Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Sky News Live – Speers with David Speers



Subjects: Food contamination laws

DAVID SPEERS: Well, speaking of those criminal offences, as mentioned the Government will be introducing legislation in Parliament tomorrow to toughen up those penalties. Offenders will face now up to 15 years' jail. To tell me more about that, the Attorney-General Christian Porter joins me. Thanks very much for your time this afternoon.


DAVID SPEERS: Just explain to me what this involves: the existing offences that you're toughening up the penalties for and the new offences, as well.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Sure, well frankly, what's concerned us, and I think it was put in that press conference, that we've had now, it looks like a hundred incidents across Australia. It escalated very quickly and clearly we're now starting to get copycat incidents around Australia. We, overnight, looked at this based on instructions from the Prime Minister to me yesterday. There were four offences on our books at the moment that deal with contamination of food and they have the mental element of intention. So, it needs to be shown beyond reasonable doubt that someone intended to cause anxiety or alarm or loss or harm. Now, they're obviously very stringent offences and we're increasing the penalty to 15 years for all of those. But we will create four new offences where the mental element is recklessness, and one of those offences - if I can just say for anyone who is listening - includes making a false report or statement about the contamination of a food. So, if you were criminally stupid enough to do something like put a YouTube video of yourself contaminating a strawberry or other fruit which invariably is going to cause enormous loss and damage to the companies and to all fruit growers; if you did that and you are only reckless as to the outcome and you say you didn't intend the loss or harm, that would not matter.

DAVID SPEERS: So, this is interesting; someone who thinks it's funny to post a video of themselves, what, putting a needle in an apple, they could face up to ten years' jail under what you're proposing?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, at the moment if they did that and they intended the harm or the loss they could face up to ten years. If they did that, that sort of hoax YouTube, and intended the harm or loss they would now face 15. But if they did that, as and when these amendments are passed - which we hope will be in the next day and they didn't necessarily positively intend beyond reasonable doubt that outcome but they were reckless to the outcome of causing harm or loss or fear, then yes, they could face a 10-year penalty. And the point is this: we've got a responsibility as a Government to draw a line under this and stem this tide of copycatting, which is on a spectrum of behaviour between criminally stupid and malicious. And to do that we have to send a very clear message that if you were to do something as stupid as put a pin into a strawberry on a YouTube video and you were reckless to the fact that that would cause massive harm and damage to strawberry growers, to hard-working men and women in Australia who just want to make a living, then you could face a very serious penalty, and we're not resiling from that at all. A line has to be drawn here.

DAVID SPEERS: And this reckless definition, coming down from, and this is the ten-year penalty, isn't it, for reckless behaviour?


DAVID SPEERS: What could that cover? I mean, I get the notion of sticking a pin in something, but could, I mean, how broad is reckless behaviour when it comes to food contamination?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, all things such as intention and recklessness at law are about your state of mind, and we might come to know your state of mind because of what you say about your offending. We might come to know your state of mind because of what you do. And if you do something that is just, in the eyes of the reasonable person, completely reckless to the fact that what you're doing is going to cause damage to a hard-working strawberry farmer, then you could face the outcome that we're suggesting, being a maximum of 10 years. And this is a standard that's well-known to the law. It's not good enough to behave in a way with a firearm which is reckless, and neither should it be good enough to behave in a way with fruit on a YouTube video which is reckless to the outcome.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, but could it also include, I don't know, kids mucking around on a social media video where they obviously haven't thought through the consequences; they could be caught up with this if they are holding a piece of fruit or a piece of food, packaged food even, and it could be interpreted to be a reckless harming of the growers or producers?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So there's always police and prosecutorial discretion involved in determining what matters to investigate and change, but can I just put the very simple message: if you are a young person or a not-so-young-person and you think it's funny to put a YouTube video up, where you're sabotaging or contaminating a piece of fruit, I'm telling you now: it's not. That behaviour destroys the livelihoods of hard-working Australians and it absolutely has to stop. And if people do it with all of the publicity and all of the knowledge about the effects which are inevitable from that sort of behaviour and persist in doing it, then yes, they could face serious penalties.

DAVID SPEERS: This has happened pretty quickly in terms of your response to this and these decisions. As you say, the Prime Minister only asked you yesterday to do this. How does that process work? Do you, what sort of advice do you get about whether the existing penalties are the problem here that you're clearly trying to fix?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I've practised in the criminal law for some time. I've got teams of people who assist me in this. It did involve a bit of a late night, but it seemed to us that there was some obviousness to the fact that this behaviour had leapfrogged intention to do harm to the callous and criminal stupid, reckless behaviour that we're seeing. And so, if the offences don't necessarily give you every armament that you need to combat that type of behaviour, which is causing terrible loss and terrible harm, destroying an industry if we're not careful. So we did this quickly but we're doing it calmly and we say to everyone out there: still buy the fruit, still use the fruit. I've got fruit growers in my electorate and they are really struggling at the moment, but we want to make it absolutely clear: this isn't funny. It isn't a thing that you should do without thinking about - to impress your friends - or for whatever motivation you might have, the outcomes are well-known and if you're reckless to them you can pay a price.

DAVID SPEERS: The laws you want through tomorrow, so have you sat down with Labor or have you got a time to sit down with Labor and go through the legislation?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We'll be doing that very soon. I think the drafting will come quite hot off the press inside the next hour or so. I might also note that the other change that's being occasioned here is to the broader definition of sabotage, which was recently updated and modernised to include supply chains for electricity and water; we're going to include supply chains for food, because whilst this isn't an event that we would call sabotage necessarily, it has got us thinking very quickly and carefully about the fact that the supply chains for electricity and water are no more or less important than supply chains for food to Australians, and it's not inconceivable that you could have a situation which jeopardises your national security if you don't include that food chain alongside supply chains for electricity and water.

DAVID SPEERS: That's interesting, that's interesting. Just before I let you go, you were standing alongside the Prime Minister today when he was asked too about the latest incident in the Northern Territory. He signalled, or he warned, I guess, if there's a need, the Commonwealth, he is prepared for the Commonwealth to intervene in the Northern Territory. What might that take?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I think that you're dealing in a hypothetical based on an example that I'm not across, I have to confess …

DAVID SPEERS: …no, that's fair enough.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: … because I've been dealing with other matters. But look, where child protection evidences a repetitive failure in any state or territory jurisdiction, obviously part of what we can do is respond in a cooperative way but show leadership. There can be a variety of forms to that. We're not at that point yet. I think first of all we have to understand: why is child support malfunctioning in the Northern Territory?

DAVID SPEERS: Christian Porter, Attorney-General. Good to talk to you. Thanks so much for joining us this afternoon.