No jail time for man that tried to import 2000 live plant bulbs

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Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the incident was a timely reminder the Government would not shy away from prosecuting people.
Camera IconFederal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the incident was a timely reminder the Government would not shy away from prosecuting people. Credit: iStockphoto

A Brisbane man has avoided jail for attempting to import more than 2000 live Oxalis plant bulbs, risking Australia’s prized biosecurity status.

Hei Wong pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on June 9 to illegally importing, or attempting to import, ten packages of live plant bulbs from the UK after mailing them to Australia.

He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment but released on a bond of $3,500 with a two year good behaviour bond.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud welcomed the strong penalties handed down by the court, saying the bulbs could have carried pests or diseases.

“Xylella is one of the world’s most devastating plant pests and is Australia’s number one priority plant pest. There is also no cure,” he said.

“If these bulbs got into Australia and started the spread of a pest or disease, like Xylella, there would be significant impacts for agriculture and our natural environment.

“Not only could the bulbs have carried exotic pests and diseases, some introduced plant species can become invasive and compete with native plants and crops.”

Mr Littleproud said the incident was a timely reminder that the Government would not shy away from prosecuting people that endangered the integrity of of Australia’s flora, fauna, environment, and economy.

The Federal Government is cracking down further on those who flout our biosecurity laws, with legislation introduced in February giving courts access to higher penalties that reflect the true seriousness of non-compliance.

The new Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill increases a number of civil and criminal penalties under the Biosecurity Act to ensure they are appropriate, adequate and fit the crime, with a maximum penalty of up to $1.1 million.

“The Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill currently before Parliament will increase a number of civil and criminal penalties under the Biosecurity Act to ensure they are appropriate, adequate and fit the crime,” Mr Littleproud said.

“When this Bill is passed, Mr Wong and others that chose to disregard our biosecurity requirements would face a $444,000 penalty or 10 years in jail, or both.

“So, save yourself a costly mistake and ensure you are biosecurity aware of what can and can’t be brought into Australia.”

The new penalties build on the response to recommendations in the Inspector-General of Biosecurity’s 2017 review ‘Uncooked prawn imports: effectiveness of biosecurity controls’ involving consideration of stronger penalties for serious non-compliance.

To find out more about biosecurity requirements when importing, bringing or mailing goods to Australia, visit agriculture.gov.au/import and agriculture.gov.au/travelling/bringing-mailing-goods.

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