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The Press-News column July 30

Toss Out Cinderella-style Curfew.

One of the key proposals in the city council’s draft local alcohol policy ( LAP) is looking increasingly misguided and indefensible. The council commissioned cost-benefit analysis concludes that the planned assault on bar trading hours fails to address problem drinking, and will cost the economy more than it saves.  But will city councillors come to their senses, or will they box on and knock the stuffing out of the central city’s nightlife scene?  Our Cinderella-style entry curfew, is completely out of step with our metropolitan brothers, up north. Unlike Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington is not proposing to ban entry to all bars from 1am. Forcing suburban premises to shutdown at 1am is entirely reasonable, but entry to the central city’s nightspots should be allowed until 3am, in line with Wellington and Auckland.  In contrast to this demented beat-up on central city nightlife, much of the rest of the draft LAP deserves to be supported.  The giddy proliferation of off-licence outlets swamping suburbia, understandably riles residents. The LAP will give communities the muscle to meaningfully contest an off-licence invader in their neighbourhood.  And given supermarkets and bottle stores account for 75% of all alcohol sales, restricting their trading hours to 9am to 9pm is also eminently sensible. The bullying bluster from the supermarket barons, who are threatening to close all their supermarkets if they can’t sell booze around the clock, should be steered down.  But if we’re serious about tackling the blight of binge drinking and booze-fuelled harm, the council, police and health officials should all be needling parliament to unleash an abuser-pays approach.  As I’ve said before, the British deputy Prime Minister is leading the charge for drunken, abusive revellers who snarl up A&E  with self-inflicted injuries, to be charged for their medical treatment. A nominal fine would send a welcome signal.  Why should the taxpayer and ACC give them a free pass?  On a similar front, why does the Christchurch police operate a free limousine service for the town’s drunks? The Weekend Press quoted Canterbury police chief, Gary Knowles, as indicating that in April, 244 people “were taken to detox or home”, by the police. I can fully appreciate that when the cops discover a scantily-clad young woman sprawled across the footpath in a paralytic state after a night on the lash, to prevent her from becoming a crime statistic, they will give her a lift home. Yet there are no consequences – and no bill, from saving her from own drunken recklessness. But there should be.  Make the abuser pay. And one of the first steps that parliament should take to send a clear and unequivocal message, would be to reinstate public drunkenness as a summary offence.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press on July 30.

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