Liquor laws facing big test

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 12:00 31/12/2013

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Downing shots of tequila or other hard liquor to bring in the New Year will get you red-flagged and probably kicked out of the bar tonight because of new liquor laws, a Palmerston North bar owner says.

Police and the hospitality sector are preparing for a busy night of revelry with added security and police patrols on the street, focused on enforcing the two-week old Sale of Liquor Act amendments.

Nathan Hiscox, who owns Palmerston North bars The Beer Barrel and The Empty Vessel, is pleading for patrons to be understanding of the hard line he and other bars will take tonight, and from now on.

The law changes define intoxication for the first time, describing it as displaying impaired speech, impaired behaviour, or impaired co-ordination.

They allow police to clamp down on bar owners serving drunks, or letting drunks stay on the premises, with offenders facing a $10,000 fine and loss of their licence for five years under a new three-strikes system.

Hiscox says the laws are forcing him to kick people onto the streets when they would be safer drinking water in a supervised area.

"We're just abiding by the law... We're at a point now where you have to look completely sober or we can't let you in and anybody coming in and ordering tequila shots - anybody looking like they're having a good time - is setting off red flags.

"I think it's important to remember that drinking is not illegal, but there's just so much variation to how people will react to even one or two drinks and we can't afford for police to find someone in the bar who is intoxicated."

Hiscox's tough line had only succeeded in "pissing customers off" so far, he said.

Many people were already choosing to spend New Year's Eve getting drunk in unsupervised situations such as campgrounds, a trend he felt the new laws would encourage.

Police Senior Sergeant Cliff Brown said the main focus would be on policing the central city liquor ban.

Intoxication in bars and the use of false IDs would be other areas police would be keeping an eye on, he said.

"We're not expecting any major problems - generally people have been fine in Palmerston North during the New Year - but we have to be ready for what is undoubtedly a busy night for us."

There would be a "big presence" of police in The Square for celebrations there to ensure people were well-behaved, Brown said.

"Once that finishes at midnight we'll regroup and prepare in anticipation of disorder between the hours of 1.30am and 3.30am on New Year's Day."

Hospitality New Zealand central region manager Chris Hince said the police's response to the new muscle they had to combat liquor abuse had so far been pleasing.

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"Police are technically allowed to shut a bar down now on the suspicion that a crime might occur inside so there's some pretty draconian powers in the law but at the moment they're not taking a Dirty Harry approach and we're appreciating that."

Jason Deane, director of Trinity Group which owns The Empire Hotel, said New Year's Eve would provide the perfect testing ground for the new teeth the laws provided.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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