Thursday 27 August 2015

Special Licences

So, what's the deal with special licences then?

The Greens' minority view on legislation enabling extended bar hours during the Rugby World Cup noted that special licences can do the job that the legislation is meant to do, and that the committee heard no evidence of special licence applications being refused and no submissions from licensees dissatisfied with the process.

Here's the ODT from a couple weeks ago:
Hospitality Association of New Zealand Otago branch president Mark Scully said it was a ''positive move''.
''It's a great move - it's good for the community,'' he said.
''The people it will advantage will be those who can't stay at home to watch the games.''
Under existing legislation, bars could apply for a special licence to open for world cup games, but the process was ''very daunting'' and expensive, Mr Scully said.
The Dunedin City Council had received two applications by yesterday for licences to screen world cup games.
Both bids were opposed by police and a hearing was set down for a fortnight's time, council liquor licensing co-ordinator Kevin Mechen said.
Whether that hearing proceeded would depend on the nature of the legislation passed by parliament, he said.
He expected further applications for special licences to come in as the tournament advanced if Mr Seymour's Bill was unsuccessful.
The Otago Daily Times understands police had sought to impose further conditions on those wanting to open for world cup games such as ticket sale entry, bunting and that bars be forced to close before reopening for the games.
Mr Scully said measures such as those proposed and the cost of a special licence meant many bars would not bother to apply.
The Greens went on to note that while they didn't get submissions from bar owners during the short notice period for written submissions, they had a pile of submissions on that short notice from the NZ Med Association, the DHBs, Public Health folks and the Health Promotion Agency.

I suppose that an alternative explanation is that small bars can't make time to provide quick turnaround written submissions while public health lobbyists employed by the government to write on the evils of alcohol are able to, on short notice, provide written submissions on the evils of alcohol.

I agree with the Greens in one respect though. They recommend that a better approach would have Parliament encourage the District Licencing Committees that conditions on special licences be reasonable. That is the more general problem and the more general solution. But it requires having a chat with those veto players who use the power to object to impose rather onerous conditions, including ones that Parliament has already rejected.

My column in last week's Insights newsletter:
The power to say no is also the power to make the rules, or at least in part.

Parliament legislates. But it also makes rules giving other people a bit of legislative power too. Parliament does this whenever it sets policies letting someone hold up or block someone else’s otherwise lawful activities. These "veto players" can demand concessions in exchange for not vetoing.

Suppose your house has heritage features. A heritage society could threaten to make it hard for you to get consent for an addition onto the back of the house - unless you incorporate features that make them happy. Maybe they do not have the explicit right to do that, but because RMA processes let them make things hard for you, their veto power lets them extract concessions.

The Dominion Post this week reported on the police’s use of veto power around alcohol policy. The police recently have seemed to be trying to establish regulatory powers that they were never granted through the Sale and Supply of Liquor Act. Because police and medical officers of health can hold up publicans’ and bottle shops’ liquor licences, they can demand concessions. In Wellington, they are only supporting new bottle stores downtown if the shops run restricted trading hours and only sell expensive products.

Bar and bottle shop owners who do not want trouble with the police play along because that is the safer route. The costs to them of licence objections or of heavy handed police enforcement are too high. While the government explicitly rejected alcohol minimum pricing last year; the police are implementing it anyway, store by store.

Parliament last week had to legislate around some of these veto players. The 2012 Sale and Supply of Liquor Act provided special permits to let bars open at non-standard hours during international sporting events. The Committee Report was explicit that this was one of the points of special permits. But, the veto players have said that international rugby matches on their own do not justify a special licence. And police have objected to World Cup special license applications.

David Seymour’s bill allowing extended hours during the Rugby World Cup is great. But there is a bigger issue at play: the government needs to rein in the police lest Parliament again have to legislate around the veto player it created.

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