Saturday, May 31, 2014

Single Bottle Nonsense

Four years after Geoff Palmer and the Law Commission set about dismantling the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act, the full horror of their agenda is finally dawning on those affected. I'm thinking in particular about the current storm on social networking over proposed bans on single bottle sales in certain cities.

Now it should be pointed out that the complaints might be a tiny bit misguided. What I believe these councils are proposing are that bans on single bottle sales be put in their set of discretionary conditions that they might then impose at will on individual licensees. So these aren't necessarily blanket bans. But I don't think that that nuance detracts from the stupidity of the measure.

Some beer drinkers are also taking the proposed bans personally since they don't seem to apply to wine. They would do well to note that in the Auckland case the council are actually talking about an exemption for "hand crafted beer", which is full of problems in its own right, but might be taken as a concession to beer lovers.

Now we in Wellington went through our own ordeal with the drafting of a Local Alcohol Policy last year. The first draft proposed much earlier closing times for bars and off-licences. The council's hearings into the matter were inundated with written and oral submissions and they watered the measures down a lot. In particular there was a plan to create a designated nightlife ghetto that would be entitled to later closing times. Some of us in the craft beer bar business were pretty riled about this and I made written and oral submissions, along with one or two others, pointing out the folly of this plan, with respect to the evolution of Wellington's nightlife and little things like messing with property values and rent. When the revised policy was released the council's press release said "The proposal to introduce entertainment precincts was not supported. We don’t want to stifle some of the niche character venues that might fall outside an arbitrary boundary, such as some of Wellington’s burgeoning craft beer bars." In other words, we influenced the outcome.

So for fuck's sake, stop whingeing on facebook and start talking to your local council!

Secondly... I forced myself to sit through submissions to the Wellington Council from local representatives of the respective associations of hospitality and supermarkets. It was ugly. A common theme from both of them was "alcohol abuse is their fault, not ours". It's a wonder that the council chose to overlook the pettiness of their finger pointing and accept the underlying message that arbitrarily shortening licensing hours is a daft way to try and change people's behaviour. So I was a little disappointed that the Brewers Guild indulged in a little finger pointing of their own by saying "regulators... should spend the energy enforcing retailer responsibility...".

In my experience the best way to talk councils out of these silly and arbitrary provisions is to draw attention to their flaws as regulations and the lack of understanding of the issue that's behind them. Maybe they were toying with me, but when I raised the subject of Paul Christoffel's thesis with the Wellington Council they seemed genuinely surprised and interested. (The thesis roundly debunks the availability theory that is behind the new Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.) On the other hand, I expect that they sit through "it's not fair" complaints every day.

If I were an Aucklander, I would suggest to the Auckland council that this proposed discretionary condition is discriminatory:
licensee must not sell single units of mainstream beer, cider or RTDs in less than 445ml packaging. Boutique and handcrafted beer and cider are exempt from this provision.
To me, it's the rich tut-tutting the poor about their drinking.

And this one is basically a subsidy for the wine industry:
shots, shooters, high strength mixed drinks with more than 45mls is spirits/liqueur in one serve, beer with more than 6% ABV, and RTDs with more than 6%ABV must not be sold or supplied at the following times: within the last hour of closing for premises open till 1am or 2am; and within the last 2 hours before closing for premises open after 2am.
What are discriminatory social engineering and protection for wineries doing in a local alcohol policy?

So the gist of this rant is a plea. Please everyone stop wringing your hands about the single bottle sales thing. Instead, get your facts about the law and local alcohol policies straight along with all the other provisions of the disastrous Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act of 2012, not to mention Paul Christoffel's thesis, and make rational submissions to councils that debunk the nonsense that is going on here.