Tough liquor laws 'big news' for bars

GRANT BRYANT IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2012

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Massive liquor-licensing changes will make it much tougher to sell alcohol nationally, an ex-judge has revealed.

Bill Unwin, a former judge and ex-chairman of the Liquor Licensing Authority, said liquor licensing would be administered like resource-consent applications within the scope of Queenstown Lakes District Council, under rules that could be in place as soon as mid-2013. He was guest speaker at a breakfast hosted by Queenstown police and Hospitality New Zealand yesterday.

The Alcohol Reform Bill could be legislated into the Alcohol Reform Act as soon as next month, but it would be a year until the changes "came into play", Mr Unwin said.

Those changes would be huge – and not necessarily helpful for all involved in the liquor industry.

"If I was a licensee right now and knew what was coming up over the horizon in the form of the Alcohol Reform Act, I think I'd be shaking in my boots a little," he said.

Mr Unwin said liquor licence holders could save "quite a lot of money" by having their licences renewed before next July.

"Which is when the whole process gets taken over by local authorities, who will have the right to fix charges, like they do with resource-management applications."

Coming into play in the new regime would be application costs and the costs of having an individual hearing for each licence being applied for or renewed, Mr Unwin said.

"Your destiny is now going to be in the hands of local licensing committees – three people: the chairman, who will be a councillor, and two others drawn from a list drawn up by the local body, who will be on that list for five years with a right of renewal."

Those on the list would have to have no current involvement in the liquor industry, he said.

It was "big news" because the new system would make it much harder to get or renew a liquor licence, Mr Unwin said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Queenstown's top police officer, Senior Sergeant John Fookes, said the new system would work well, but would entail adapting to drastic change from all quarters.

"This will bring our agency, the regulatory authorities and the industry together, but will lay down some significant challenges for the liquor industry over the next year.

"Although I haven't had a detailed look through the draft act, there are some very significant changes compared to what we're all used to dealing with, so whatever way you look at it, there's going to be some big challenges for everyone," Mr Fookes said.

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