When Johnny Depp and Amber Heard tried to smuggle in their two dogs last year, international audiences got a taste of how unforgiving our biosecurity can be — even for celebrities.
With an enormous agriculture industry – of which apples alone are worth $556 million and horticulture more than $9 billion – all of which is vulnerable to foreign pests, the government always justified its tight grip on the grounds that the stakes for the Australian economy are extremely high.
Last year, international flights began at Canberra Airport. Customs at Canberra, it turns out, has been as relentless as the rest.
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Almost 1,400 “biosecurity risk items” have been seized since international flights began in September last year, according to figures from the Department of Agriculture.
Items confiscated are, more often than not, innocent household goods that international visitors fail to properly clean or forget to leave at home.
“At Canberra Airport, we have intercepted a lot of footwear and sporting and recreational equipment,” a spokesperson for the department said.
“This is a risk because it is often contaminated with soil and plant material, which can carry harmful pests and diseases.”
Asked for information about how visitors have reacted when they learn that their personal property was being confiscated, the spokesman said: “Not being aware of our conditions is dangerous and is no excuse for putting our economy, environment, and industries at risk.”
In addition to footwear and sports goods, the department also noted that food products were regularly taken.
“A lot of passengers have also brought in fruit, beef, spices, bark and seeds, which are also a risk because they can be carrying harmful plant pests and disease.”
The department said flights were screened before they arrived and, depending on which flight and its port of origin, receive different levels of assessment.
“We assess flights before they arrive based on the risk, but we rely on support from all international travelers coming to Canberra to follow our biosecurity conditions and declare any food, plant or animal material on their incoming passenger card.”
Asked by The RiotACT whether there had been any attempts to bring in drugs to Canberra international, a spokesman said it was the responsibility of a different department.
Items confiscated at Canberra International pictured in order: a pine cone sculpture of a kiwi bird (above); a bark box of Santa and his reindeer; a painted coconut; mushrooms; and an assortment of food products.