New Zealand’s liquor laws and the policing of them are a mess.
Raised in the days when the pubs were shut at 6pm, and later at 10pm – oh, the wild liberality – Alf wonders about who frequents joints that sell booze till the small hours and exactly what sorts of problems they create.
He hankers for a return to the good old days when a pub would stop serving booze in time for a bloke to get home to at least catch the sports bit of the late-night news on the telly.
His musings are prompted by news that the good citizens of Palmerston North can no longer find a bar legally open beyond 3am,
now that the cops have successfully applied to reduce the licensing hours of a watering hole called The Red Doors.
A statement from the police which advises of this triumph in social control makes fascinating use of economic jargon – it says the venue, previously known as The Lounge Bar, “had a monopoly in the city on drinking between 3am and 6am” causing concern to police trying to reduce alcohol-related harm.
Alf thinks this means the other pubs didn’t bother remaining open during those hours, or could get not get a licence.
When the owners of The Red Doors applied to renew their licence, however, the police say they expressed opposition and sought the suspension, cancellation or variation of the licence. They were supported “by Health and the Council”.
Which “health” and which “council” are not stated in the press statement. The city council? The Alcohol and Liquor Advisory Council? Or – surely not – the Council of Civil Liberties?
More interesting are the numbers of people in Palmerston North – not the biggest of the country’s cities, although it’s a metropolis to we folk in Eketahuna– keen to take refuge in the boozer in the wee small hours.
Throughout the hearing in December 30 witnesses gave evidence and 117 exhibits were submitted. Included in the evidence were survey results showing that there were regularly up to 200 people at the premises between 3am and 6am.
Police also presented statistics relating to arrests between June 2005 and August 2008. Between those times there were 43 arrests recorded as alcohol-related.
Of those arrests 33 (80%) took place between 3am and 8am and 26 of those 33 (60%) indicated that they had consumed their last drink at The Lounge Bar/Red Doors.
The hearing heard of breaches of licence, smokers blocking the emergency fire escape, delayed access to police officers wanting to inspect the premises and no food on sale – a requirement to help reduce the effects of alcohol.
Outlining the decision by the Liquor Licensing Authority (LLA) Judge Unwin accused The Red Doors director of “a complete lack of understanding of the problem she was creating for Palmerston North, and an unwillingness to accept any responsibility for disorder in the streets after 3am”, instead trying to divert the blame to the police.
Alf asks: so what was the extent of this disorder?
According to the cops’ figures, they made 43 arrests over a period of 12,302 days. That’s 0.003257 arrests per day. Even accepting that most of them (33, or 0.0025 a day) were made from 3-8am, this does not seem to Alf to smack of wild disorder.
According to the press statement, Judge Unwin –
stated that “we seriously considered refusing to renew the licence” as the privilege of the licence held had been ignored and abused.
Judge Unwin added “Such is our concern at the licensee’s attitude and the popularity of the premises as a place to drink to late in the morning, we intend to have the premises close at 2am to ensure there is no chance of more breaches of the Act.”
Palmerston North’s Acting Inspector Brett Calkin said: “Our motivation is creating a safer community. Alcohol is a factor in a significant number of crimes and crashes and this venue was a magnet to intoxicated drinkers when all the others bars had shut. We see the decision by the LLA as a positive step in reducing the risk during those vulnerable early hours.
But surely intoxicated drinkers who were drawn to The Red Door when all the other bars had shut must have become intoxicated in those other bars. How did they get in that condition? Isn’t it an offence to serve intoxicated people? Where were the cops then?
Calkin finished up saying –
“We are also pleased that the move has brought consistency to the city. It not only provides a level playing field to licensed premises, the tighter timeframe in which alcohol is accessible will help us to better target police resources.”
Alf suspects this means the cops on the night shift can now put their feet up after 2pm.
Good for them.