Emergency and military services could lose liquor licences exemptions

Hundreds of Fire, Police, and Defence Force bars could soon be forced to get liquor licences to operate.

The Justice Minister wants to review exemptions given to emergency and military services.

The review comes as one father continues to fight for change, after the death of his son.

Dave Cochrane still counts the number of days since his son died. On the day he meets with Newshub, it's 1,220.

"The worst thing is no matter what you do, nothing brings him back," he says.

Luke died in 2016, after a memorial service at the Whitianga Fire Station. After becoming intoxicated, he wandered off and drowned in a nearby waterway.

"You think that when your child, your oldest boy goes to a memorial at a fire station, that he's going to be safe," Dave says.

The memorial was held at the fire station 'canteen' - where alcohol is served on site.

Like police social bars and Defence Force messes, fire station canteens don't need a liquor licence to serve alcohol.

They're exempt under the law and all they need is a code of practice which they write and enforce themselves.

After Luke's death, the coroner found a serious breach of Fire's Code of Practice.

The event should not have been approved as it didn't meet the criteria of an official function.

For a time, the Whitianga fire canteen was stopped from selling booze as a result.

But the Coroner thought it was 'too far' to say Luke died 'because' of this breach.

His dad though says licence exemptions mean it's too easy for people to avoid accountability.

"They should be just as culpable as a pub or a bar manager if they screw up," Dave says.

Dave first contacted Newshub after we revealed alcohol-related problems in the Defence Force.

He's not the only one demanding the services have liquor licences to serve booze.

"They absolutely deserve these protections and they should have no exemptions from our liquor laws," says Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson.

When our alcohol laws were last reviewed, the Law Commission recommended the exemptions be abolished. That never happened.

Now, Justice Minister Andrew Little is planning to take a fresh look at our liquor laws.

"Which include exemptions and all the other problematic things which have been cropping up over the last few years," he says.

It won't happen before the election, but Little is taking Dave's concerns seriously.

"There should never be a guarantee that these exemptions will continue when it comes to a review of the law," Little says.

Fire, Police and Defence all told Newshub they take host responsibility seriously.

Fire and Emergency says it is sorry the Cochranes lost their son, and has since reviewed how their canteens operate.

The Cochranes though, aren't reassured.

"We don't want it to happen to anyone else, and as it stands at the moment, I'm not convinced there's sufficient rules and regulations and changes in place to stop that happening again," Dave says.

He says these premises need to have liquor licences to make them as safe as other bars and restaurants - so that another family doesn't end up looking back on a life cut short.