Proposed liquor laws draw mixed reaction

Despite tougher restrictions, it is unlikely booze will fizzle out in society any time soon.

This week, three Southland councils will hear submissions on the joint Local Alcohol Policy to discuss curbing late-night bar hopping, having a one-way door policy after 1am, and requiring bars and hotels to be shut by 3am in the Invercargill CBD but by 1am elsewhere.

It is also proposed that off-licence premises be shut by 10pm.

But proprietors, pundits and people who support regulating alcohol agree the changes would have little effect on alcohol's role in society and it was a long way off joining smoking in a pariah-like status.

Winton's Middle Pub owner John "Chub" McHugh said the culture around alcohol consumption was definitely changing because of increased restrictions but New Zealand would never be a nation of teetotallers.

With more regulations on on-licence premises, it was pushing people in the direction of "pre-loading" at home with off-licence purchases, and this had negative implications on the drinking culture, he said.

Everything in moderation was fine and there needed to be a push back towards more personal responsibility, he said.

He warned that increased restrictions would push alcohol consumption underground, as happened during the prohibition era.

"Alcohol won't go away. It's been around a long time and, in moderation, nothing's wrong with it."

Invercargill Brewery owner Steve Nally echoed these sentiments, saying beer had been around for years and was not going anywhere.

"We talk about everything in moderation right? Well, the bureaucracy has to be in moderation too."

To his mind, the proposed local alcohol policy had some deficiencies and it would be better to follow a national framework.

Another issue was Southland was already governed by liquor licensing trusts and these changes were simply adding another layer of bureaucracy, he said.

"Theoretically, we've already got community control. We own the pubs. Why [do we] need another level?"

However, a national health organisation that lobbies against alcohol has a different view.

Alcohol Health Watch director Rebecca Williams said councils were in a position to make a real difference in society but they needed to leverage the opportunity.

She agreed the reforms were nowhere near enough to push alcohol consumption the way of smoking but they were a step in the right direction.

Unless there was a wide, evidence-based campaign like there was with smoking, there would not be the same level of change, she said.

"If we're really serious about impacting on culture, we need serious change."

She said they were "definitely not" for prohibition and did not advocate a return to the 6 o'clock swill.

The key word in the argument was socialisation but what they had seen over time was a trend of intoxication beyond the point of socialisation, she said.

"Of course, human beings need to socialise, get together for some fun and absolutely a drink once in a while is fine.

"What we've seen over time is you're not socialising when you're that intoxicated."

The Southland Times