Monday, July 14, 2008

Grog around the clock

The New Zealand Police have proposed ending 24-hour alcohol licenses for bars and clubs in Auckland City’s CBD (Central Business District). They cite alcohol-related problems, including violence, which the police blame on 24-hour licences.

The proposal is unlikely to get a favourable consideration by Auckland City Councillors. As Auckland Mayor John Banks pointed out, all world-class cities have a vibrant nightlife. With the 2011 Rugby World Cup coming to New Zealand, and plans to try and win hosting rights for a Commonwealth Games sometime thereafter, rolling up the footpaths in the evening is probably not going to happen.

But across the bridge in North Shore City, Mayor Andrew Williams said he doesn’t share Banks’ view. "I do not agree with Mayor Banks that it is desirable to have 24 hour licensing of bars and that in some way this supposedly makes for a ‘world class city,’” he said. Okay, he’s entitled to his opinion. But then he added: “Drunken youths coupled with violence and lawlessness on the streets of the Auckland City CBD at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning are not my idea of creating a world class destination.”

That’s a bit rich coming from him. North Shore City has a national reputation for out-of-control teenage parties with violent, drunken youths. In recent years that problem has eased somewhat, thanks to moves like party hosts hiring security guards. The point is that violent, drunken youths can be a problem with or without 24-hour bars, and North Shore City’s experience proves that.

The crux of the issue, it seems to me, actually has nothing to do with alcohol or rampaging drunken youths. As so often happens in politics, it’s all about power.

There’s currently a Royal Commission on Auckland Governance looking into how the Auckland Region should be organised. One suggestion, backed by Auckland City, is for a super city. North Shore City, on the other hand, favours several separate cities, though fewer than now.

"This also raises real concerns for many North Shore residents when confronted with suggestions of a super-city,” Williams said. To make sure that people got the connection, he added, “We certainly want to play an increased lead role in developing the Auckland Region… but we do not want a ‘bar’ of the standards being set by Auckland City in relation to all night unruliness. People being intoxicated, fighting, vomiting, and urinating on our streets in the wee hours near dawn are not world class in anyone's book."

There are problems with alcohol abuse by teenagers and young adults. But the problem will not be solved by turning Auckland’s CBD into Takapuna. If Williams has a problem with 24-hour bars, that’s his right. We know he opposes a super city. Linking the two together is just plain silly and has a wee whiff of desperation about it.

I don’t think that ending all 24-hour bars will fix the problems that the police and Williams complained about. Also, I have an open mind about how Auckland should be governed, unlike Williams. What I don’t have patience for is politicians trying to make linkages where none exist.

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