Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Questions without Notice

Food Safety

2:04 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Regional Services) Share this | Hansard source

On 12 September, Queensland Health and the Queensland Police Service announced three incidents of needles found in strawberries from one producer in Queensland. Subsequently, similar incidents have been reported in other states. This contamination appears to be deliberate sabotage and is primarily a criminal investigation for state police. The government commends the work of the Queensland police and other jurisdictions on this matter and urges all Australians to be vigilant for potential contaminants. Implicated products have been removed from supermarkets.

We as a nation have a strong record on food safety. These incidents are rare and isolated. It is very disappointing news, especially as there seems to be criminal intent. As the federal minister responsible for food policy, I've been receiving regular updates from Food Standards Australia New Zealand, our Chief Medical Officer and federal Department of Health officials, who have been working with affected jurisdictions. FSANZ coordinates recalls of food at the request of home jurisdictions and is convening regular meetings with state officials. Today we have announced $1 million to assist state and territories with this issue, to get more food safety experts on the ground, to fast-track recalls and to work with our state and territory governments to address it.

Prior to question time the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General announced tough measures to increase our legislative implications for those who are caught intentionally contaminating goods with the intent to cause public harm or anxiety. The offence currently carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. We are seeking to change that to 15 years. That legislation will be making its way to parliament tomorrow. Our government is responding strongly to this attack on food safety. It should be the right of every child, every parent and anyone in this country to be able to snack on fresh fruit without it being contaminated.

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