Laura Noonan stocks up on strawberries at IGA Red Hill. Picture: Annette Dew
Laura Noonan stocks up on strawberries at IGA Red Hill. Picture: Annette Dew

What makes new laws not berry effective

TOUGH new jail terms for food tamperers in the wake of the strawberry havoc - that will equal the penalty for child porn - have been described as too weak by a cop turned federal MP because "soft" judges will not hand down maximum sentences.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday unveiled a shock political hammer in the wake of the strawberry needle crisis that has spread across Australia and led to copycat saboteurs.

As Queensland and Western Australia announced rewards to find those responsible for spiking berries, the Federal Government revealed strengthened and tough new sentences that will be rushed through Parliament today.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said more than 100 cases of fruit tampering were being investigated.

It comes as the Prime Minister and several politicians yesterday filmed themselves eating strawberries and encouraged families to buy a punnet to help local Queensland farmers.

Mr Morrison posted on social media that he and his wife Jenny would make a pavlova on the weekend, and shared her favourite recipe.

 

The tough new laws, which will not be used when the culprits are found, include;

· An increase to the penalty for existing offences relating to the contamination of goods from 10 years' jail up to 15 years. "One akin to possession of child pornography or funding a terrorist organisation,'' Mr Morrison said.

· A new offence, "recklessness", to recognised food tampering will cause harm, which will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail.

· An amendment to the Commonwealth sabotage offences to ensure that sabotage of Australia's food supply is captured by the sabotage offences. The penalties range between seven and 25 years' imprisonment.

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But Queensland federal Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien said while he supported the Government's new penalties, he did not believe they would be enough.

"I have little to no faith in the judiciary to implement them,'' Mr O'Brien told The Courier-Mail.

"I believe you'll see these criminals being dealt with in a soft way that will fail to punish offenders and deter future offences.

 

LNP Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien has little faith in the tough new laws acting as a deterrent.
LNP Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien has little faith in the tough new laws acting as a deterrent.

"If we are to truly deter people form committing these offences we need to set an example with a significant mandatory minimum custodial sentence.

"There is no justification for these offences. You can't argue that you put a pin in a strawberry because you were down on your luck, or you were hungry, or you needed to do it fund treatment for your sick kids.

"You do it because you want to cause people serious injury. You do it because you want to seriously damage the economy and cause serious detriment to farming families.

"People who commit these offences have forfeited their right to walk among the decent people of society; they must be sent to goal, for a minimum period of time which in my view should be counted in years."

Mr Morrison said yesterday the culprits and those posting skewered fruit on social media were not funny.

"You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children, and you are a coward and a grub," he said.

"Some idiot, for his own reasons, has engaged in an act of sabotage it would seem, and that has put all of that risk for these people out there having a go."

 

Laura Noonan stocks up on strawberries at IGA Red Hill. Picture: Annette Dew
Laura Noonan stocks up on strawberries at IGA Red Hill. Picture: Annette Dew

 

"It is important to send a very clear message to ensure that we have the right penalties and have the right offences that are in place to ensure that we protect against these sorts of things into the future.

"This is a shocking and cowardly thing for this individual and others who have jumped onto the bandwagon here to have engaged in.

"You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children.

"If you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you and we will throw the book at you. You are a coward and a grub."

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said more than 25 cases of strawberries contaminated with sewing needles were being investigated across the country.

"We believe a lot of these will be hoaxes or copycat events," Mr Dutton said..

"I would encouraged anyone to pull any of that content down that they have posted up that is fictional or is of a fabricated arrangement."

He said while the sinister acts placed a strain on police resources, all reports had to be taken seriously.

"If somebody has the intent, if they are deranged enough to put needles or some foreign object into strawberries, they can do it with other fruits as well," he said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday revealed more than 100 Queensland police officers, including 60 detectives, were working on the case.

"Can I stress to everyone from my conversation with the Police Commissioner, this is incredibly complex work," she said.

"They are leaving no stone unturned.

"From the time the strawberry is picked until the time the strawberry is consumed by families, they are looking at all elements of the supply chain."

Ms Palaszczuk said the Government was concerned about copycat incidents and urged anyone with information to come forward to authorities.

"If you are a copycat and you are found to be involved in this, you could serve jail time," she said.



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