Respect lost in police spying

Invercargill chef and hospitality industry veteran Graham Hawkes is unhappy at the use of undercover officers in pubs.

I am sure I was not the only person to be somewhat astounded at the front page news in The Southland Times last Saturday informing us that police were now sending undercover members to spy on licensees.

Just one more issue for licensees and their staff to contend with. What was once the focal point of camaraderie, sociability and community networking, the local pub has become the heaviest-handed regulated and controlled retail outlet in this country.

To be fair, police spying in pubs is nothing new. It is more the methodology that has changed.

In my day of operating pubs, the plain-clothes police and licensees had a respect for each other that was useful to, and appreciated by, both parties. They worked in liaison.

The Ds would firstly acknowledge to the licensee their presence and usually who they were watching - and on occasion why. The licensee in turn would update the D with any relevant information they had on the subject.

Such was the working relationship back then that the licensees and police often joined for social occasions, offering further opportunity for networking and updating each other on what was happening on their watch or patch.

Just over a year ago at a hospitality breakfast held in Invercargill, senior police officers present indicated they wanted to work more closely with licensees in the Southern area.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 (SSAA) has brought a new range of responsibilities to the hospitality industry - and just a minute amount of responsibility to individuals - all designed to minimising harm caused by excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol. No-one can argue the sensibility or the reasoning behind the new legislation but there is plenty to debate regarding the way some are trying to achieve it.

The law puts the onus on the licensees, yet: 85 per cent of alcohol-related incidents occur away from licensed premises.

76 per cent of the alcohol consumed in this country is consumed outside of licensed premises.

Information relating to hazardous drinking as quoted in The Southland Times from Southern District Health includes Dunedin, Lakes District, Waikari and Southern Hospitals.

You don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out that Dunedin, as a university town, and Queenstown Lake District, as the world's party central, are bound to have a much higher rate than here in Invercargill or the surrounding country area. The information supplied is at best constructed to sensationalise the issue.

This year is my 50th year of working in what was the most vibrant industry in the country, the hospitality industry. The industry employees 75,000 staff and brings $2.65 billion to the national economy.

Today, the hospitality industry is nothing short of smothered by regulations. Every day we lose good, young licensed personnel. Not for reasons one would perceive - long antisocial hours of work - but due to the real threat of court appearances and hefty fines they could face when a patron breaks the law.

I wonder how many plain- clothed police personnel would like to take on the current responsibilities of a bar person for around $16.50 an hour?

When are people going to be made to be responsible for their own actions? And why are pubs being singled out? For my dollar, this move (plain-clothed spies) will simply encourage more people to drink away from pubs, increasing the opportunity for further mismanagement of their consumption of alcohol.

Then there is: "How do you define a pub?"

There was a time when patrons at "standalone" premises had to be there for the purpose of dining. That is no longer the case. You can and are welcome to enjoy a drink at any licensed premise any time it is open - it is up to the licensee to be operating according to the law, eg have a menu and food available. Does that make the establishment a pub?

Where does that leave clubs? I find it hard to believe a plain- clothed cop is going to go to a club - sign in as a guest or be there as a member - and spy on their fellow club attendees, reporting back and bringing in the strength and forces, in the same way they intend to treat the licensee of a licensed pub.

Pubs were the heart and soul of any small communities. A warm, safe and controlled environment for people to meet, socialise, support local community groups and the many sporting clubs which are the backbone of the area. As a long and passionate member of the hospitality community all I can see is that once more people are going to be penalised for enjoying the company of others in such places.

Graham Hawkes operates Invercargill restaurant Paddington Arms.

The Southland Times