Cheap beer goes off Hamilton's menu

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013

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Looking for your local's $5 happy hour? You will be searching in vain.

Under tough new rules introduced yesterday, any bar advertising drinks for less than $6 will be handed a hefty fine and a strike. Three strikes and their licence is gone for five years.

This is just one aspect of new liquor laws which have riled bar owners throughout Hamilton. They say the government is once again targeting the wrong people.

Bar owner John Lawrenson said he was baffled that supermarkets and liquor stores had yet again come out of the legislation unscathed.

He found it ridiculous that a supermarket could sell a bottle of beer at $1.50 while he couldn't advertise prices below $6.

"How is the Heineken that I serve in my bar getting someone any more drunk than the Heineken from the supermarket?

"They sell them in packs of 12 and I'm selling them one at a time so how am I doing more harm?"

His opinions were echoed by Altitude bar owner and Hamilton Liquor Accord chairman, Laurie Weake, who said authorities needed be proactive rather than reactive.

The act of instantly fining drunks and the bar they are in was "putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff"', he said

"They're focusing on penalising pre-loaders rather than focusing on (off-licence) price which will stop the pre-loading," he said.

And the price gap between bars and supermarket looks set to widen.

Punters could see the price of a pint rising above the $10 mark as bar owners try to recoup the cost of their licence fees - which have almost quadrupled.

Under the new legislation, bars and cafes are ranked into categories relating to their potential risk to the community.

Bars categorised as very high risk will have to pay licensing fees of up to $1800 a year to keep their doors open, while suburban cafes which serve little alcohol will most likely see a slight drop in the price of their licence.

The standard fee for licencing was previously $776 every three years.

Most bars in Hamilton will be categorised as medium risk and pay about $1000 yearly for their licence.

A strike on their name for illegal advertising or having an intoxicated or underage person in their bar will see their risk factor rise, and in turn their cost rise.

With fees for Duty Managers licencing and certification for bouncers also doubling Mr Lawrenson, who owns 13 licences throughout the city said it was going to be tough not to pass that cost on to the drinker.

"We'll probably absorb it short term . . . but costs like this eventually have got to be passed on somewhere."

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But although it's a hit in the pocket for the bars, veteran Hamilton bar owner Darrel Hadley said the prices should be even higher if the bureaucrats want to see any change in alcohol related harm.

Mr Hadley said the government needed to look across the ditch and see how their licencing schemes worked.

The number of licences in Australian cities was capped, meaning that if a new bar was to open, they needed to buy their licence off an existing bar owner. This meant licences sold for up to $50,000 in some cities.

"Licences shouldn't be just handed out to anyone who can stump up the cash," Mr Hadley said."

The now defunct Pie Lab, which offered $3 shots in a cubbyhole in the Marketplace alleyway, was a prime example of a bar that should never have held a licence, he said

- Waikato Times

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