A pub owner has blasted a ‘sneaky’ police tactic after he was fined almost $7000 for breaking coronavirus rules.
Bruce Garvie is the owner of the Royal on Ninety-Nine hotel in Roma, a small town in the southwest outback of Queensland with a population of less than 7000 people.
Despite the town not recording any coronavirus cases during the entire pandemic, Mr Garvie claims plain-clothed police visited his venue on Sunday morning before returning in the afternoon and slapping the business with a $6672 fine.
Police told Mr Garvie they were not asked to supply their contact details, as per coronavirus rules for pubs and restaurants.
Mr Garvie told Yahoo News Australia the employees were swamped as they had been short-staffed since some casual employees could earn more on JobKeeper, however the relevant forms for customers were sitting on the counter with pencils beside them.
“It’s entrapment how they are reacting. Sitting on the counter were the papers for people to sign their name – it’s all there. If they were normal people they would have asked whether they should sign the form,” he said.
The publican also felt it was sneaky of police to attend the venue without the proper police uniform and claimed the officers were not local.
“Why wouldn’t you come in uniform? They come out here with one thing in mind and that is to lay a lot of fines. They don’t live in the bush, they don’t understand [what it’s like] in the bush,” he said.
“In the bush you make sure you have a good relationship with local police and you try to do the right thing.
“It’s a two-way street and each other relies on each other in small communities and we have the highest regard for our local police. We feel totally let down in this case.”
Mr Garvie said as school holidays hit, business was finally firing up again after struggling for months.
“We haven’t done anything blatantly wrong. If they asked the community whether they sign in they would find out they do. It was the worst form of policing, it felt as though we were treated like drug dealers,” he said.
‘Don’t think we can survive after this one’
About 40 kilometres away in Wallumbilla on Saturday, Federal Hotel owner Samantha Senescall was also fined almost $7000 by plain-clothed police.
She said a large group came in at lunch time and ignored coronavirus rules and did not sign the customer register at the bar.
She claimed the police later came back to enforce the rules and slapped her with a fine.
“Well done on killing the struggling little guy. Don’t think we can survive after this one,” she wrote on Facebook.
“Thank you wonderful people for your support. Love you guys. But this is the last straw.”
Queensland Police said in a statement it had issued three infringements to hotels in Roma, Injune and Wallumbilla for breaching the Chief Health Officer’s direction for restricted businesses as part of a compliance operation in the past week.
‘The world is mad’: Mixed coronavirus messages slammed
Mr Garvie said there were a lot of mixed messages around what was allowed amid the pandemic.
“It’s a moving target and there’s changes all the time,” he said.
“There’s confusion over what is being done in Victoria and NSW, but it’s different in Queensland.”
Mr Garvie also questioned why 10,000 footy fans could pack into a stadium to watch the rugby league and thousands could attend protests, yet he was fined at the small country pub.
“How people interpret the rules is one really big issue. The second issue is how [police] went about it, and the third issue is we’ve got [police] out here handing out fines of nearly $7000 while they’re running footy games and demonstrations,” he said.
“It’s just crazy, the world is mad. Everyone said we’re all in this together and people try hard out here and take social distancing very seriously.”
On Tuesday Queensland announced further relaxations of coronavirus rules, with stadiums allowing 25,000 spectators from Friday and no maximum on the number of people per venue provided there is four square metres of floor space per person.
Queensland Police claim ‘repeated breaches’ at venues
Queensland Police told Yahoo News Australia in a statement it had been working closely with the Office of Liquor and Gaming to ensure venues were complying with the new obligations.
“Police conducted 25 checks of licensed premises in the area with most businesses only having minor issues which were rectified after guidance was provided,” the statement said.
“Infringements were issued where there were repeated breaches and a failure to comply with the guidance.
“During the operation it was identified some businesses were failing to restrict patron numbers appropriately, implement social distancing measures, appropriately maintain guest registries and restrict people from gathering around bars.
“While police will continue to educate business owners, officers will take enforcement action, such as on the spot infringements of $6,672, against those who blatantly disregard public health directions.”
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