Amicus Curiae: MPs Say “Nah, Yeah” to the Beersies – the Rugby World Cup Booze Bill

Rebecca Hallas, content contributor

Regulations surrounding the hours bars are allowed to be open may soon be relaxed. A controversial bill proposed by Act Party leader David Seymour ventures to allow bars to stay open from 4am to 8am during the upcoming Rugby World Cup to allow fans to watch live coverage of matches. Due to the timing of certain games, bars could be open continuously for up to 68 hours.

While the National government has said they would prefer the legislation only apply to All Blacks games and knockout matches, Labour and New Zealand First are pushing for the legislation to apply to other large sports events. This would include the Summer Olympics, with the 2016 games to be held in Rio di Janerio – a time zone that might require more early morning starts. The Green Party, initially opposed to the Bill, has now merely requested that changes be made to it to place restrictions on bars that have previously breached liquor licenses.

In contrast to this rare display of multi-partism, many groups oppose the Bill.

Police have expressed concern over bars potentially abusing the law, as the Bill may effectively allow 24 hour licensing throughout the duration of the World Cup. Additionally, the Hawke’s Bay Community Action Youth and Drugs Team have indicated apprehension towards the proposed legislation potentially encouraging Kiwi binge drinking culture. This sentiment is echoed by the New Zealand Medical Association, who feel that by “linking alcohol so overtly with our national sporting icons” the Bill is “contrary to the clearly identified need to change New Zealand’s drinking culture”. The NZMA also condemns the likelihood of an increase in alcohol-related harm as a result of the proposal; harm which doctors in New Zealand already see regularly.

Indeed, a study by two junior doctors found that between 11pm Saturday nights, and 8am Sunday mornings, one in three patients at Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department were there as a result of alcohol consumption. Furthermore, alcohol consumption in New Zealand contributes heavily to the number of fatal car crashes, drowning incidents, and fire fatalities. In total, between 600 and 800 New Zealanders die every year from alcohol-related causes.

In evaluating those statistics, it is unsurprising that the media often discusses our drinking culture. A Health Promotion Agency study reported that over half of respondents agreed that binge drinking was a part of Kiwi culture. Introducing legislation that promotes drinking throughout the night and into the early morning may only serve to reinforce this potentially deadly social phenomenon.

In addition to the dangers inflicted on the drinkers themselves, the impact of drinking culture on domestic violence victims further ignites concerns about this legislation. Chief Executive of Women’s Refuge, Ang Jury, stated that while not the sole cause, alcohol is an important factor in domestic violence, and often “adds to [the] severity” of it.

New Zealand already has a poor record of domestic violence. Any legislative proposal that increases the amount of alcohol circulating in our society might therefore work against recent moves to reduce domestic violence levels in New Zealand. Therefore there is strong reason to follow the approach taken in England recently, where a domestic violence campaign was released raising awareness about the spike in abuse during major sporting events. New Zealand has experienced similar spikes, with police deputy commissioner Glenn Dubier noting that during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, domestic violence increased during the opening week. Adding increased access to alcohol to these events only serves to worsen the situation of those living with abusers. As Ang Jury noted, there is no way of reducing “the inevitable harm associated with extended access to alcohol over the course of the Rugby World Cup”.

How can we reconcile supporting our national team while accounting for the negative social costs of the few who may choose to abuse the legislation? It has been suggested that bars be allowed to remain open for early morning matches but should not be allowed to serve alcohol. This would provide a place for those who wish to watch in a group, and allow those without other means to access live sports coverage to watch the games; but without the risk of alcohol-related harm. At the same time, of course, we are confronted by the age of question of whether the harmless autonomy of the majority must be compromised to prevent the acts of a harmful minority.

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