels for the people who grew those and whose livelihoods depend on them and would shake their heads at the waste, especially when we know that there are some simple alternatives, like just cutting them up, that would mean that those strawberries could in fact be eaten. As someone who has a three-year-old and an almost-two-year-old, I think everyone had the same instinctive reaction when they saw those images and everyone wanted to know that they'd be able to feed strawberries to their kids safely—and of course you can, just by cutting them up.

I think many of us also feel, though, that we'd like to think we've got a system that is capable of dealing with issues like this when they arise, because no-one can stop the actions of a particular individual who's going to do something like this.

I think people would also want to make sure they're bringing a bit of sense to the discussion. If contamination is found, people would probably presume that in Australia we have a pretty good system set up which would mean that there are easy ways of stopping that from being repeated and that, to the extent that there are ways of dealing with it that don't make the problem worse, we'd adopt those. I think a few of us are looking at the last little while and wondering whether in fact this issue has been unnecessarily politicised. We hear the growers say, 'Look, in fact, some of the ways in which authorities and governments have responded have perhaps made the problem worse for us, because they've created a sense of alarm where there didn't need to be one.' I've got some sympathy for that point of view because there is, I think, a very strong argument that this has been picked up and turned into a political debate when in fact it should have just been left to the authorities.

In terms of this bill that we've got before us, the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018, I actually haven't yet heard a coherent argument that the reason that this has happened is a gap in our law. Yes, it's been because of the reckless and harmful actions of some individuals, and we don't yet know why that's taken place, and perhaps over time the police will tell us. But I think most people would scratch their heads and say, 'Is the reason that this has happened a gap in our laws?' That's the implicit premise of this: that we need to somehow rush legislation through this place. Well, what's the gap in the law? Is the gap in the law around sentences, which is what has been proposed by the government? I'm not actually convinced that someone who's going to sit down and commit these kinds of acts that could result in harm to someone is going to say, 'Oh, well, now it's 15 years versus 10 years; therefore I'd better not do it.' I'm not convinced. If there's an argument that that's the case, put that argument. But I haven't yet heard that argument being put.

Is there a gap with respect to the offences themselves? Perhaps there's an argument that says that, if there's a problem in the law that has meant that we haven't been able to mount prosecutions on the basis of recklessness with respect to harming a particular person, perhaps we should look at that. For example, if it's the case—and I don't know whether it is or not, because this whole thing has been so rushed—that the DPP or the police have had problems bringing prosecutions because the act requires proof that you wanted to harm a particular individual person, maybe there is a case for saying, 'Well, you don't actually have to prove which person you wanted to hurt by putting a pin in the strawberry; it's enough that you were causing a threat to health.' Perhaps, when it comes to those threats to individual people, there is a good case. In an ideal world, we'd have some more considered time to have a look at that.

But this goes a lot broader than that. I just want to place on the record some concerns about potential unintended consequences that come with doing a rush job. So that people know, we saw this legislation at 9.30. We got a briefing on it at nine o'clock and saw the legislation at 9.30. We're dealing with legislation that could result in people going to jail for longer than otherwise, and we're creating new offences. One of those new offences that have been created in this bill is with respect to recklessness. As I've said, maybe there's a case for an offence of recklessness with respect to harm for a particular person, but it goes broader than that. It will now be an offence to recklessly do something—I will come back to 'do something' in a moment—that might cause public anxiety. To be honest, in the time available to deal with this, I don't actually know what that means. What does it mean to recklessly do something that might result in public anxiety? That seems to me to be a very broad question. Perhaps I'm bringing too much of a lawyer's mind to this, but, when you have these really broad offences that are now going to result in jail time, it's a good idea to know what these words mean and have time to consider whether or not there are unintended consequences.

