Police pub operation 'not a sting'

Weekend COVID blitz by police 'open and up-front', according to Police Minister

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The Injune Hotel was one of a number visited by plain clothes police officers on the weekend.

The Injune Hotel was one of a number visited by plain clothes police officers on the weekend.

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Queensland Police have rejected any suggestion that their weekend blitz of south west Queensland hotels to check COVID compliance was a sting.

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Queensland Police have rejected any suggestion that their weekend blitz of south west Queensland hotels to check COVID compliance was a sting.

Katter's Australian Party leader Rob Katter, quoting media reports in which Queensland Police confirmed three businesses at Roma, Injune and Wallumbilla had been fined because plain-clothes officers were not asked for contact details and because social distancing was not properly enforced, described it as a 'police sting'.

Police Minister Mark Ryan said he had been advised by the Queensland Police Service that any suggestions that police were involved in any kind of "sting" operation were baseless.

"In fact, police advise they were open and up-front about the checks they were undertaking and conducted extensive consultations with the operators of the establishments referred to, and only took compliance action where there was a blatant disregard for the directions of the Chief Health Officer," he said. "Police advise they have body-worn camera vision and audio to confirm this."

Samantha Senescall is the owner of the Federal Hotel at Wallumbilla, one of the three hoteliers fined for breaches of the Public Health Act, and said eight people had arrived in three carloads for lunch on Saturday and were seated outside as other customers were already seated inside.

"I was working by myself - we don't usually have lots for lunch so I was busy for once," she said. "The register was on the bar and I didn't notice they hadn't signed."

The officers returned on Sunday morning, when the hotel was closed, and again on Sunday afternoon to issue the fine, pointing out that the cover was off the pool table and that two empty stubbies hadn't been cleaned up, according to Ms Senescall.

"I must have missed them at the end of a 16-hour shift," she said.

"Then they said I should have only one entry and one other exit, but I told them, if I locked the others I'd be in breach of fire safety regulations, and I'm not going to do that with a 100-year-old pine building."

The Hotel Richards at Mitchell received a clean bill of health from the officers and Renae, the staff member on duty said the visitors had been in plain clothes and with lanyards on.

"They went through our plan, the sign-in register and so on," she said. "They didn't sign in on the COVID register - I gave it to them but they wouldn't sign."

She said that with only one or two people manning the hotel and with patrons in different rooms, staff couldn't see everything that was happening all the time.

"You can't afford to put any more staff on when you're only allowed to have a limited number of customers," she said.

That was a similar problem for Tony Harris at the Injune Hotel, who said it hadn't been busy enough to put more staff on, and that any staff he did have were predominantly backpackers, who weren't eligible for JobKeeper.

"It's only the night trade where I'm busy, with 10 in the bar and 20 in the dining room, for two hours.

"No backpacker would come out for that amount of work."

Mr Harris was travelling south to see family and have his first break from work since the COVID lockdown at the end of March when the police visited, and said it had been a very difficult time for the hotel industry.

"As such, surely compassion and educating in these times is a far better option than to make a difficult time we are experiencing even more horrific," he said.

Police Minister Mark Ryan said that if anyone in the community had a complaint about police they were encouraged to lodge it with the Crime and Corruption Commission.

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