Thursday, 20 September 2018

6PR – Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Food security

GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General is Christian Porter, he joins us on the phone from Canberra. Christian, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Gareth, good morning to you.

GARETH PARKER: Appreciate your time as always. You've got some breaking news for us on strawberries.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yep. So our amendments to the criminal code have just passed through the House of Representatives, they're on the way up to the Senate, so it looks like we'll be able to manage that change inside 24 hours. And very important changes to the law, we've got a range of offences which deal with the contamination of food if you intend to cause a result such as fear in the population or economic loss for a grower. But there haven't been any offences that deal with people who go about tampering or contaminating with food and are just reckless to the result. And I think probably your listeners like us over here in parliament have been between shocked and astonished at what's happened. I mean, there's now over 100 separate reported incidents of contaminating food, and what likely or possibly started out as a disgruntled employee has now been the subject of copy-cats and hoaxes across Australia, all of which are contributing to damage in industry, which is full of hardworking, very often mum and dad farmers, it's terrible.

GARETH PARKER: Is that your best information that the sort of, I guess, a lot of these are now copy-cats?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah. Well it's certainly- we've been briefed that there's now over 100 incidents that's affected all parts of Australia….that a lot of the most recent incidents are hoax or copy-cats. And so the law that we've brought in today, effectively says this: if you are stupid enough to go on Youtube with pictures of yourself contaminating fruit and you're doing that and you're reckless to the outcome, then you can face very serious penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment. And the point being that if you go online or you're on Youtube and you put a video up of yourself contaminating fruit and it shows the label of the fruit, or potentially even if it doesn't, you are causing very significant economic loss to really hardworking Australians who are out there just trying to make a living by putting great food on our table.

GARETH PARKER: Does that include people who might film, let's say they have a needle in the strawberry that they've bought from the shop, they haven't put it there, but they found it, would they be captured by this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, because they haven't contaminated the food. But, you know, what we have been saying is people who think it's a prank or a joke or funny to show themselves contaminating food; now even if that person doesn't intend that the food ever be eaten, that's not the point. The point is that doing that is what is causing a lack of confidence in the product and causing incredible economic loss for hardworking people in our agricultural industries. And the behaviours just got to stop. So we've done our level best, as quickly as possible, to bring in some common sense reforms to the law, which will send the deterrence message very clearly: do not engage in this sort of behaviour.

GARETH PARKER: You have moved very quickly, I don't think what I'm about to ask you is nit-picking, I think it's a fair question; are their risks of unintended consequences here? It's unusual for governments to move this quickly to criminal law amendments; are their dangers of unintended consequences?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I'm confident that they're not, particularly because the fact that using recklessness as the standard for criminalising behaviours is something that happens very often in the law and has done so for over 100 years in Australia. So, recklessness is a standard that occurs in a range of other offences, that you can institute it in an offence like contaminating food is a common sense move, so I'm very confident that this is sound law reform.


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It has been quick, but we've had to act quickly because-

GARETH PARKER: …well, and..

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …part of this is sending the message out clearly that that behaviour, that clearly young people think is not malign or malicious and doesn't hurt people, is malicious and it does hurt people.

GARETH PARKER: It absolutely hurts people and that's why listeners have been so quick to respond, I think, and everyone in the community, not just listeners of this program, to try and buy as many strawberries as they can, which I thinks good.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Ironically, mate I've eaten more strawberries in the last seven days than I have in the last year I think.

GARETH PARKER: ….Well I'm the same. I'm the same.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah and I've got an electorate full of strawberry farmers..

GARETH PARKER: …well that's, I was going to ask you, I mean they must be just bleeding.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, it's heartbreaking seeing people, like Berry Sweet Farm out in Bullsbrook, great people, they've worked their entire lives to build a fantastic family business. And you know, ringing them up and having a chat to them, and hearing how that business has been put in jeopardy by morons online and people with malice, it's just heartbreaking. But I think the public's response has been great. And as the Prime Minister just said in Parliament, while we're dealing with morons on YouTube and online, let's activate all of the good-hearted families of Australia to go out, buy strawberries, and share your favourite recipe online. That's a more constructive way to go about it.

GARETH PARKER: Peter Dutton going to face any punishment for a Senate report that'd found that he misled the Parliament?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, it's basically a Labor-Greens report, I think there's a whole bunch of people who don't like the fact that Peter takes a very firm and stringent view on a range of immigration matters. I place absolutely no weight in it. I mean one of the fascinating things about that process was that you had someone give evidence about an alleged phone call from Peter Dutton's chief of staff to the person in question, and later had to effectively recant the evidence, because it literally never happened. As far as Senate committee reviews go, this is one of the weakest ones that I've seen.

GARETH PARKER: Right. Are you getting complaints from your constituents about water bills?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes I am. So I've got 3880 households in my electorate of Pearce, and these are not wealthy suburbs right, this is Merriwa, Yanchep, Banksia Grove, Butler, …..


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah. Out where I live, 610 households in Ellenbrook, they all will go in excess of the 500 kilolitre threshold. So on average, those 3880 families are going to pay $300 more for water. And this is from a state government that promised that they would not increase taxes…..

GARETH PARKER: …well they say they're water guzzlers. That's what the government says. They say they're using too much water, so they need to use less.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I mean, this is what Dave Kelly said, that this move of his to increase the charges over 500 kilolitres would mostly affect affluent suburbs, he named Dalkeith, City Beach and Floreat, well, dude, I've got news for you, there are nearly 4000 households out in just plain mortgage-built suburbs where families are finding it hard to make ends meet, and they're facing down the barrel of a $300 increase in their water bill. I mean, it's just outrageous, particularly in the context of people who have said that they would not increase fees and charges, which of course was their promise before the election. They were going to get back to budget surplus as I remember, what was it….cautiously and carefully? [Beeps]

GARETH PARKER: Okay. Who's beeping you?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Sorry, that's my pager to get down to the, which I'm dutifully ignoring for your sake Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Well that's alright, we've got to get to a break anyway, so we'll let you go.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Excellent. Thanks mate.

GARETH PARKER: Thanks Christian.