Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On banning 18-19 year olds from bars (& cigarette tax)

April 29th, 2010

Girl Talk. See: Gordon Campbell IV’s Girl Talk, About Copyright

In what passes for a public debate here about the flow of young New Zealanders across the Tasman and beyond, the focus is always narrowly economic – on comparative wage levels, and on student debt levels. Far too little emphasis has been given to the fact that Australian cities like Melbourne are far more interesting and exciting places to live.

Well, thanks entirely to Sir Geoffrey Palmer and his Law Commission, that reality has just been underlined and Australia’s allure further enhanced. Because while Palmer can justify banning 18-19 year olds from access to liquor outlets, his decision to ban them from bars as well is the height of stupidity – and will virtually ensure the death of a music scene here that is already struggling to survive the recession.

Even the NZ Herald editorial slammed Palmer for not endorsing a split approach on this issue – ban 18-19 year olds from buying booze at outlets, but let them into licensed premises. Because guess what? The problem ones, once you kick them out of bars, won’t be going home to play backgammon with Grandma. They’ll be drinking vodka in public parks, while the vast majority of youth – and everyone else for that matter – will have lost a prime form of urban entertainment for good.

Let me explain. For the past ten years – starting with the heroic efforts of Xan Hamilton and the Mystery Girl firm she founded in Auckland – a small group of promoters have been bringing the best in new and emerging bands to New Zealand. Bands you would otherwise have needed to go to Portland or Montreal or London to see. While doing so, they gave a platform to a lot of Kiwi bands, and a chance to play alongside their musical heroes. I think the Ruby Suns enjoyed playing alongside Animal Collective in 2006, and I can remember the thrill and group hug when local band Collapsing Cities finally got the chance as an opening act to enter the fabled Green Room at the Kings Arms. Funny, touching stuff.

The promoters concerned – I’m talking about Matthew Crawley of Strangenews, Ben Howe who now runs Mystery Girl and Jim Rush (especially) and I with the Galesburg operation in Wellington were largely doing it for love of the music. There really wasn’t much money in it – mere survival was the goal. The point being, 18-19 year olds comprised about a third of our audience and with some shows like the Girl Talk show that Galesburg put on in Wellington, the 18-19 ratio was far higher.

So, with this one stupid recommendation, Palmer would wipe at least one third of a fledgling industry’s consumer base out of existence. Sure, his proposal says only that 18-19 years can’t buy alcohol in bars. Theoretically ( perhaps) that may not ban them from attendance on licensed premises since it could be possible for some bars – and for the Big Day Out and Laneways – to operate some sort of wristband system for buying booze of the sort that the Transmission Room employs, to differentiate between its customers. Clearly it would raise the security costs at concerts, and the net result would mean one third less in profits coming across the bar –and that shortfall could only be met by raising the cost of the venue hire for promoters, who are already battling to survive.

Boo hoo, you might say, for the promoters. Well, more like too bad for the sort of cities we’d all like to live in, where there is some alternative creative life going on. Ten years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that New Zealand needed to try and broaden its image – and show the world that we were not merely an outdoorsy, rugby loving, sheep loving kind of place. City life here will never pose much of a threat to Barcelona, but a café society of sorts did take root here, and started to grow. Palmer’s approach, if adopted by the government, would turn back the clock.

Largely thanks to the recession, both Strangenews and Galesburg are currently on the ropes. Together, they brought over 60 shows to this country in the last four years – including Animal Collective, Of Montreal, Jim White and John Doe, Vic Chestnutt, Dirty Projectors, Architecture in Helsinki etc etc…Banning 18-19 year olds from bars will virtually ensure they don’t revive, and that no one will fill their place. Urban life will be the poorer and local bands will miss out, and will find it that much harder to get the gigs and exposure they need.

Palmer, as mentioned, had an entirely valid option in front of him, but refused to take it. To repeat : he could and should have split the age restriction so that it barred purchases by 18-19 year olds from liquor outlets, but did not rule out their ability to have a drink and hear a band on licensed premises. That would have been a sane, intelligent option that treats young adults as adults, not children – and that didn’t, by way of collateral damage, destroy a key part of the urban culture that people have been trying to foster here, against the odds.

On his website, No Right Turn called the Palmer mindset “paedophobia” and he’s dead right. There’s a fear and resentment of the young at work here. New Zealand loves young people when they’re dead and glorified at Gallipoli, but it hates them in cars or in bars. Ironic really, when you think about how much my generation – the boomers – used to resent this sort of attitude. Back in the 1960s and 70s, a lot of boomers were proud to say they’d become the people their parents had warned them against. Now, many of them have simply become their parents. Australia must look very enticing.


The tax hike on cigarettes

So, the Maori Party have won a tax – and price – hike on cigarettes. No wonder the government felt tactically obliged this week to rule out a tax on alcohol as well – that really would have made them look like the fabled Black Budget crowd of the Nordmeyer era. But it highlights the hypocrisy of the entire process. Lets not do what will actually work ie by lifting the price on both of our socially approved dangerous drugs. That would be politically damaging. So lets see – who is expendable in this lifeboat, and who isn’t? The Maori Party are crucial. Can’t raise too many taxes at once though, because Rodney and his mates won’t like it. Nor would the lower and middle income voters that National has been successfully poaching from Labour.

In this scenario, its always easier to beat up on the young. It’s the ‘shoot the cabin boy’ approach to making policy.


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