In the limited time that we've had available to think about this, one unintended consequence comes to mind. This morning is the first time I've had a look at these offences. One of the offences, contamination, includes interference with food, so it's not just poisoning or sticking a pin in something. It could arguably extend to someone who goes into, say, an abattoir because they think the processes that are being conducted in that abattoir are wrong and they want to draw public attention to it. They say, 'No, you can't slaughter this animal in this particular way.' They want to draw public attention to it in a way, for example, that we've seen some people do with respect to live exports. Some might want to go into an abattoir or a factory farm and say, 'The way this is being done is not right.' Their intention may be to draw public awareness to what is going on. They are doing it for legitimate forms of protest. Are they now recklessly interfering with food in a way that might cause public alarm? I don't know. The problem with doing a rush job with legislation is: when you are talking about people going to jail, are there potential unintended consequences?

Of course, people want to make sure that all our food is safe. That's a cross-parliamentary position; no-one is going to disagree with that. But is the answer to create broad new criminal offences that might capture some other unintended consequences? Well, no, it's not. It gets additionally significant because what we're now doing is expanding some national security related offences as well—some terrorism related offences. They're very serious offences. They carry much higher penalties. We heard the term used really loosely by some government speakers saying that what has happened with respect to the strawberries is terrorism. That concerns me. We don't know. Maybe it is an individual who has some serious problems—the police will investigate and tell us that—but the conflating of that with international terrorism is of grave concern. I don't know that, on the face of it, we have enough facts to say that is what is happening here. But that's the argument the government is pushing to get us to say, 'We now need to create some new offences that will start to include some of these acts around interfering with food that perhaps might just be in the form of a legitimate protest that's taking place.' We now have an expansion of that with respect to terrorism, and an element of recklessness introduced—as I understand it in the short time we've had—with respect to that terrorism offence.

The net is getting broader and broader beyond dealing with the immediate problem. In the time we've had available, which is just a couple of hours, I don't know whether or not we are passing legislation that is going to have a significant amount of unintended consequences. The rush to do this suggests it's about being seen to do something and being seen to do something quickly even if it might bring with it a pile of unintended consequences. For all of us as legislators, where we are talking about people, potentially, going to jail, that should be of grave concern. I want to place all of those concerns on the record.

I've got a three-year-old and an almost-two-year-old. I want our food to be safe. I want our system to work. I want to make sure our farmers thrive. Of course, everyone supports that. The question is: in doing so are we doing things that carry with them unintended consequences that aren't about dealing with this particular issue? On the face of it, in the very short period of time we've had to look at it, it looks like there might well be. I would hope that the government gives us enough time to consider all of these issues in great detail, given the seriousness of the offences. I would really hope that the government allows that and that the government considers the matters that we've raised and works out whether, in fact, we could pare some of this back, so that we don't capture all of these unintended consequences.

I am worried that in the rush to be seen to be doing something we might create a pile of offences in a situation where no-one in this parliament is intending to. I'm not impugning the government's motives in this respect, but because it's happened so quickly we don't have the usual time. I place on the record those very, very serious concerns, because I don't think we actually need to do that in order to address the problem that the government is trying to address.

10:49 am

Photo of Justine KeayJustine Keay (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is pleasing to rise on this motion to support the farmers in my area, the producers—and not just the strawberry growers but also our apple producers. Sadly, in Tasmania there have been incidents of contamination with needles in apples found in southern Tasmania. Whether or not that's been deliberate, we don't know. Certainly, the fruitgrowers in Tasmania, particularly our berry growers, have had a really tough time recently, and that's because of the Queensland fruit fly. This will now potentially be very damaging to these growers, if consumers don't get behind them. The good news, particularly for Tasmanian berry growers, is that our berries won't come online for another four to five weeks. It's pleasing to note, from the member for Longman's contribution, that consumers are getting behind these farmers. And I hope, in about five weeks time, when our strawberries come online, that consumers will do the same in Tasmania. However, there are restrictions because of fruit fly.

