NZ a nation of drunks, says John Banks
The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 29/09/2009

A debacle around a bylaw closing Auckland bars at 11pm was a policy blunder but it does not hide the fact that New Zealand has become a drunken nation, Auckland Mayor John Banks says.

His comments came after he killed planned bylaw changes, conceived by city officials, which would have meant most of the city's suburban bars closing by midnight.

Elated publicans said the proposed law change was unworkable and would have sent some broke.

Mr Banks said yesterday that liquor bylaws would never deal with abuse. He was unsure the wider community was serious about the problem.

"New Zealand incorporated is quite a drunken community," he said. "The abuse of alcohol is endemic and the cost is appalling, consequently the education process is not working." It was crazy that people could end up with 10 drink-driving convictions and not be jailed, he said. "Are we serious about alcohol abuse? The answer is no, definitely no."

Mr Banks attended a function outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Auckland last weekend.

"I have never seen so many young people pissed and stoned in all of my life. On the street, staggering down the street and while the behaviour wasn't illegal, it was very noisy, overbearing and crass ...

"The problem the politicians face is that we have been asked to deal with a social problem that the community doesn't want to participate in."

Mr Banks said Auckland's problem was "some very bad people who run watering holes. They are in the minority, they are cowboy operators. We need to go after them, not try and punish hosts with high levels of responsibility".

The Law Commission is conducting a review of liquor laws and Mr Banks said he would make a submission.

"It is very difficult to stop them and we need a policy that allows, one, overt harassment of these people and, two, a mechanism to circuit-break them, stop them and take their licence away."

Mr Banks admitted "my fingerprints" were all over the now-spiked effort to close down suburban bars at 11pm.

But he said the policy was dreamed up by officials.

"The time-honoured local government culture of backroom boys and girls dreaming up the policy and floating it publicly is not good policy management, and never has been."

Super-city laws would give the mayor accountability for all policy management, he said.

"The culture of unelected officials dreaming up policy will come to an end with the super-city."

He doubted that a super-city mayor would solve the liquor problem.

"Unless the community embraces change around alcohol indulgence and use, then no mayor will have the super answers."

Alcohol Advisory Council chief executive Gerard Vaughan said he was surprised the policy was being dumped in the middle of public consultation, which was to have run until October 7.

Cutting bar hours reduced harm from alcohol, he said.

-Staff reporter with NZPA

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