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Sunday, 23 December, 2001, 02:14 GMT
Kiwis unimpressed by booze ban
Auckland residents in park
'How can having a beer suddenly be illegal?'
With the news that New Zealand's parliament has accidentally passed legislation outlawing the carrying of alcoholic drinks in public - and effectively introducing a form of prohibition - BBC News Online sent Greg Ward onto the streets of Auckland to find out what the average Kiwi thinks of a potentially dry Christmas.

Even as the law received final approval from the governor-general, many people were already openly flouting it.

The bill was supposed to ban people from consuming or carrying alcohol in designated areas or face a $206 (NZ $500) fine.

But a mistake in the wording means the ban could cover any public area in the country.

"An alcohol ban that was introduced for a few discreet places now covers every park, every beach, every road and footpath," said opposition National Party MP Nick Smith.

In Auckland, soaring summer temperatures tempted large numbers to the beach and sidewalk cafes of Mission Bay, a popular seaside village in the inner city.

It's crazy - the police should be out there chasing real crime

On the pavement, in full public view, restaurant patrons sipped chardonnay without a policeman in sight.

Across the road, on a crowded public reserve overlooking the beach, one group of four young people had stopped to share bottled beer on the grass, in warm late afternoon sun.

It's not good enough to say the law won't be enforced

"How can having a few beers suddenly be illegal?" asked Peter, 21.

"Its crazy. The police should be out there chasing real crime."

"I can't believe they let a mistake go through like that," said Francesca, 20.

"Its not good enough to say the law won't be enforced. They should change it back."

Kiwi lifestyle

Nearby, in the neighbouring village of St Heliers, wine merchant David Millar was worried the law would confuse ordinary New Zealanders.

St Heliers Wine merchant David Millar
David Millar: Customers could get confused
"Enjoying wine outside at a restaurant or having a few beers at a beach barbecue is an integral part of the New Zealand lifestyle," he said.

"Some families may now choose to play it safe by staying home and simply having a few drinks in the back yard."

'Cancel MPs' Christmas'

Company director Phil Smith, one of Mr Millar's regular customers, said he was angry the law on drinking in public places was rushed through, even though it was known to contain a serious flaw.

Company director Phil Smith
Phil Smith: MPs should repeal new law
"The government should repeal it immediately," he said.

"They should cancel their Christmas plans and sort it out."

"The law is the law. You can't say some are for real and some can be ignored."

Mr Smith is not the only one unhappy with the legislation. The hospitality industry has called it "silly" and says it should be completely ignored.

"We don't have a problem with the principle of local authorities banning alcohol in designated public places," said Bruce Robertson of the Hospitality Industry Association. "As long as due process has gone through."

Common-sense approach

Prime Minister Helen Clark has said the faulty legislation will be fixed next year.

Communities are sick and tired of drunken hoons

PM Helen Clark
She told Wellington's Evening Post newspaper she expected police would take a common-sense approach in the meantime.

"I think most people would agree the intent of the law is good," she said.

"Communities are sick and tired of drunken hoons making everyone else's New Years Eve miserable, and there is a desire to do something about it."

Staff at Police National Headquarters say they will heed the prime minister's call to exercise discretion and common sense in situations where the legislation could be enforced.

Police spokesman Rob Lee said the new legislation was not significantly different to what has been in place historically.

The controversial drinking bill has gone down well with at least one sector - alcohol support groups.

Alcohol Health Watch spokesman Roger Eccles said councils and local authorities must be careful when implicating the law and must consult the public.

He said it would make traditional holiday hotspots much safer and more enjoyable for families.

See also:

20 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dry Christmas looms for NZ drinkers
26 Jul 01 | UK
Island of liberal drinking
02 May 01 | UK Politics
End near for 'antiquated' pub laws
25 Aug 99 | UK
Appeal to reform drink laws
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