In my electorate, Craig Morris, a berry grower running Turners Beach Berry Patch, a family business, was terribly hit by fruit fly. Sadly, those berries cannot be taken out of the fruit fly exclusion zone, and that has meant that Craig has had to come up with some very innovative ways of selling on his product—making it into jam, freezing it and doing all sorts of things to ensure that that fruit wouldn't just rot on the ground. The great thing about that grower is you can go onto his farm and pick your own berries. Sadly, though, you have to eat them there because of the restrictions in place as a result of fruit fly. The state government, which was incredibly slow to react to this crisis, is now saying that we potentially won't be fruit fly free until January of next year.

With this new crisis, it's important that Tasmanians get behind our growers, not just in my electorate of north-west Tasmania, where I have significant berry producers—one, in particular, is a corporate grower, Costa's, which produces blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries—but also in Northern Tasmania, in the member for Bass's electorate, where there are some fantastic strawberry growers up along the Tamar. It's something that our fruitgrowers should not have to deal with, whether it's strawberries, apples or, even, in some cases we've heard of, bananas. What is being proposed by the government is good in the sense that it sends that very strong message to people that you cannot contaminate our food, because it does have enormous impacts on the business of these growers but also on the local economy.

In my area, we've got some fantastic cherry producers as well. Sadly, they've been caught up in the fruit fly exclusion zone as well. They do put on a lot of our young people on the farms, whether they're managing the farms or managing the shifts. A significant number of backpackers come into our region to pick the fruit when it is ready. Of course, after we have our strawberries coming on in the next few weeks, we then go into apples and cherries, so the season in Northern Tasmania is considerably long. There is no doubt that it's high-quality fruit; our fruit is renowned internationally for its quality. But, if people start to baulk at buying these fruits from Tasmania, it will have more impact on those businesses, on jobs and on backpackers coming into our communities and spending their money locally as well.

I want to make it very clear that, whilst Tasmanian strawberries are not implicated in what's happening at the moment, because the berries haven't grown yet, when they have grown, consumers need to get behind our strawberry and other berry producers and our apple producers when they come online a little bit later in the season. They need to cut up the fruit and give it to their children. I've got three small children in my household, and they want to eat all the time. You can imagine what three growing boys want to do when it comes to food. My rule is: 'You can eat as much fruit as you like. You don't even have to ask.' Hopefully, that's something that parents across Australia will get behind to ensure that we support our growers, support the jobs in our local community and make sure that our local economies are strong.

10:54 am

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the great things about Australia—indeed, one of our great strengths—is our food production, and the quality and reliability of Australian food production is well known across the world. Australian food is known for being fresh, for being safe, for being delicious and for being grown in environmentally sound and sustainable ways. And that is why what we've seen over the last few days, with the 100 incidents of tampering in relation to strawberries, strikes at the very heart of what people think of when they think of Australia and its clean, safe, fresh, delicious food production. It's for that reason that we're introducing this legislation: to protect farmers, to protect families and to protect consumers generally, and to take action, decisive action, at this time.

I'm very lucky in my electorate to have a number of strawberry growers. I have to say those growers are fearful of being targeted next. They're fearful about what will happen if they lose their crop, because they rely on a seasonal business, which is strawberry farming, and, if they don't make sales in the farming season, that's it for their income for the year. We're at a time in Australian history where the drought is ravaging, and farming is a tough business. To have people going out and deliberately attacking our food production processes, our food products—our safe, clean, fresh, delicious strawberries—is an attack of extraordinary vandalism. That's why this tough action is needed. That's why what we're doing here is so important.

This weekend I'm going to go to the stores and do as I do every weekend, and I will be buying some strawberries. I'm going to wash them, cut them up and give them to my family. I say to everyone else in Berowra: this weekend, do your patriotic duty. Go and buy strawberries, because they are fresh, delicious and safe to eat if you wash them and cut them up. That's what every Australian should be feeling at all times.

