Labour condemned on liquor outlet issue (+video)

By Paula Oliver

National is taking the Government to task over its record on violent crime, as the Beehive feels the political heat from three high profile homicides in South Auckland within nine days.

Sensitivity about the crimes was put aside in Parliament yesterday as National leader John Key accused Prime Minister Helen Clark of doing nothing to stem the growth of liquor outlets across the country, and challenged her record on law and order.

Mr Key said that liquor outlets - which Helen Clark on Monday fingered as part of the cause of violence in South Auckland - had been identified by government ministers as an issue in 2006 but no action had been taken since.

In November 2006 the government announced a review of restrictions on the sale and supply of liquor to young people, just as Parliament was to vote on a proposal to put the drinking age back up to 20 from 18.

The review, which went ahead when MPs chose not to raise the drinking age, was to have looked at issues "such as the increase in the number of outlets supplying alcohol", according to associate health minister Damien O'Connor's press release at the time.

But when the review was completed and proposals for law changes were announced in October last year, they did not mention the proliferation of liquor outlets.

Mr Key said yesterday that Helen Clark's government had done nothing and it was hard to take her comments on Monday promising a crackdown on liquor outlets seriously.

"It took a year for that review to see the light of day, and despite the review, there have been no recommendations from her government to have changes made," he said.

The Prime Minister on Monday made it clear she wanted to cut the number of liquor outlets in poor areas, saying she was taking the issue extremely seriously.

In the face of Mr Key's attacks yesterday she defended her government's record and said "a great deal of work" had been done to reform the law.

"Unlike that member, we do not just go off slogans; we do the hard work," she said.

Several chief executives of government departments are to meet today at the Prime Minister's request to discuss issues arising from the recent crimes.

Labour's Manurewa MP George Hawkins has a bill ready to introduce into Parliament which would deal in part with the liquor issue, but yesterday Act moved to stop him from doing so.

National was prepared to support Mr Hawkins but Act MP Heather Roy said the bill was a "cynical" move by the government to try to show a shocked public it was doing something about the recent spate of killings.

"It is not actually confronting the real issues that exist," she said.

Act's opposition to the bill led to a bizarre game of cat and mouse in Parliament as Mr Hawkins waited for a moment when Act's two MPs were not in the debating chamber to introduce his bill.

Last night he succeeded immediately after Parliament's dinner break. He won a round of applause from the MPs in the chamber and the bill will be dealt with for the first time on July 2.

- NZ Herald

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