House debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Questions without Notice

Food Safety

2:18 pm

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

My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney-General update the House on the legislation our government has introduced into parliament to deal appropriately with those who seek to sabotage our food supply, guaranteeing Australians food safety and standing by Australian families?

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

I thank the member for Fairfax for his question. It brings me great pleasure to tell the parliament that just before question time the Senate did in fact pass the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018. That is a practical act in solidarity with our great farming families. Given the very important deterrence effect that should accompany these new offences, an answer here to the question from the member for Fairfax is an excellent opportunity to explain how and why the behaviour that we have witnessed in recent days is so terribly damaging to hardworking Australian farmers and families. That's why the behaviour is now going to be the subject of serious new offences. Particularly, what our government wants anyone out there who is stupid enough or callous enough to be contemplating this sort of behaviour to know is that there is now no longer an excuse of not meaning to cause loss, damage or alarm. That will no longer be an excuse for this type of behaviour.

The new offences passed today of recklessly making false statements about the contamination of goods mean that, if someone makes a false statement that induces someone else to believe that it's true and that person was simply reckless as to the fact that it would cause alarm or economic loss or a risk of harm, that person will now face a potential 10-year penalty of imprisonment. These laws now mean that there is no such thing as a harmless hoax when it comes to Australians' food. It's too early, unfortunately, to quantify the harm that has been done to hardworking farmers and families. But, for anyone out there with any doubts as to how harmful this type of behaviour can be, I'd just note that in 1997 Arnott's Biscuits was the subject of a contamination incident whereby its biscuits were removed from shelves for a period of 11 days. Arnott's lost $10 million over 11 days. And who is the victim of the sort of behaviour that we've seen in recent days? It's not a large company or a conglomerate or a corporation; it is hardworking farming families, it's mums and dads, it's market gardeners, it's fruitgrowers and it's orchardists. These people work in a backbreaking way day in, day out to make a living for themselves and their families.

Finally, I would just note that under Australian law it has long been the case that you can go to jail for making a hoax threat. You can go to jail for pretending that something in the post contains a dangerous substance. You can go to jail for making a false call into 000. And the reason that has long been the case is that these are not harmless acts. For anyone who is stupid enough to be contemplating anything that resembles a hoax or a false statement, you need to know first that it damages hardworking Australian families and second that you can—and likely will—go to jail.