I want to respond to some of the things that the Greens have said today in their presentation on this bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018, because I think they deserve some response. The member for Melbourne said that no identified gap in the law has been pointed out here indicating a need for a change. It's true that there are existing offences, but the fact that there are 100 incidents in Australia shows that the existing offences and the existing penalties are not adequate deterrents. That's why it's important for us to increase the penalties here from 10 years to 15 years. It's also important to create these new offences of recklessness—recklessness as to whether the conduct here causes public alarm or anxiety or economic loss or creates a risk of causing harm to public health in Australia. This does have national security implications. If we do not look after our food production, if we do not back one of our key strengths and if people are free to interfere with our food supply, it puts the whole nation at risk. That's why this bill is so important.

I couldn't believe that I heard from the Greens today the idea that tampering with food or food production in some instances could be a form of legitimate protest. I cannot think of any instance where it is legitimate to tamper with the food production or food supply of this country. Not only are you putting the producers at risk, not only are you putting thousands of Australians' livelihoods at risk, including people in my electorate, but you are putting the very safety of ordinary mums and dads and families at risk. That's why this bill is so important. That's why I urge the House to pass it in this form.

10:57 am

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to support the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018, which has been brought into the parliament this morning. What we've seen around the country, with the contamination of fruit products with needles, is nothing short of criminal. There is no doubt about that. It is bad for producers, it is bad for retailers and, of course, it is very bad for consumers. Trust in food consumption and purchasing in this country is essential. It's essential for all of those that live in Australia and it's also essential for our export industries. As we know, farmers and agriculturalists around the country work very hard to maintain our great reputation for food production. What we have seen over the last few weeks is terrible for exporters in this country. I join with all members in this House in encouraging Australian consumers to keep buying strawberries and to keep buying all fruit. Cut it up and check it out and make sure you're safe. It's very important to keep supporting our local producers.

Earlier this morning the Leader of the Opposition mentioned the need for a food security framework in this country, and I fully support his call in this regard. The incidents we've been seeing over the past few weeks may be a good pivot point for this country to consider such a framework to ensure our agricultural and horticultural security. We have seen some terrible problems in our food security and biosecurity in this country. There was the listeria scare with rockmelons, which devastated that industry; the white spot disease in prawns; and the devastation in Tasmania with the fruit fly that arrived there. Also we've seen most recently the scourge of fake honey in this country. While swift action is taking place on strawberries and other fruit, and I'm grateful for that swift action, I really wish the same enthusiasm was applied to the emergence of fake honey in this country.

There's no doubt about it: the global scourge of food fraud, and in particular fake honey, is a global criminal activity. Interpol is investigating this because there are gangs around the world that are lacing what was honey with fake syrups, selling it and making a lot of money off consumers around the world. Those consumers think they are buying honey, but they are not. What is dangerous about this is, of course, is that not only are people not buying what they paid for but also we do not know what is in the products that are not actually honey. Is it rice syrup or is it something else? For my part, anything that is sold as Australian honey is 100 per cent honey, and I would encourage all consumers to support Australian honey makers. We know the ACCC is investigating the fake honey claims. That is a good thing, but I do think we need to do more in this regard to make sure this food fraud scandal comes to an end in this country. Whilst I'm on bees, people in this place know I'm a beekeeper myself. I'm an amateur, of course—

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare) Share this | | Hansard source

The Deputy Speaker just interjected on me, so I hope that gets recorded! There is, around the world, a worldwide collapse of bee hives and colonies. That's in a large part unexplained. The varroa mite marches on unhindered into beehives around the world. Australia remains the only country that is free of this damaging mite. Sadly, I don't think we will be able to keep this mite out of this country forever. What this country will need is an urgent response plan for what happens when biosecurity hazards like a varroa mite—but there may be others—take hold in this country.

I've spoken before, in response to committee inquiries into the biosecurity of beehives and honey, on the need to address what will happen between the states in this country. Western Australia, as everyone knows, has extraordinary biosecurity laws. You cannot take honey from around the rest of the country into Western Australia. That is a bid to protect honey and beehives in that state. That is due to the benefits of bees, being that they pollenate two-thirds of the agriculture produce of the whole country, including in Western Australia. I would call upon the government and this parliament to consider a food security framework, which we might look at to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again, and also to consider an urgent response plan for biosecurity hazards. We need to prioritise that.

