Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ban the ban!

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Ban the liquor ban!Central Wellington currently has a liquor ban in place on Friday and Saturday nights, prohibiting drinking in public spaces. This might seem draconian enough, but the council doesn't think so, and is planning to extend it.

Is this because the current ban has been hugely successful in curbing drunken hooliganism, and they want to extend that success? Not exactly: the proposal (49kB PDF) admits that an evaluation of the existing ban "did not show a reduction in alcohol related offending" (section 2.1). The police, however, "firmly believe" that offending would have increased without it. Right. Good to see sound evidence-based policy, then.

What is being proposed? Instead of just Friday and Saturday nights (5pm to 6am in winter, 8pm to 6am in summer), the council's preferred option has a ban extending from 8pm Thursday to 8am Sunday, including daylight hours! That should put an end to all those drunken hoons causing mayhem on Friday lunchtimes. What, you haven't seen any? Funnily enough, neither have I.

Liquor ban options for Wellington CentralThat is just Option A in the proposal. Options B and C apply just to the nighttime: from 8pm in the case of option B and from 5pm for Option C. According to the online news article, the council's preference is for the most extreme (Option A), but confusingly, on the online submission form it claims that the council prefers option B. There is no option for keeping the status quo or liberalising the law.

Now, I'm not one to advocate public drunkenness (stop laughing), but there are several reasons why I disagree with the ban. For a start, there's no need for it: there are already laws against disorderly behaviour, so if drunken idiots are being a pain, arrest them for that rather than for carrying a drink. Secondly, it doesn't work: you can still see plenty of people wandering around with a drink on Friday and Saturday nights. In other words, it's neither necessary nor sufficient.

The police say they want to stop problems before they happen, which seems sensible on one level, but ethically dubious on another. If we start arresting people because they might be a nuisance in the future, not because they've actually harmed anyone, where is this going to stop? "It's a fair cop, m'lud. I arrested him 'cos he was looking at me funny".

Finally, it makes no distinction in terms of the quantity or manner of drinking. Someone having a glass of wine with a picnic is just as guilty as someone who's just necked a dozen RTDs and is looking for a fight. The police say they'll apply discretion, of course, but there's a danger that discretion will turn into discrimination, or at least the perception thereof. Why did they bang up the homeless while ignoring the nice, white, middle class people?

This isn't a bylaw yet, and you have until the 6th of April to make your submission. Personally, I'll be suggesting that the current bylaw be retained or even scrapped, but since you have to choose one of the three options, I'll go for Option B, which at least allows for a quiet drink with an early dinner. I'll leave the last words to Baudelaire:
"There are wicked drunkards; they are people who are naturally wicked. The wicked man becomes abominable, just as the good man becomes truly excellent."

- On Wine & Hashish (p15)


At 1:31 pm, March 14, 2006, Blogger s. said...

Hear hear! Stoopid 5-0.

Though, uh, isn't "it's a fair cop, m'lud" normally said from the p.o.v. of the nicked, rather than the nicker, as it were?

At 2:03 pm, March 14, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I guess it's mostly used that way, though I thought it could be used that way too.

At 4:22 pm, March 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It infuriates me when people make new laws rather than use the old ones; we have drunk and disorderly charges. Pubs and bottle stores can be prosecuted for selling to drunk people.

Although admitteldy the last probably took a bit of a hit when the police couldn't convince the courts that a publican who assisted someone drink themselves to death with 72 double-shots shared between 4 people was failing in the host responsibility stakes...


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