Booze ban blues in Queenstown


A QUEENSTOWN bar boss, peeved at not getting exemption to trade during Easter, says the new local booze committee is out of touch.

Bunker owner Cam Mitchell estimates he’ll lose $45,000 in revenue after the local District Licensing Committee declined his application to open late on public holidays next Easter weekend.

It means he’ll have to adhere to the law, which prevents people being served alcohol alone without food on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Mitchell says he spent $3000 to apply for a special license to run an ‘Easter Music Festival’ for four days from Thursday night till Sunday night at his popular Cow Lane cocktail bar with high-profile DJs brought in from around the country.

Bunker got a special licence for it last Easter – since then new national liquor laws kicked in in December aimed at improving the country’s drinking culture and reducing booze-related harm.

Mitchell, who on Monday was turned down by the local committee’s three sitting members – Judge Bill Unwin, Queenstowner Malika Rose and Queenstown Lakes District deputy mayor Lyal Cocks – fumes: “They gave it a good bit of consideration but they can’t get their heads around four DJs costing $4000 being an event – because they’re all 85 and a man standing behind a console spinning records doesn’t constitute entertainment to them.

“But it does for a lot of people. They’re not young these people who’re making the decisions.”

Mitchell says he’s annoyed and disappointed: “The event last year was well received, well run, didn’t cause any problems and gave people some entertainment over Easter.

“Of course we made money and it was a very successful weekend which shows demand, but at the same time it’s about being an international tourist destination, being open and offering something to do for the people who are here in the evenings. 

“The law change was supposed to give power to councils to be able to do something about this – write their own policy and it seems like they’ve gone backwards because they’re too scared to set a precedent.

“I know we wave our arms around and say we’re an international tourist destination and try to get away with a lot because of that but so we should.

“There should be a distinct set of rules for Queenstown as an anomaly to the rest of the country. You can’t shut the town down,” Mitchell says.
Interestingly, Cocks is not unsympathetic and personally disagrees with the new act retaining bans on alcohol at venues during Good Friday and Easter Sunday other than for those who are dining.

“It would have been great if they’d removed them from the new act. I don’t see the need for prohibition on the sacrosanct days – I think things have changed.”

However, Cocks takes issue with Mitchell’s insinuation him and the fellow committee members are old fogies: “I think he’s being very emotive.

Malika isn’t what you call an old fogie, I don’t think I am.”

Cocks, 56, says they all have a lot of liquor licensing experience – he’s had restaurants and accommodation businesses – and overseen plenty of applications.

“You have to look at what [Bunker] were proposing – how different was it to what they normally do? You can’t just say ‘It’s a special licence because I’m bringing in a DJ from Auckland. That’s business as usual.”

Cocks says he asked all business operators applying at Monday’s sitting if they’d submitted on the new law and none had: “This was an important piece of legislation.”

Mitchell admits he wasn’t among those who lodged more than 3000 submissions to Parliament at the time but adds: “I thought the whole point was the changes were giving the power to towns and local councils to make their own bylaws.”

Cocks tells Mountain Scene the written decision will indicate what it’ll take to get special licences: “I sympathise but you’ve got to understand it’s an act of Parliament. Basically these applicants were asking us to bend or break the law.”

Mitchell’s application was opposed by police and the local Medical Officer of Health Derek Bell – prompting Hospitality Association of NZ chief executive Bruce Robertson to say: “We’re certainly very concerned police and health officials seem to be taking a very negative approach to what constitutes a special license.

“It should be clearly focused on alcohol harm. For events that have been well run and acceptable in the past there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to get a special licence.” 

Public Health South medical officer of health Bell says proposals didn’t meet criteria required for a special licence but the decision was ultimately the committee’s.

“These hearings were not an opportunity to rewrite the law or get approval to break the law.”