In relation to the legislation itself, we all admit that it has come through quickly. There has been little time for consideration. I support the sentiment of the Manager of Opposition Business, as to need to insert a legislative review provision so that we may look at this legislation again in 12 months. This is a sensible, responsible plan of action, and I urge the government to consider it. As this legislation has come on quickly, there has not been time for consultation and there may be unforeseen consequences. It may affect the food manufacturing sector. The main point is—and I won't labour this point—that we do need to review the legislation in 12 months. I do hope the government will consider that.

For Western Australia, we have a strong strawberry industry. The Western Australian government has offered a $100,000 reward to try to find the criminals who are damaging this fruit in our state and around the country. I have a strawberry farm in my electorate, Russell Farm Strawberries on Thomas Road. I know people will be out and about supporting them over the long weekend, as it's the royal show weekend in Western Australia. We just need people to keep doing what they were doing. They need to continue to buy fruit as always. Cut it up; don't cut it out. I thank the House.

11:04 am

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Strawberry farmers are facing dire consequences as a result of this act of economic sabotage or economic terrorism, as it can rightly be called. We are fighting back. We are fighting back in this parliament by today passing emergency legislation to increase the penalties against those criminals who engaged in this act. All Australians can help to fight back to support our farmers. This week I call on every Australian household to get out there and buy not just one or two but at least half a dozen punnets of strawberries. If we can do that, we can show our strawberry—

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Put the props down. You can give them to the attendants to enjoy afterwards!

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I promise I will not eat them until after I leave the chamber. Seriously, it is important that we support our Australian strawberry growers this weekend by getting out there and buying as many punnets of strawberries as we can. They are at ridiculously low prices. Not only that but strawberries also have health benefits. They are fat free, high in antioxidants, a good source of vitamin C and an excellent source of folate. A 2013 study found that women who ate three or more servings of strawberries a week could reduce their risk of heart attack by 32 per cent. Further, strawberries have a high ellagic acid content, which prevents hair thinning and baldness. We should all be eating more strawberries. Whether you use them on your breakfast cereal, put them in a smoothie, bake them in a cake, have good old-fashioned strawberries and ice-cream or just eat them raw, it's un-Australian not to buy strawberries this weekend. With that I thank the House. I don't want to delay it one second longer. Let's get this legislation passed and let's all get out and support our strawberry farmers.

11:06 am

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

For all the laughs in the chamber about the previous speaker's contribution, he did exactly the opposite of what our strawberry farmers are calling for. The member for Longman said that, when she spoke to strawberry farmers in her electorate, they said, 'Just buy what you would usually buy.' If you're not a strawberry eater, don't feel that you have to buy strawberries, but if you are a strawberry eater, continue to buy strawberries. Our strawberry farmers are calling for calm, not political stunts or rhetoric. I've met strawberry farmers in Longman and Braddon. We have some innovative strawberry farmers in our country, particularly in Caboolture in Longman, where they have invested a lot in lifting their strawberries off the ground and growing through a tabletop method. They're at the end of their season. They privately expressed their own concerns about some of the rogue operators in their industry. I flag that deliberately, because we aren't at the bottom of this crisis yet. We don't fully know what has happened, which is why I urge the government to consider what Labor is saying about putting a 12-month review in place to ensure the amendments we move today are targeted at the people who have committed this.

There is some concern about labour-hire gangs and some of the people who might be working in rogue elements of the industry. We need to look at that and ensure we are cracking down on that side of it. As the member for Braddon raised, this has happened at the end of Queensland's season. They have only a few weeks left. If people change their eating habits, the impact will be on the farmers in the south, whose strawberries are coming online as we speak. That is why I urge the government to work with the Victorian government and particularly the Tasmanian government, because, as the member for Braddon said, what has occurred in Tasmania is almost a double whammy. They're coming through the fruit fly crisis, they still don't know if some of their berry-growing—including strawberry-growing—areas will be fruit fly free when it gets to January, and now they have this crisis. There needs to be a coordinated effort to support people in Tasmania.

