Strawberry perpetrators 'should do time'

A bill toughening penalties for sabotaging food has been passed after the strawberry scare.
A bill toughening penalties for sabotaging food has been passed after the strawberry scare.

So-called "food terrorists" will face 10 to 15 years behind bars after the government rushed tough new penalties through parliament.

The government passed draft laws on Thursday in under four hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a crackdown on people sticking needles in strawberries.

"I'm just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous," Mr Morrison said.

Labor called for a review of the changes in 12 months to deal with any unintended consequences, particularly the inclusion of "providing the public with food" in the revised definition of "public infrastructure".

This new definition ties food contamination to national security.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said there had been very "little time to fully consider what the consequences of this legislation might be."

Rebuilding confidence in the strawberry industry is the highest priority, says Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as he encouraged Australians to continue buying the fruit.

"Grab a punnet for yourself and a punnet for the nation," he said.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across the country, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton condemned people being stupid or malicious.

"The police are being driven crazy by all of these hoaxes because all it does is divert their resources away from the main investigation," he told 2GB radio.

Anyone who tampers with food could soon face up to 15 years' jail, in line with child pornography and terror financing offences.

There will also be a new offence of being reckless in causing harm, which will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The most serious cases with national security implications will be covered by sabotage offences, with penalties ranging from seven to 25 years' jail.

"The reality is that ... they've got to do some time," Mr Littleproud told ABC radio.

"The one thing that people can do better than government is go and buy strawberries. Stick it up these parasites by going into the supermarkets and buying strawberries."

The Queensland and NSW governments are offering a reward to catch the culprits.

The government is also providing $1 million to make more food safety officials available to increase detection, fast-track recalls and help the industry to rebuild confidence.

Supermarket giant Woolworths has taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing sewing needles from its shelves nationally.

Australian Associated Press