Do you remember Alcatraz?
No, I’m not talking about the infamous prison island offshore from San Francisco.
Rather, I refer to the Alcatraz that once sat at our doorstep, the temporary holding cells that used to accommodate the drunks and riff-raff that made trouble at Mount Main Beach during New Year’s in the 2000s and early 2010s.
Harken back to the good old days with me for a moment. Pull on your low-rise jeans, don a long tank top and buckle a purely decorative chunky belt around your hips, swipe on some sticky lip gloss, and come with me to the party of a lifetime — the drunken, messy fun that once dominated the Mount during the summer break.
Teens and young adults used to come from all over the country to get drunk and have a blast at the beach party, complete with musicians performing at the temporary stage on the sand.
It was glorious, uninhibited fun — until it wasn’t, of course. Thousands of people mixed with an abundance of alcohol is a recipe for chaos. Brawls, sexual assaults, and broken glass were the order of the day.
Police officers were shipped in from around the countryside to help deal with the troublemakers, who were promptly taken to Alcatraz and processed through what one senior sergeant described as a “production line” before being released a few hours later, presumably once a bit of sobriety was regained.
One of the worst years was 2008, when 191 people were arrested.
These days, the Mount at New Year’s is a much-more sober affair — literally. The pubs and bars are still pumping with revelling patrons, of course, and the police are still there patrolling, but the chaos of years past has largely evaporated. Much to the relief of the people who live there, I’m sure.
What happened? Well, I think it came down to the efforts of the council and the police.
Tauranga City Council decided it was going to stop hosting the beach party and instead put on more family-friendly events around the city, including fireworks displays. Stricter bylaws on the consumption of alcohol in public were introduced. And a heavy police presence diffused situations before they began.
It’s amazing how effective laws and bylaws can be at reducing harm, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, there were many complaints at the time that the council was ruining everything. And, yeah, from certain perspectives maybe it did. I do feel a little bad for today’s young folk that they won’t get to experience the fun side of that kind of party.
But sometimes there comes a point where keeping a few people safe is more important than giving the masses a good time. And those kinds of decisions are always going to be unpopular with some.
A change to the Local Alcohol Policy by Tauranga City Council’s strategy risk and finance committee means that from February 12, 2024, alcohol will not be available to buy from stores until 10am in Tauranga. At present, sales can occur from 7am.
Understandably, some business owners are not pleased at the changes, particularly those who open before 10am.
“All it’s doing is inconveniencing our customers and making our staff police this rule that just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Vetro Mediterranean Foods co-owner Christine Gore told Local Democracy Reporting.
And yeah, I totally see her point. What a pain for employees to be redirecting their customers all the time and risking their ire.
Super Liquor Greerton owner Doug Harvie said most of the problem customers came in at closing, not opening — “… organising grog for late-night or all-night parties and they cause us the most problems”.
It must be a tricky balancing act — reducing harm while balancing the livelihoods of business owners. And it does seem a bit peculiar to restrict the early-morning sales rather than the evening sales when, at least by the logic of a layman like myself, the most harm is likely to be caused.
But I’m also of the belief that any action is good action.
In June, the University of Otago, Christchurch published research that found alcohol causes more widespread harm to New Zealand society than any illegal drug, followed by methamphetamine, synthetic cannabinoids and tobacco.
Yup, that’s right. The report claims alcohol causes more harm in Aotearoa than meth.
“Our study has identified that a significant proportion of drug harm arises from the legal status of the drug, rather from the drug itself,” study co-author Professor Joe Boden said.
Not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic. Most of us can have a drink or two and that’s it. But those of us who do have a problem are causing a significant amount of harm to the rest of us and, in my opinion, that’s enough of a reason to justify stricter laws and bylaws.
Will this particular bylaw cause any significant harm reduction? Ah, probably not. I would think the problem drinkers would still be sleeping off their hangovers first thing in the morning, not out buying booze.
In my opinion, cancelling an hour or three of early-morning sales won’t do a lot to reduce problem drinking.
But it’s a good start.
Sonya Bateson is a writer, reader and crafter raising her family in Tauranga. She is a Millennial who enjoys eating avocado on toast, drinking lattes and defying stereotypes. As a sceptic, she reserves the right to change her mind when presented with new evidence.