Let them have fun

Natanael Rother
Insights Newsletter
14 June, 2019

“Nothing good happens after 3 am,” Auckland’s top-ranking police officer once said.

“Facts tend to be overanalysed,” his Wellingtonian counterpart claimed.

Unfortunately, personal opinions and anecdotal evidence like this about opening hours and alcohol licences of bars and party venues often decide the direction of policy proposals for regulating the night-time economy.  

Yet, such arbitrary behaviour is typical – abroad and in New Zealand.

For example, in 2014 the government of New South Wales introduced new controls for the nightlife across large parts of Sydney. They were obviously motivated by the tragic fatal one-punch attacks on young Thomas Kerry in 2012 and Daniel Christie in 2013.

Tragic cases make for bad laws. Assaults had been declining since 2008.

The modus operandi is similar in New Zealand. One example is the debate in Wellington about opening hours that started in 2013. There was no substantial reason to prefer a 4 am or 3 am closing time over 5 am for bars and night clubs. In fact, the share of people consuming alcohol has decreased significantly in the last decade. But measures to reduce alcohol supply remain a favourite tool in the wowser’s arsenal. 

One reason people put so much faith in policies based on such shaky grounds is a moral one. In today’s world, paternalism expects us to always behave rationally. Going out till late does not fit this picture.

Social pressure also tends to find its way into politics. Proponents of an all-caring nanny state believe people need to be guided to a better lifestyle. The argument goes that revellers underestimate the damage of their fun nights out (for themselves and others in society). Or, that addicts cannot change their behaviour even though they may know it is in their best interest to do so.

Whatever the nature of the paternalism, it should not be used as a tool to create public policy. It restricts the freedoms of those who willingly and responsibly choose to go clubbing, meet friends in a bar, or enjoy a midnight snack with a beer in a food market.

Undisputedly, a thrilling nightlife comes with associated problems that need to be tackled. Just think of nuisance and litter management. The focus however must not lie solely on restricting nightlife but also facilitating it for the associated social and economic benefits.

Who knows, someone somewhere might have fun after 3 am. Hardly a terrible thought, is it?

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