The Federal government has taken a tough stance against food tampering as the crisis in the strawberry industry continues.
Pranksters who post food contamination hoaxes on social media could soon face 10 years behind bars, as the federal government announces harsh new criminal penalties in response to the needles in fruit crisis.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the “idiot” who first sabotaged Queensland strawberries, setting off a distressing series of events, had risked the livelihoods of farmers and put fear in the hearts of parents across the country.
“This is a shocking and cowardly thing for this individual and others who have jumped onto the bandwagon here to have engaged in,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Anyone found guilty of contaminating food could soon face a maximum of 15 years in prison, up from 10 years.
The threshold for the harsh penalties will also be lowered from an intention to do cause anxiety or harm, to simply engaging in a reckless act.
The new criminal penalties are on par with child pornography and terror financing offences.
Additionally, anyone who piggy-backs off such a crisis by engaging in a reckless hoax would also face 10 years behind bars.
The offence would extend to people who provide false reports or make jokes in poor taste on Facebook.
“It’s not a joke, it’s not funny, you are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children, you’re a coward and you’re a grub.” Mr Morrison said.
If you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you and we will throw the book at you.”
Mr Morrison wants the laws to pass parliament by the time it rises on Thursday evening.
“I don’t care if you’ve got a gripe with a company, I don’t care whether you’ve got a gripe with your fellow worker, this is a very serious thing,” he said.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the sanctions would not be applied retrospectively to those responsible for the existing strawberry saga.
“But the reason we are doing this so quickly is … this sends a massive deterrence message to anyone out there who would further cripple this industry.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has given conditional support for the new laws.
“Labor will work with the Government on supporting farmers and stopping these despicable acts,” Mr Fitzgibbon told the ABC.
“We haven’t been briefed on today’s announcement, but on the face of it, it looks reasonable and we are glad the Government has listened to Labor’s calls for more support.”