Hollywood star Johnny Depp has unwittingly become the face of a campaign telling the world not to mess with Australia’s hard-line biosecurity regime.
That’s how the federal government is promoting its “war on terrier” after winning Australia widespread international attention for telling Depp’s dogs to “bugger off” back to the United States or be put down.
“There’s a lot of people who are much more informed of our biosecurity regime internationally as a result of this event,” parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister Richard Colbeck told a parliamentary hearing on Monday.
“It’s been a pretty good advertisement for our system.”
But while the actor has become the unofficial – albeit unwilling – face of Australian biosecurity, Depp could face 10 years in a jail Down Under if he’s found guilty of smuggling in his dogs, Pistol and Boo.
An investigation is under way to see if the star or his pilot should be prosecuted for failing to declare Yorkshire terriers to authorities on their arrival in Brisbane aboard a private jet in April.
If the matter proceeds to a court and Depp is found guilty, the actor could face jail time or a maximum fine of $340,000.
While it’s still not known how the dogs were brought into the country, officials said they would not reveal more for fear of prejudicing the investigation.
“We’re going through documents to make decisions about quite serious steps we’ll take (and against) whom,” deputy secretary Rona Mellor told the hearing in Canberra.
An officer who boarded the plane to conduct checks didn’t find the dogs either, leading to questions about whether the terriers were kept hidden at the time.
“The animals weren’t declared, nor were they seen,” Ms Mellor said.
Pistol and Boo were eventually discovered after being spotted at a poodle grooming parlour weeks later.
One measure being considered as a result of the debacle is to allow sniffer dogs to enter private jets to check for other animals, Ms Mellor said.