Industry organisation Citrus Australia has stated it is extremely disappointed at the ‘slap on the wrist’ issued to an Australian resident who attempted to smuggle infected budwood into the country. The perpetrator was fined $7000 for importing the prohibited item and providing false and misleading information to Customs officers. The citrus plant cutting tested positive to two viruses that could cause diseases in citrus and also contained insects.
CEO Nathan Hancock has expressed his sincere thanks to the customs officer who found the cutting but said it was disappointing the judge did not take the opportunity to issue a severe penalty as a warning to others.
“A fine of $7000 for importing a prohibited item and providing false and misleading information to Customs officers is grossly inadequate when you consider the economic damage that could have occurred,” Hancock said. “The citrus industry, working with Government departments and other bodies, is currently working to eradicate the exotic disease citrus canker from the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. Whilst confident we will achieve our goal, the cost to eradicate this could be in the tens of millions of dollars and has severely disrupted several growers’ lives in Kununurra and areas around Darwin.”
Hancock said deliberate acts like this put the livelihoods of thousands of Australians working in rural and regional Australia at risk, and could decimate the $800 million dollar citrus industry. Australians who now fail to declare plant or animal matter can receive fines up to $63,000 and up to five years in jail.
According to citrusaustralia.com.au, Hancock has asked judges in future cases to consider the impact imported pests and disease would have on the Australian horticulture industry and set an example through far tougher penalties in the future.