A mix of intoxication, illicit drug use and sexual offending at the Rhythm & Alps festival in the Cardrona Valley causes an ‘‘underbelly’’ of harm to patrons that goes unreported, police say.
Police national co-ordinator of alcohol harm prevention Acting Senior Sergeant Ian Paulin made the claim at a district licensing committee hearing in Queenstown on Tuesday to consider the event’s alcohol licence application.
Now in its 13th year, the annual New Year’s Eve music and camping festival will be held from December 29 to 31, with 10,000 partygoers and more than 6000 campers expected to attend.
The committee of chairman Lyal Cocks and members Phil Jones and John Mann is considering the application after it was opposed by police and Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ).
HNZ health promotion adviser Alannah Smyth, appearing for the medical officer of health, said it opposed the application because festival organiser Alex Turnbull had been unwilling to reduce the alcohol serve limit or the licensing hours.
Giving young patrons the ability to buy four 400ml alcoholic drinks at a time for 16 hours straight was ‘‘not safe nor responsible’’, Ms Smyth said.
Acting Snr Sgt Paulin said the police drafted national guidelines for large-scale events a few months ago, which included a twostandard-drink serving limit per patron.
Although the festival had a good track record, its management plans did not sufficiently mitigate the risks of harm from alcohol, drugs and sexual assaults.
The combination of alcohol, party drug ecstasy, and the typical 18-to-25-year age range of its patrons caused an ‘‘underbelly that nobody wants to talk about’’.
Police were not advocating ‘‘prohibition’’ or shutting down the event, but had a responsibility to the parents of its young patrons, who had a perception the event was safe.
Rhythm & Alps counsel Tanya Surrey said the application met the criteria of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, and the festival had operated for 13 years with a ‘‘solid track record’’.
The four-drink limit was consistent with similar events elsewhere in the country, Ms Surrey said.
Police claims of incidents going unreported was a reflection of crime in society generally.
‘‘It’s not appropriate for the committee to focus on things we don’t know happened.’’
Mr Turnbull said he was employing about 90 security staff for this month’s event and had detailed alcohol and drug management plans.
In the festival’s history, there had been only ‘‘six or seven’’ arrests related to intoxication.
The event’s duty manager held regular meetings with emergency services staff to discuss crowd behaviour and would comply with any police directive to reduce the alcohol serving limit to two drinks per customer at any time, Mr Turnbull said.
Although there would be no drug-checking service at this month’s festival, he planned to provide one at future events once he was confident of doing it ‘‘very well’’.
The deadline for written submissions by the applicant and HNZ was noon yesterday. Mr Cocks indicated the committee would approve the application, with conditions, by the end of tomorrow.