Bundaberg court house
Photo: Zach Hogg / NewsMail
Bundaberg court house Photo: Zach Hogg / NewsMail Zach Hogg BUN110814CRT2

Ebay plant smuggler risks local farming industry

A WOMAN who smuggled infected plant cuttings and "high-risk" seeds into Australia, threatening Bundaberg's multi-million agriculture industry, has walked from court with a suspended sentence.

Cheryl Joy Frost, 65, pleaded guilty to 13 charges of contravene conditions applying to conditionally non-prohibited goods imported into Australia.

She also pleaded guilty to 11 charges of knowingly importing a prohibited product.

It was heard Frost had bought various species of plant cuttings and seeds from online auction giant, Ebay, between January 2016 to June 2017.

A number of the apple and pear cuttings were mailed to her had displayed "thick white fungal growth".

Live potato cuttings with roots still attached were also infected with a fungal disease.

Frost initially told officers she had bought the seeds on Ebay from countries such as Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America and Hong Kong.

"She had used different names (on Ebay)... because she liked those names," the prosecution told the court.

When asked if Frost had understood several cease notifications she said she hadn't read them "very well".

"Why would you bother (following procedure) ... I'm just someone trying to buy a few seeds, that's all," Frost was quoted.

The court heard Frost had imported the seeds because she "loved plants".

She told officers she'd used the seeds to grow food, while others were used for "medicinal purposes".

Emails between Ebay sellers and Frost included instructions on how to avoid the cuttings being detected.

Frost had instructed them to label the packages as different items such as craft supplies.

"The potential impact of pests and disease ... has the potential to harm domestic and international trade as well as imposing significant costs ... to control disease that has been imported," prosecution said.

In 2017, a virus affecting cucumbers hit the region, "affecting the cucumber growing industry".

Defence lawyer Nick Larter said Frost had no financial gain from importing the plants, and had no criminal history.

Magistrate Ross Woodford noted Frost had told officers she had wanted to "save a plant species".

Frost was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, released immediately.

She was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond to the value of $2000.