We need to go further. We can't pretend that this legislation means the crisis is over. Since this government came to office we've had biosecurity crises and threats time after time. We need a rapid action plan where local, state and federal governments can work together when this happens. We still need to look at that framework.

The other point I want to raise about this legislation, the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018, and about why we need to look at a 12-month review is that there could be unintended consequences with this legislation. It will include the whole supply chain for all of our manufacturing, for all of our food processing. That means our meatworks, that means our chicken processing, and that is hundreds of thousands of workers. I know that the Greens flagged that they were concerned about what this could mean for the protesters, for the people who might come in. I'm actually really concerned about the unintended consequences for the people working in the sector. That is why I want to urge the government to consider putting in place a 12-month review. There are hundreds of thousands of people working in food processing. It is the biggest sector of our manufacturing, and this change to the legislation will impact them. We need to make sure that we are consulting and working with the Food and Grocery Council. There are a lot of people working in these sectors, and we need to know what the impact of this change in legislation will be for them. We want to maintain our safe, clean, green image. We want to make sure that we continue to be a food-processing country and that we are value-adding, and therefore it is sensible to put in place in this emergency, urgent legislation a 12-month review to make sure that our legislation is being targeted.

As a girl who grew up on the Sunny Coast, I can remember going out and picking strawberries on the weekends. It was a big part of what you did if you grew up on the Sunny Coast. I know that the people still in those areas—the communities—still depend on the strawberry industry for their livelihood, including the workers who are directly employed. They continue to use strawberry picking as a way to supplement their household income. They are proud people; they work hard. I urge the government to make sure that it does take on board some of the concerns that we've raised. Building in a legislative review in 12 months will help the sector across food manufacturing come together, making sure that we are targeting the people who put our industries most at risk.

11:12 am

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a very important piece of legislation being brought before the House today, and I rise in support of the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018. I certainly hope that by the end of today this bill becomes law, because it reflects our commitment to keeping Australians safe and supporting our farmers. We know our farmers are already doing it tough right now, and it's already hard enough with the crippling effects of the drought. The tampering of our food supply and, in this case, with something as innocuous, delightful and everyday as a strawberry is absolutely outrageous. It's not acceptable, and this bill makes that clear.

The bill contains measures to increase penalties for existing federal offences related to the contamination of goods. Maximum jail terms will be increased from 10 to 15 years. This will send a strong message of deterrence to anyone who is considering such foolish actions. It also recognises the serious nature of this issue and the contamination of any part of our food supply. We're also introducing new offences that capture reckless behaviour when it comes to the contamination of goods, sending a strong message that this is a very serious crime. It's very simple; this bill is simple. The government is standing up and saying it's not okay to sabotage our food supply and it's certainly not funny. It is certainly not a joke. This bill is about providing families with assurance that the food they're putting on the table for their kids or packing in their kids' lunch boxes for school is safe. It's also about supporting our farmers.

I was incredibly disappointed to hear this morning on local radio station Star 104.5 that a needle has been found in a mango at West Gosford in my electorate of Robertson. After a man found a needle in his mango that he was cutting up, it was reported to the Brisbane Water Local Area Command, and police are investigating it now. This is just not on, and I want to assure families on the Central Coast that the government will not stand for this and that we are taking action today. The sickening thing about these things is that some in our community have sought to create harm and cause distress by sabotaging strawberries, a fruit that we all love to enjoy, that we pack in our kids' lunch boxes and that we cut up and put on our breakfast yogurt. Mums on the Central Coast need to know that the things they're putting into their kids' lunch boxes and on the breakfast table are safe. Australian families, my own included, expect to be able to buy this week's fruit at their local supermarket or at the fruit and vegie store, take it home and enjoy it. The government's action today is taking important steps to make sure that families have certainty that the food they are providing is safe. The last thing that any of us want is to have our child enjoying a strawberry only to find a needle or other dangerous object there. This shouldn't be something that we are ever worried about. The worst thing that should ever happen when you're eating a strawberry is that you manage to stain a white shirt just before a meeting, or stain your school uniform or have juice dribble down your chin. I really want to encourage everyone in my community to go out and buy a box of strawberries. Continue to enjoy them but do make sure that you cut them up and inspect them first.

