Rugby was the winner on the day when Parliament passed the Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Rugby World Cup 2015 Extended Trading Hours) Amendment Act 2015 by 99 -21 (a margin greater than the All Blacks v Namibia game).
The Bill was sponsored by Act leader David Seymour, although it likely received some behind the scenes support by National. With Labour viewing alcohol matters as a conscience issue, 6 Labour MPs were able to vote against the Bill along with the Maori and Green Party MPs.
Why the Act was required
The basis for passing the Act was that under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, the national default hours require premises to close between 4am – 8am, an unfortunate time for fans of Northern Hemisphere based sports. While councils may alter the national maximum default hours through a Local Alcohol Policy, there is currently no policy in NZ which provides for more liberal hours than the default. This meant special alcohol licences were required for each individual premises in order to sell and supply alcohol during Rugby World Cup (RWC) games, and each application needed to be determined by the relevant District Licensing Committee.
The RWC is not the first international sporting event to be broadcast between the 4am-8am period. Last year, the FIFA Football World Cup was televised at similar times, and the special licence process was required to allow bars to open. This produced some odd outcomes, including decisions which allowed persons to be present at a tavern but did not authorise any alcohol to be sold or supplied.
The number of special licence applications made for the RWC is unknown, although anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers were not significant. In Auckland only one opposed application had been determined prior to the Act’s passage.
Much was made by supporters of the Bill that the process for obtaining special licences was too difficult, too expensive and just too bureaucratic. That is true where an application is opposed. For the RWC games the NZ Police’s national policy was to oppose applications unless licensees would agree to a raft of conditions including 100% pre-sales of tickets; requiring events to provide entertainment beyond watching rugby such as pub quizzes, speakers or themed events; and the imposition of a one-way door policy. Selling 100% of tickets 12 hours in advance of a televised rugby game was not palatable to many licensees and would likely have had an effect on the success of the events. Similarly, running pub quizzes during the early morning hours while trying to watch a sporting fixture has an air of artificiality about it. While the leading decision on the subject did indicate that more than watching a TV was needed to support granting a special licence and that there needed to be an element of control over who attended the event, it did not provide express support for what the NZ Police were seeking.
Opponents of the new amendment Act claimed it would result in an increase in alcohol related harm and enable 24 hour drinking for a period of 6 weeks. While there may be some who would seek to take advantage of the longer licensing hours, the Act attempted to kerb any potential for such an outcome. Indeed, 24 hour trading for 6 weeks is not an outcome that is possible under the Act. Recent media coverage indicates some bars haven’t sold a single alcoholic beverage during some of the early games, although that probably will not stay the position as the RWC gains in momentum and the knock-out phase starts.
The Act’s provisions
The Act requires each licensee who wishes to trade to:
· Give 7 days’ notice to the Police;
· Adopt a noise management plan;
· Not allow use of outdoor areas;
· Not dispose of any rubbish or bottles during the period;
· Not allow any outdoor speakers or audio; and
· Not open the premises (and then close the premises) within defined period prior to and after the game.
The Act specifically requires the focus of those attending to be principally or solely on watching the rugby – the complete opposite of that which was needed for a special licence. That is a common sense outcome. The Act also interestingly temporarily overrides any restrictions that may otherwise exist under a district plan or under the RMA.
Opening for the games is not available to a licensee who has had a suspension to their licence within the preceding 12 months. Perhaps the principal compliance ‘check and balance’ is that any application by the Police to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority to suspend or cancel a licence that alleges a breach of the Act will mean that the premise cannot enjoy the benefit of the extended hours for the remainder of the RWC. In that respect, the extended hours represents an ‘easy to get, easy to lose’ situation.
We understand that Police have dedicated significant resources to undertake compliance checks during the RWC. That, coupled with an indication that any breaches will not be dealt with through a traditional graduated response, means that licensees will need to ensure that they are not red carded during the extended hours period and are particularly vigilant in complying with the Act at all times.