Queenslanders flying into the Sunshine Coast since the latest Victorian lockdown say they were “interrogated” upon arrival, had their privacy invaded and were treated differently because of where they live.
When the restrictions were imposed on Friday, passengers entering the Sunshine Coast Airport terminal were split into lines for Queensland and non-Queensland residents, as has happened previously.
Police said residents who could have been on connecting flights from Victoria were deemed to be higher risk.
But Sunshine Coast resident Daniel Gibbs, who was returning from Sydney, said the way he was treated was “horrendous, rude and vile” and that he was made to feel as though he was lying.
“‘Where else have you been? Why have you been there? You can really tell me where you’ve been. I don’t believe you. Show me your Google Maps so I can see exactly where you’ve been,'” Mr Gibbs recalled the officers saying.
He gave his phone to police because he had “nothing to hide” and an officer proceeded to go through the maps app to determine where Mr Gibbs had been in Sydney.
Mr Gibbs said an elderly couple in their 70s, who may not have had smartphones, were “barraged” with questions.
“It certainly stressed the gentleman and you can see that he was well out of sorts with it,” Mr Gibbs said.
“I couldn’t see [their phone] — hence why the questioning with them might have been a little bit more in depth than everybody else.”
Mr Gibbs said he did not understand why passengers were treated differently depending on the state in which they lived.
“People from interstate just had to show some documentation, a licence where you’re from and just ushered straight through,” he said.
“Any of those passengers could have been from a hotspot — you just don’t know.”
New South Wales resident Taize Taylor, 27, was ushered through to the terminal.
He said he was asked if he had been in Melbourne in the last 14 days or had come into contact with anyone with COVID-19.
“I said no and then they just literally pointed to a door … and I went straight into the terminal,” Mr Taylor said.
The frequent traveller said he found it “odd”.
“I would assume that you’d have the same declaration process for anyone entering the state,” he said.
‘Unfortunate’ but necessary
Queensland Police Superintendent Craig Hawkins said the passengers’ experiences were “really unfortunate”, but police had a job to do under the directive of the Chief Health Officer.
He said the linking flights from Victoria via Sydney were “challenging” and that police would question Queensland travellers on those flights.
“Somebody that is coming from NSW, [who is] living in NSW, demonstrates that they are a NSW resident — there’s far less likelihood that they would have come from Victoria,” Superintendent Hawkins said.
“But Queensland residents returning from interstate, [there are] chances or the possibilities of that person, that clearly doesn’t have … linkage to New South Wales … could have come from Victoria.”
He said on the first day the lockdown came into place, 14 Victorian travellers were stopped at Sunshine Coast Airport.
“[They] decided that 14 days’ quarantine wasn’t an option and decided to return,” Superintendent Hawkins said.
He said travellers should be prepared for extensive questioning and that police had taken a “tolerant approach” throughout the pandemic.
“But we are also very focused on making sure that the virus doesn’t enter the state,” Superintendent Hawkins said.
Passenger and Sunshine Coast resident Carina Aul said she was happy to show her licence when she arrived home after a weekend in Sydney.
But she said having police look through the location data and apps on her phone felt like an “absolute invasion of privacy”.
“It just made everyone feel very uncomfortable,” Ms Aul said.
“I have absolutely nothing to hide as I do abide by the COVID restrictions, but I think this is too much.”
Some passengers who had location data turned off on their phones told the ABC they had to show police bank transactions to prove their whereabouts.
What are your rights?
Michael Cope from the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties said police had broad powers under the Public Health Act.
Those included the authority to ask a question considered reasonably necessary to respond to the public health emergency.
“If you fail to answer the question, you commit an offence and can be charged with an offence against the Public Health Act,” he said.
But Mr Cope said that questioning ought to be in a “proportionate fashion”.
“Asking people questions about why they were going to particular places in Sydney and what they were doing there — that seems to me to be totally unnecessary,” he said.
Mr Cope said providing an accommodation receipt, for example, should be adequate proof.
“Wandering around the phone, looking at things that are not necessary is an invasion of privacy,” he said.