1492314695451 - Not too hard. Not too soft. The Goldilocks approach to exercising power

Not too hard. Not too soft. The Goldilocks approach to exercising power

OPINION: A law lecture on the intricacies of interpreting the meaning of sub-clauses in the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act could well be enough to drive a reporter to drink.

So it was weird to find, instead, the mind wandering to contemplation of Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy.

The setting was the Palmerston North District Licensing Committee’s hearing on Melody’s New World’s application for renewal of its licence to sell alcohol.

It appeared the hearing was called because the committee members were keen to ensure they were doing the right thing in assessing the supermarket’s proposed single alcohol area, a rather less open affair than its current arrangement.

READ MORE:  * Melody’s New World liquor licence could hinge on boxes * NZ given prior warning of Syria attack, expresses ‘understanding’ of US action

There was that, and also the fact medical officer of health Rob Weir was opposed to the plan, given that shoppers passing by the area might notice the sides of some wine cartons.

Not the actual bottles, mind, which would be facing discreetly into the alcohol area, but the sides of what many people would recognise as alcohol cartons.

They might even see some winemakers’ labels, or descriptions, or general branding.

The issue seemed to boil down to whether a wine carton placed at arm’s length from a shopper not intending to buy booze with the groceries could possibly contribute to excessive or inappropriate drinking, and a general explosion of alcohol harm.

Only if the committee was convinced on that point should it contemplate imposing a condition that the cartons be shifted or shielded, said Melody’s lawyer Iain Thain.

The word he used was that any conditions should be “proportionate”.

And there it was, the latest buzz word, most recently employed in the world’s reaction to the United States’ missile attack on the Syrian air base at Shayrat, an action prompted by a nerve gas attack on civilians.

“Proportionate” was the word Prime Minister Bill English used in providing qualified support for the missile action.

Just so as we understand, the dictionary definition of the word is about whether an action is correct or suitable in size or amount or degree when considered in relation to something else.

So it is a little bit different from the other hugely-popular buzz word that has rather lost its meaning through overuse – the dreaded “appropriate”.

It would be lacking in diplomacy and political correctness to ever be so bold as to describe anything as right or wrong, or good or bad, when there is the weasel way out of appropriateness.

“Inappropriate” seems to have morphed into meaning something like: “I really don’t like this and it goes against all of my values, judgments and instincts, but I couldn’t possibly say so because other people might have a different view. Even if they are wrong.”

Anyway. Kick me if I use the word with a straight face.

“Proportionate” did seem like a very measured and diplomatic qualifier when talking about sending off missiles into Syria.

In the licensing case, it made everything sound terribly important.

That is not to suggest that managing alcohol is not terribly important, but it was just odd that the choice of words prompted a connection between the significance of some cardboard boxes and the launching of some deadly missiles.

We hope the committee comes to the right decision.


The technical gear used to record Palmerston North City councillors’ voting at meetings has expired.

The $15,000 system has been in use since 2012, but has been increasingly going on the blink.

But finance and performance committee chairwoman Susan Baty is determined there will be a new system.

She said having to register their votes independently on the hand-held devices ensured councillors voted responsibly and were not swayed by other opinions.

It also recorded which way councillors voted on every issue, so that information was freely available for the public.

And for whoever was chairing a meeting, it was very convenient that the system also registered councillors’ indications that they wished to ask questions or make comments.

The system’s chronicle of errors includes a fault in May 2015, when the start of a meeting was delayed for 15 minutes, and four months later it was still playing up.

Democracy, in fact, civilization as we know it, did not perceptibly suffer.

Problems were compounding this year, on March 13 and March 20.

On March 27, there were problems around the software because the council was trying to register more devices than it had licences for, which locked up the system.

Anyway, it appears the system has so many plasters and patches applied that it will have to go, and it is so old there is no longer any technical support for it.

The replacement system is likely to be web-based or app-based.

The good news for ratepayers is that, given councillors are convinced it’s necessary, it will at least be cheaper than the old one.

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