There are growing calls for COVID-19 fines issued to country pubs in Queensland to be waived.
Four hotels – The Commonwealth Hotel and Royal on Ninety-Nine in Roma, the Federal Hotel in Wallumbilla and the Injune Hotel – have been hit with fines of $6,672 for not complying with public health directions.
The fines were part of a crackdown by undercover police last weekend.
Queensland Senator Susan McDonald told Queensland Country Life: “There is something wrong with a government using COVID-19 restrictions to send undercover police to crack down on country pubs while turning a blind eye to an anti-police protest in Brisbane.”
Warrego MP Ann Leahy said it is “absolutely outrageous” what the government have done to the “mum and dad pub owners” in outback Queensland.
“This is the worst inconsistency of the application of the law I’ve seen in recent times,” Leahy said.
“How can they allow 30,000 people protest in the streets with no fines, then come out here and attack the mum and dad pub owners who operate small town hotels like the Federal Hotel in Wallumbilla?”
National Party deputy leader David Littleproud told 4BC: “It’s just big government out of control. We’re hundreds of kilometres from the nearest case.”
Littleproud argued the publicans and their staff hadn’t had time to adjust to new restrictions.
“There was no malice in it, there was no intent,” he said. “I wrote to the Premier yesterday just to have some compassion. These pubs are going broke.
“We just can’t afford more deterioration of these small country towns. When you lose the heart and soul, your pub, you’re buggered.”
Why Queensland Police issued the fines
Queensland Police said in a statement that during the operation it was identified country pubs were failing to restrict patron numbers appropriately, implement social distancing measures, appropriately maintain guest registries and restrict people from gathering around bars.
Royal on Ninety-Nine in Roma had been warned the day before it was fined about non-compliance, but plain-clothes police returned to find the pub continuing to breach directions.
Pub owner Bruce Garvie told ABC News his staff would usually record patrons’ details, but were particularly busy when officers entered on Sunday.
“I think it was just missed, because we do do it,” he said.
AHA calls for “educative approach”
Queensland Hotels Association Vice President Brad Fitzgibbons said: “It would be remiss of the government to roll out all these regulations and not police them.”
However, he added: “Hotels in particular, under the industry’s COVID-safe plan, have so many rules and regulations they need to adhere to, and a lot of the rural and regional hotels just aren’t set up for it.
“I feel for the guy. It’s a slap in the face, and I urge the police to have an educative approach.
Garvie said he planned to fight the COVID-19 fine.
“A lot of people are doing it really tough, a lot of people are working huge hours, and these people are totally out of line,” he said.
“We’ve all bled thousands. There are businesses going broke.”
Samantha Senescall, owner of The Federal Hotel at Wallumbilla, told the Courier Mail she might be forced into bankruptcy by $6672 fine that was issued to her hotel.
“We truly may lose the only pub in town due to this,” Senescall said.
“I financially will not recover from this.”
Members of the public from as far away as Melbourne have rung Senescall to offer their support.
“A solicitor rang offering free legal advice on what to do, and caravanners that saw the article stopped in especially to get takeaway lunches to support me,” she told Queensland Country Life.
A Toowoomba man Cody Gibson has organised a GoFundMe page to help Senescall to pay her fine.
“Please show you true Aussie culture and help out the struggling others who are just trying keep a roof over their head. Every little bit helps,” he said.