3 Nov 2015

Calls to relax bar rules after RWC opening hours extension

5:56 am on 3 November 2015

The hospitality industry is hailing extended bar opening hours for the Rugby World Cup as a success and evidence that special licencing can be relaxed.

Wellington fans celebrate the win.

Wellington fans celebrate the win. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

Thousands of New Zealanders turned out to watch the tournament at local bars which were allowed to open one hour before and after games without a special licence, after MPs passed a special law in August.

ACT MP David Seymour's members bill had passed despite concern and opposition from police, various health organisations and the Green Party.

Wellington bar owner Matt McLaughlin said his bars were full for most of the knockout games and with reasonable numbers in the pool games.

He said the crowds that descended on his Four Kings sports bar were not as wild as some feared.

"Everyone was extremely well behaved. But, no surprises, we had a few people in some of the late night games, the 4am games, the people who had been out all night and were just looking for the last drink, but we stopped them at the door and said 'not our cup of tea'.

"We're open for the rugby and the rugby only and the majority of them were happy."

Wellington bar owner Matt McLaughlin

Wellington bar owner Matt McLaughlin Photo: RNZ/ Tom Furley

He said the success made a case for doing it again.

"I think we have proven over this event that if there are special events or if people apply for special licences for special occasions that yes, people behave themselves. The rules are in place, we enforce those rules so it can be done. It can be done well."

Police said it would be several weeks before the full impact of the World Cup on police resources was known, and details around the number of game-related arrests and drink driving offences was available.

"We have worked closely with a range of licensed premises and organisations to ensure hosts have acted responsibly and patrons enjoyed themselves safely during the games," said Acting Assistant Commissioner superintendent Dave Trappitt.

Fans watch nervously during the second half of the RWC 2015 final.

Fans watch nervously during the second half of the RWC 2015 final. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

However, police in the four main centres reported punters were generally well behaved, with no major incidents.

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Bruce Robertson estimated as many as 500 bars opened for the games. He said had the legislation not gone ahead only about 10 percent of those would have been able to screen matches.

Feedback over people's conduct should dispel any of the earlier concerns, he said.

"The police were opposed to the Rugby World Cup legislation. They indicated there were going to be riots in the street and problems with drunken people putting off school kids going to school. Clearly the New Zealand public has said 'police, you're wrong, we can actually act responsibly and we did'.

"This Rugby World Cup legislation and the behaviour of the public and industry has demonstrated that we are responsible and we can be trusted and we in fact don't need draconian legislation dictating what and how and when we can drink."

ACT MP David Seymour

ACT MP David Seymour Photo: RNZ/ Tom Furley

ACT leader and MP behind the Bill, David Seymour, said feedback had been great.

"We've now opened broader questions, there are people for example in the music industry who question whether it's right that they're restricted from opening, and whether the process for getting special licences for future tournaments shouldn't be opened up. It may well be that we overreacted somewhat when we passed the Sale and Supply Act in 2012.

"I think we have at least opened the door to reconsidering some of the more draconian restrictions that have been put in place over the last three years."

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague objected to the bill on the grounds there were not enough safeguards and there was concern it could increase alcohol-related harm.

He said he had heard and seen examples of drunk patrons spilling out onto the street after games and would need to wait until the full impact of the bill was known before agreeing to it in the future.

"If the evidence from the police's experience and the experience of emergency departments is that actually there was no increase in the harm that they had to deal with or risk they had to deal with, then actually probably I would take a different perspective into a similar set of circumstances in the future.

"But I suspect that that's not going to be the case."