A local publican is calling for a higher police presence in bars to deter underage drinkers instead of relying on sting operations.
Forty-two enforcement applications were considered by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority against Hawke's Bay operators last year, 15 against liquor licence holders and 27 against managers' certificates.
Hospitality NZ Hawke's Bay president and owner of the West Shore Beach Inn, Jeremy Bayliss, said while any liquor licence breach was unsatisfactory, most breaches tended to come from police sting operations "designed to catch people out".
"Personally, I'm not a believer in stings," Mr Bayliss said.
Rather, he would like to see police in bars more often outside of sting operations, "catching real offenders and prosecuting them" for underage drinking.
"Offenders are the people who are breaking the law in the first place," he said.
"It's a bit like people who drive cars fast, they don't prosecute Holden or Ford, they prosecute the driver."
Mr Bayliss had worked in the Bay hospitality industry for 27 years and said local on-premises operators were "outstanding". The number of enforcement actions was not a fair reflection of the industry, he said.
Last August Havelock North's award-winning Pipi Bar was caught serving liquor to minors twice in 15 months and ordered to close its doors for three days.
Te Mata Four Square superette copped a three-day suspension from selling liquor the same month after being caught serving minors.
Two other local bars faced similar licence suspension applications. The Happy Tav was alleged to have breached Good Friday trading restrictions, however, the authority refused the enforcement application after finding police had not proven the allegations.
Diva Bar and Bistro in Havelock North was forced to close for most of Labour weekend after allowing intoxicated patrons to remain on the premises after a Rugby World Cup semifinal. Two of its directors, Gerald and Barbara Beach, also had their general managers' certificates suspended because of drink-drive convictions.
Nationally last year more than 740 enforcement applications were considered by the authority. About 630 cases resulted in suspensions and 42 in cancellations.
The Ministry of Justice says the most common breaches are selling alcohol to minors, having intoxicated patrons in bars, and breaching licence conditions.
Ministry acting general manager of special jurisdictions Marguerite Delbet said the the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, set to be enacted later this year, included measures to address problem areas and a scheme to deal with persistent non-compliance.
"Licensees or managers who commit offences three times within three years can lose their licence or certificate," she said.
But critics of the legislation say the Government missed an opportunity to change the nation's harmful drinking culture.
Hospitality NZ chief executive Bruce Robertson said the hospitality industry was being unfairly targeted for New Zealand's drinking problem.
Enforcement decisions being made by the authority would now be made by local licensing committees with the power to impose conditions and restrictions on operators, adding compliance costs without reducing alcohol harm. However, on-licence premises now sold less than 25 per cent of all alcohol, he said.
"Simply applying more conditions to an industry that's actually operating pretty well now is not going to influence the behaviour of New Zealanders who drink, when most of the irresponsible alcohol consumption is away from licensed premises," Mr Robertson said.
"If you want to change people's behaviour, then you need to send a signal that it's not okay to get drunk."
Hospitality NZ wanted it made an offence to be drunk in a public place, which would put more responsibility back on Kiwi drinkers.
Currently, the only people held responsible for drunkenness were licensees, Mr Robertson said.
Licensees face fines of up to $10,000.
Enforcement applications considered by the Authority
(Year to November 12, 2012)
15 against licences in Hawke's Bay (13 in 2011, 16 in 2010)
27 against managers' certificates in Hawke's Bay (27 in 2011, 15 in 2010)
298 applications against licences nationally (331 in 2011, 338 in 2010).
4 licences were cancelled, 254 suspended, two had "varied" outcomes, and 38 enforcement applications refused, adjourned or withdrawn.
443 applications against managers' certificates nationally (489 in 2011, 482 in 2010).
38 certificates were cancelled, 376 suspended, and 29 refused, adjourned or withdrawn.
Source: Ministry of Justice