Matt Heath: Booze has been doing Kiwis a favour for yonks

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Final proof there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting sauced.

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

A terrible injustice has befallen commercial radio. A change in the law has stopped us giving away alcohol on air.

Campaigners have convinced the Government that a sniff of free booze will instantly turn Kiwis into alcoholics and criminals. I'm not so sure.

Like most Kiwis I enjoy a drink. In fact, I love a drink. I'm having a beer as I write this. But I am not an alcoholic and I don't have a drinking problem. My drinking is more like a hobby. Sadly, like all pastimes, work and family commitments keep me away from it.

With two kids and three jobs I just don't have the time anymore. But that is the natural Kiwi order of things. We socialise over a few drinks and through that we meet people. Business and employment opportunities spring from the partying and, if we're lucky, children do too. Before too long you have no time for the thing that started it all - the booze.

A friend of mine named Blaster leaves a half-dozen open beside his bed each night. He needs them flat so he can get them down easier in the morning. Blaster isn't normal and shouldn't be included in a sane conversation about New Zealand drinking culture. For the vast majority of us alcohol isn't a problem.

Anti-alcohol campaigners turn a blind eye to the good booze does in the community. You only have to go to a restaurant to hear the happiness it brings. People laughing and enjoying each other's company. You can't put these good people in the same boat as a bastard who beats his family.

Campaigners use the terribly behaved to beat up on the slightly naughty. They use the sick to hassle the healthy; their bad experiences to limit the good experiences of others. If the alcohol debate was a weather report then light breezes would be the same as hurricanes, spring showers would become weather bombs and Jim Hickey would lose his job.

The reality is there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting sauced. No crime in catching a taxi home because you've had too many. Nearly every newsreader, reporter, politician and police officer has.

There is no shame in drinking, dancing, singing and enjoying the company of other humans.

Sure you could do all those things without alcohol. But thankfully we live in a country where we don't have to.

To quote John Key from his recent trip to New York: "If it's like a typical New Zealand party you'll be here late into the night. There'll be some dancing and some singing taking place and hopefully not too much of it recorded on an iPhone."

He's talking about booze and it sounds like a bloody good night to me. But what of the social cost? Domestic violence, drunk drivers, burglary, assault, couch burning and firetrucking. I'm not doing any of those things. I bet you aren't either.

I might slur "you're my best mate" and turn the music up till it distorts. But I never stab people or rob their houses. Bad behaviour is a dickhead problem not a booze problem.

Let's celebrate the good alcohol does in the community. The new guy who becomes fast friends over work drinks. The shy couple who gain the courage to talk to each other for the first time. The diplomats who seal a deal for the country at the bar after a conference. The victorious sports team singing the national anthem after everyone has gone home.

The law should punish people who can't handle their booze and leave the rest of us alone. Most Kiwis are smart enough to drink when they feel like it and cut back when they have things to do. If you are one of the very few who becomes addicted, then seek medical help. Those who get aggressive and commit crimes should stop drinking or pay the price. Simple.

There is a lot of hysterical static out there. Somewhere in the debate we need to remember that alcohol often brings New Zealanders together.

When I retire many, many years from now I hope to spend a lot of quality time with my treasured hobby - drinking.

Sadly, if things keep going the way they are, I'll be thrown in prison before I finish my first sixer.

Matt Heath co-hosts the Radio Hauraki breakfast show with Jeremy Wells and Laura McGoldrick, weekdays 6am-9am www.hauraki.co.nz.

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- NZ Herald

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