AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to hunt down and jail the ‘cowards’ caught sabotaging strawberries as the continuing crisis threatens to cripple the entire industry.
The Prime Minister today announced plans to increase the maximum jail time for culprits convicted of contaminating food from 10 to 15 years.
That’s the same penalty faced by those found guilty of financing terrorism or child pornography.
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A new “recklessness” offence will also be implemented and carry a maximum jail term of up to 10 years.
It comes as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed more 100 cases of needles hidden in fruit had now been reported, mostly in Queensland, but stressed many were believed to be “hoaxes or copy cats”.
Announcing the crackdown on Wednesday, the Prime Minister vowed to fast-track the new legislation and said he hopes to see the tougher penalties enforced by the end of the week.
“That’s how seriously I take this,” Mr Morrison said. “Mums and dads and kids have real concerns and fears. It’s not on. We can’t put up with it.”
“Some idiot has engaged in an act of sabotage. It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. You’re putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk. And you’re scaring children.
“You’re a coward and you’re a grub. And if you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you, and we will throw the book at you.
“We will act to protect, and keep Australians safe.”
A team of 100 police officers from Queensland has been tasked to investigate the incidents and track down the culprit responsible for the initial contamination.
But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said resources were stretched investigating copycat incidents.
“The people copying this crime are in many ways worse than those who started it,” she told Parliament.
“This is something with which the growers have expressed their anger and frustration and I couldn’t agree more,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
The Federal Government has committe4d a $1 million relief package for strawberry farmers.
The Queensland Government also said on Tuesday it would spend a further $1 million to investigate gaps in the supply chain, assist farmers and promote local strawberries.
Premier Palaszczuk also announced an additional $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for sabotaging fruit.
#BREAKING: Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces an increase in the existing penalty from 10 years to 15 years in prison for those engaging in sabotage such as the strawberry needle crisis. Also, introduces a penalty of up to 10 years for “recklessness” including hoaxes. #9News pic.twitter.com/2VaHpYZ5cF
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) September 19, 2018