I'll certainly be continuing to enjoy my strawberries. I'll be making some strawberry and white-chocolate muffins this weekend for the kids. I know my office is planning on making their favourite recipes and tomorrow we'll be having a strawberry cheesecake, a pavlova, and a strawberry and apple crumble, along with some of the muffins, which I'm hoping will turn out okay in the oven. I'm sure many people across the Central Coast will do the same. I'm looking forward to seeing people share their own strawberry stories and recipes on social media, because I know how much our community wants to back our farmers and support them by cutting up our strawberries and not cutting our farmers out. I commend this bill to the House.

11:16 am

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to sum up this debate. I thank the members of the House for their contributions to the debate. I particularly thank all members for the multipartisan spirit in which this matter is being progressed very promptly through the House today, and as I know it will be progressed through the other house today. We booked the hall, so we need to use it. We need to get the bill passed today and it needs to get out of the parliament and into our laws so that there is a very, very clear message being sent about the resolve of this parliament and of our government.

It is a great shame, I'm sure members will agree, that this is what we have to be doing today—that the idiocy, the carelessness, the recklessness, the vengefulness of some characters out there would mean that we would have to be here today passing these types of laws. But when they're necessary, you must act—you must pass them and you must act swiftly to do so. That's what our government is doing, and we're doing it with the support of the parliament, for which we're appreciative.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill is a powerful denunciation of the deplorable, cowardly and idiotic conduct that we've seen. It's not just about the initial intentional act that has caused this crisis and this anxiety and concern, but it is also the follow-up actions of people who should know better, and if they don't know better they should now know better. It's important for our law enforcement agencies, whether at the state level or at the Commonwealth level, to have the powers, the tools, the penalties and the support of this parliament and of the government to get on and do their job and keep our community safe, keep Australian families safe, keep kids safe, and also keep our farmers' livelihoods safe. We're dealing currently with many challenges in our rural sector, particularly in relation to the drought. To have this come on top of that is a deplorable situation to find ourselves in. But that's what we are sent here to do. We're sent here to deal with these issues and that's what we are doing, by moving swiftly to address these issues with the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill, which gives effect to the government's priority to keep Australians safe and to support the livelihoods of farmers.

The bill will increase the penalty for existing offences in section 380 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which relates to the contamination of goods. These offences currently carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. We need to be clear about this: those who have commissioned acts of intent in this area are already captured by the existing law and that penalty, up until where we're standing today, has been 10 years. As a result of the measures that we are progressing through the parliament today, that will now increase to a maximum 15 years imprisonment. The bill will also introduce new offences that replicate the existing offences in section 380 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, but with the mental element of recklessness being required, rather than intention, in relation to whether their conduct causes public alarm or anxiety, causes economic loss or causes harm, or creates a risk of harm, to public health in Australia. It is basically a law against idiocy. That's what it is. If people want to act like that, they need to know what the consequences are. And there are consequences for their actions, but the ultimate decision on the full extent of any penalty that will be put in place will be left to the usual judicial process. Measures also exist at the state and territory jurisdictional level which provide that discretion to the law enforcement agencies and, indeed, the courts, who ultimately deal with these matters.

For the most serious cases that have national security implications, the bill proposes amendments to ensure that sabotage of Australia's food supply is captured by the extended sabotage offences, and the penalties for these offences range from seven to 25 years imprisonment. When things like this happen, you need to take the opportunity to think about the broader possible risks that can occur from these events, and I commend the Attorney on his work in identifying these additional areas. I'm sure there'll be further work and focus applied by the government and, indeed, across the chamber to ensure that, when it comes to Australia's national security and keeping Australians safe from terrorism, we're all working together to achieve the best possible result. Recklessness will be enough for significant jail time, and in the future we will capture more serious offences that would affect Australia's food supply if it were subject to sabotage and that would be a threat to national security if sabotage were done.

