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September 16, 2013 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Council Declares Drinking “Fine”

The Wellington City Council (WCC) is proposing to fine those who are severely intoxicated in public, in the latest effort to tackle problem drinking in the city.

The WCC’s strategy and policy committee voted to investigate such a measure at a meeting last Thursday. The vote sees the end of their previous local alcohol policy proposal, which would have limited the opening hours of inner-city bars and forced off-licences such as dairies and supermarkets to stop selling alcohol at 9 pm. Off-licences will now be forced to close at 11 pm, and bars and other on-licences at 5 am.

Salient spoke to a number of students about the plan, all of whom were opposed to the initiative which would see an as-yet-to-be-decided fine dealt out to punish the severely intoxicated, and get them off the streets to sober up.

One student said the proposal risked jeopardising the health of severely intoxicated persons, who would not seek help in fear of a fine. Other students described the plan as “a solution looking for a problem”, and “more stupid and annoying than the drunk people”.

“If they’re just patrolling the main streets, they’ll be pushing people elsewhere.”

Not all councillors support the policy, with Iona Pannett pointing to the police’s description of the policy as “ineffective”, and saying it avoided collective responsibility.

“I just think it’s ridiculous. I want police to catch rapists and murderers and wife beaters, not people who get a bit drunk on the weekend,” said Pannett, who was joined by councillors Ray Apihene-Mercer and Helene Ritchie in opposition.

Bar and restaurant owners have showed support for the policy, which would shift the responsibility from bouncers and bar staff over to patrons.

“We are big advocates of it,” said Hospitality New Zealand Branch President Jeremy Smith, who believes the policy will make unruly drinkers more responsible.

“Our approach is saying we are not going to change behaviour and the way people act if there’s no consequences or repercussions for the individual,” said Smith.

If successful, the bylaw would echo 1970s laws which made public drunkenness illegal under the Police Offences Act. The finalised policy will be voted on at a full Council meeting on 25 September.

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