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Garlic grower jailed

Can’t see anyone stepping forward to fill the role as head of the Australian Garlic Industry Association …

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A Tasmanian woman who put Australia’s agricultural sector at risk by illegally importing garlic bulbs marked as “office supplies” to avoid detection will spend at least two months in jail. Her illegal bulb imports were described as ‘outstandingly dangerous’.

Letetia Anne Ware, 53, pleaded guilty to 10 charges including aggravated illegal importation of plant material.

The former chairwoman of the Australian Garlic Industry Association was jailed for a total of 11 months for illegally importing more than 2,000 garlic bulbs which could have been infected with a disease considered to be the biggest threat to Australian biosecurity.

Ware will be eligible for release after serving two months of her sentence.

The court heard she had used several eBay accounts to instruct suppliers to mis-declare the contents of packages as “office supplies” and break up items to under 150 grams each to avoid quarantine detection.

Justice Gregory Geason told Ware she had flouted Australia’s quarantine regime and said a “strong message” must be sent “to deter others from engaging in similar behaviour”.

He described her conduct as “protracted” and said it had ceased only when she was caught.

“You cannot claim this was a mere aberration,” he told Ware.
Plant affected by xylella fastidiosa.

The garlic Ware imported was a variety which is known to potentially carry the invasive plant disease Xylella fastidiosa and is listed as the biggest threat to Australian biosecurity.

Justice Geason told Ware her “conduct created risk to all agricultural activity” and her sentence reflected the potential harm.

“This sentence upholds the principles at the heart of Australia’s biosecurity laws,” he said.

The judge told the court Ware had failed to reflect on her behaviour despite an intervention from authorities warning her of the risks to biosecurity via letter.

The court heard Ware “even chastised” some suppliers for failing to mis-declare packages as she instructed.

He told the court he took into account her relatively early plea, her cooperation with authorities and the loss to her reputation as chairwoman of an industry body.

Ware was also fined $2,000. The maximum penalty is 10 years in jail and a $360,000 fine.

Agricultural consultant and former head of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Jan Davis, described Ware’s actions as “outrageous” and “outstandingly dangerous”.

“[Xylella fastidiosa] is the plant equivalent of foot-and-mouth disease for animals, it’s horrendous. It’s number one on the we-don’t-want-it-here list,” Ms Davis said.

“If those garlic bulbs carried that disease, worst-case scenario it could have wiped out Tasmania’s vineyards.”

Ms Davis said the incident showed there was a greater need for more investment in technologies that can better detect quarantine breaches.

“We really need biosecurity to be everybody’s business,” she said.

“It’s not good enough to rely on a few biosecurity officers and some dogs at the airport. We’ve all got to be alert.”

The Australian Garlic Industry Association said in a statement on social media it had been unaware of Ware’s illegal activities and had accepted her resignation as chairwoman.

It said it “strongly condemns any behaviour that jeopardises biosecurity or the Australian agricultural industry”.

In a statement, Federal Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie said Ware’s actions show “a blatant disregard” for the laws that protect Australia’s $7 billion horticulture industry and could have impacted more than 350 Australian plant species.

“Any incursion would significantly impact Tasmania’s international reputation and market access as well as the incomes of farming families and regional communities,” Ms McKenzie said.

Phoebe Hosier

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