There are other measures that the government is taking, and I imagine there will be other measures the government will take. We are watching this closely. The legislative measures that are before the House today are our first set of responses, but we're already providing $1 million to make more food safety officials urgently available to increase detection, fast-track recalls and assist the strawberry-farming industry to rebuild confidence. That matches what has been provided by the Queensland government to spend on advertising and marketing to assist the rehabilitation of the industry. The Commonwealth Department of Health will work with the Queensland Department of Health and Safe Food Production Queensland to ensure additional resources are made urgently available, including additional inspection officers. These measures are in addition to measures outlined by the Minister for Health and the regional services minister. The food standards authority, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, will continue to lead the coordination of product recalls through a government, state, industry and retailer task force. There will be an investigation of the supply chain as well to understand whether there are systemic breaches in the supply chain.

While these measures are in place, it is important customers and families are aware and take their own actions, closely inspecting and dicing fruit—cutting it up not cutting it out, and not cutting our farmers out, as we've all said. That remains an effective deterrent. These are the measures that we believe will assist. There are other things we need to be very mindful of—and I've been having these discussions in recent days—and they are to ensure that we do not lose these strawberry fields. These fields, if you don't pick them, get contaminated, and that means they have to be walked away from. There are some real pressures right now, and our government is looking at ways that we can ensure that we minimise that risk. One of the most obvious ways to do that is, as we've all been discussing, for people to go out and restore their normal habits of buying strawberries and other fruit. It's not a call to a national strawberry binge, but if you feel so inclined over the next few days to give it a big running-up start, well, by all means do so.

As I said the other day, Jen's cooking a pav this weekend to go with a curry. It's not a strawberry curry, by the way; that not going to work! It won't be a strawberry curry; it'll be a dessert. But whatever it is—whether it's strawberry muffins or whatever it is—I think it's one of those things you can do. And I love the idea. As the member for Robertson said, there have been idiots on social media making this problem worse. How about a lot of good-natured Australians getting on social media this weekend and making the problem go away? Let's say, 'We're having strawberries this weekend. This is what I've done,' and share your favourite strawberry recipes. Make some strawberry chutney, if you must! But, whatever it happens to be, I think that is the great way to respond. We're acting as lawmakers in here today but Australians will act in every way they can as we stand together, as we come together, as we keep Australians together to focus on dealing with this challenge.

I'm aware of the proposal from the shadow Attorney-General in relation to a statutory review. We're happy to facilitate that review administratively; you have our commitment on that. If that requires a letter, to that extent, then that can be accommodated. But I think it's important that we move forward with the bill as quickly and as promptly as we can, and take into account these matters at an administrative level, and that can be more than adequately provided for.

In conclusion, we are being really serious here. People who do this are not being funny; it's not a lark. Sometimes people don't think through the consequences of their actions. What we're doing here today, as a parliament, as a government, is encouraging Australians to stop and think about this—to think about the behaviours that have serious consequences for their fellow Australians. We're making this law to put the ultimate stop in here. But let's hope the law won't be necessary. Let's hope that the good-natured and honest response of Australians will be sufficient to deal with this. This law is now there and it sends a clear message, but I have great confidence in the good-heartedness and the good faith of Australians that, together, we will respond in the right way to this. One of the good things about this sector is it can rehabilitate reasonably quickly compared to other sectors. There are exceptions to that, I know. But, if we just get back about it, if we put these measures in place and continue to address the other measures that are necessary, then we can give that assurance to those family farmers in their strawberry fields. We can give an assurance to families when they put their kids' lunches together; when they make the dinner on a weeknight and, particularly if it's a special occasion, there are some strawberries on the table; and on the weekend, when the family comes around. I think it's a great time to show our family nature as a country. I thank members for their cooperation in this place today and I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.