Pubs in regional Queensland have been hit with COVID-19 fines of $6,672 for not complying with public health directions.
Police have fined The Commonwealth Hotel and Royal on Ninety-Nine in Roma, the Federal Hotel in Wallumbilla and the Injune Hotel.
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 inconsistently 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 businesses 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 assist Ms 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.
National Party deputy leader David Littleproud has called for Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to give leniency to struggling outback pubs.
“I respect the police are simply doing their job but my concern is that pubs have been doing it tough through COVID-19 shutdown and this could be the final straw for some of them if the fines aren’t waived,” he said.
Some Stage 3 restrictions change on July 3
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced that from July 3, Queensland will be moving into “some aspects” of Stage 3.
For small businesses under 100 sqm, the 2 sqm rule will now apply in a bid to boost the number of people visiting businesses.
The limit of 20 people per space has been lifted. There will be no maximum, provided they have four square metre per patron.
Also, casinos will reopen and Queenslanders will also be allowed to buy a beer at the bar.
“That’s all due to the tremendous work of Queenslanders,” Palaszczuk said.
However, the Premier has been mocked over restrictions in nightclubs, with patrons not allowed to dance.