Booze-cruising drunks take free bus service for a ride
DRUNKEN itinerants are exploiting a "free" bus service and relaxed liquor restrictions in outer Cairns suburbs to turn suburban parks into booze sessions during the virus crisis.
Police say groups of up to 20 people have been engaging in public drinking sessions in parks around Freshwater, Smithfield, Earlville, White Rock and Woree, in breach of social distancing rules.
Cairns City Beat police Senior Sergeant Gary Hunter said the issue, which was usually confined mostly to the CBD, had shifted out to the suburbs since the virus crisis began several weeks ago.
He said groups had faced greater police scrutiny with fewer people in the CBD, so had exploited the current hygiene measures on Sunbus vehicles where drivers waive fares to avoid handling cash.
"This social problem became more visible in the CBD with so many businesses closed," he said.
Popular boozing spots have been Ryan Weare Park at Freshwater, Rainy Mountain Park at Smithfield, two private blocks of land off Ishmael Rd at Earlville and an area under a public overpass on the Bruce Highway at Woree.
During March and April police tipped out 626 litres of contraband liquor and conducted 59 intoxication diversions.
Sen-Sgt Hunter said the groups were also exploiting different rules in bottle shops in the outer suburbs compared with the CBD, where sale of cask wine is banned before 4pm.
"Some of the liquor outlets in the outer suburbs have an earlier opening time and don't have the same restrictions on cask wine sales," he said.
It is understood a large percentage of the group are not considered homeless, while some are part of the group of Aurukun people flown to Cairns following the riots.
Sen-Sgt Hunter said police were still trying to work with those from Cape York communities if they wished to go home and were liaising with homelessness agencies.
Sunbus officials issued a warning over "joy-riding" on their network last month after reports of groups of people as young as eight ignoring warnings to stay home.
Sunbus North Queensland general manager Wayne Croton said the behaviour put the health of bus drivers and essential workers who used the service at risk.
"People who blatantly ignore official health advice and jump on our buses in groups are posing an unnecessary risk to the health and safety of the entire community," he said.
"Our drivers are working tirelessly to keep our buses on the road for people who need them at this time and we have implemented a number of measures to maintain a safe and hygienic environment for travel."
TWU Queensland branch secretary Peter Biagini said now was not the time to be taking a joy ride on the public transport system.
"There appears to be a significant amount of non-essential travel taking place, risking the health of not only the driver but the travelling public as well," Mr Biagini said.
"Bus drivers are performing a vital service to ensure that there is still public transport available, and we are urging all members of the public to please consider the health of those working on the frontline and those who rely on public transport."
Originally published as Booze-cruising drunks take free bus service for a ride