I hadn’t written anything substantial about the alcohol reform discussion, but this finally pushed me over the edge. I don’t have a problem with a businessman using a column to push his intrenched position which cares only about his vested interest, but putting his kid in it? That’s vile, in my opinion. Cavell should focus on the facts, but instead of addressing the problem, he makes a weak argument that blames everyone else and relies on emotion. It’s intellectually bankrupt and a stupid move politically. He’s trying to argue that unless we give him carte blanche to sell booze without restriction, his daughter’s life will be impacted. Maybe he should consider the parents of a child whose life has been ruined by a night out in town, maybe someone who was badly injured or beaten up by a drunk – then he might want to reconcile his facile argument, which even he acknowledges makes him “sound like a whinger.” 

Much has been written in the past few weeks about the LAP, with strong lobbying from two very entrenched positions. The hospitality industry are arguing that restrictions on sale will kill the central city. The health officials are saying that they don’t want to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff – or the top of Hagley Park – anymore. The binge drinking culture is a problem that is by no means limited to Christchurch, but given our chance to create a city anew, it would make sense to start our licensing policy from scratch too.

The hospitality industry has started campaigning concertedly on this, with facebook groups that both exaggerate claims about the impending death of the city, and look back nostalgically to a series of bars that were destroyed in the quakes. These actions have led to a large number of submissions to the council on the issue. It’s great to see so many people engaging in the process, and I’m interested to see the outcome.

Before the quakes, I lived in the heart of the CBD, above a bar and near a bunch of others. I enjoyed being able to head out to meet a friend or see a band at a venue just a short walk away, and to be able to not have to worry about driving or parking a car. I walked past the queues of people outside bars, saw people pissing in doorways, stepped over rubbish and vomit in the morning. That was part of living in the city, and I didn’t really mind that. I’m a responsible bar goer, and even though I don’t stay up drinking till the sun comes up as much as I used to, I’d still like to think that the option was there for me to do it if I wanted to. I don’t do anything wrong, so why should I be punished for what other people get up to?

While I strongly believe this, I can’t just pretend that we don’t have a problem. We do. We have a drinking problem. It makes our city unsafe. It makes our streets dirty. But most critically, it is costing our health system. Whilst the hospitality lobby will accuse the health board of being wowsers and party poopers, that does nothing to resolve this issue. If the LAP remains the way it is, then what will stop the binge drinking culture we had pre-quake from spreading back into the city? Can we sustain it? How long will it be before more restrictive measures would be put back on, as Wellington has just done.

The hospitality lobby needs to smarten up. The onus is not on the public health workers to continue picking up the pieces. They have the evidence of real harm and the numbers on their side. Instead of just taking to social media and yelling that the sky is falling, they need to be proactive. That’s why Cavell’s position is trite: he blames supermarkets, the council, pretty much everyone else but his industry. It’s a well-orchestrated line from the hospitality lobby, but it doesn’t stack up. The CDHB and public health department have figures about the cost of alcohol-related harm, and the number of admissions to the emergency department as a result of drinking. They are damning statistics. So why has no-one from the alcohol lobby even acknowledged that they exist? Is this like the fluoride argument, except with something far more toxic?

I think that the changes in licensing are too heavy handed, as they will impact good bar owners as well as bad. My three favourite bars – the Darkroom, Smash Palace and the Last Word – would all be forced into 1am closing. This isn’t fair on them. These are responsible operators, which should be used as a positive example of how to run a venue without causing trouble. But they are all outside the core area designated for a 3am closure – in St Asaph St, Victoria St and New Regent St, respectively. More than just being responsible venues, they are also examples of the innovative ventures that should give us hope in the transitional city. The darkroom has played host to all the best indie music that has come to Christchurch since the quakes; Smash Palace is a pin-up for the can-do attitude that seems to be the only thing getting anything done in this city; and the Last Word, which has a capacity of just 30 people, is showing that Christchurch is mature enough for a quiet, high-quality venue. These bars should not be the target of this bill.

No, the target should be the big operators who own multiple venues, who ran the big booze barns that used to splatter Manchester St each weekend. They are the ones who should be asked to answer the question about the cost of alcohol harm. They should be coming up with proposals to counter the council’s recommendations, rather than just throwing their hands up in the air. Yes, off-licensing is a problem. But the punters still want to go to town and go to a bar. Once they’re there, their your problem, and you can’t wash your hands of that. What about proposals to limit the size of venues? Or staggered closing times for venue, based on size? 200 people venues closing at 1am, 150 people at 1am, 100 people at 3am, 50 people venues can go all night. What about exemptions for venues which are involved with live music? What if you limited the extent of queuing outside a venue, and the inevitable fights that start when people can’t get in? Can you better integrate with late-night food outlets and taxi ranks to reduce the problems that they cause?

These aren’t hard things to come up with. I know that you don’t think that anyone should restrict your ability to make as much money as possible trading off of what is essentially putting a 70% mark-up on a product with limited distribution. Stop pretending that you’re being hard done by. You aren’t. You are being pathetically petulant about a profitable industry which serves up social harm. Don’t bring you kids into this when you aren’t even acting like an adult yourself.

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