Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Major alcohol reforms pass into law

Most of the major changes would come into effect in 12 months. Photo / File / Thinkstock
Most of the major changes would come into effect in 12 months. Photo / File / Thinkstock

Major alcohol reforms have been passed in Parliament this evening, concluding a four-year debate over drinking laws in New Zealand.

MPs have voted to pass the reforms, which were designed to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the Alcohol Reform Bill, which was now divided into three bills, struck a "sensible balance" by reducing the serious harm caused by alcohol without penalising people who drank responsibly.

She told the Herald: "There will improvements in the way alcohol can be sold and there will be some reforms about young people's access to alcohol.

"But it's not going to be the full answer, obviously people need to change the culture and their own behaviour."

Ms Collins said she had been disappointed that MPs had voted against a higher purchase age in September. But she was confident that the bill provided a number of tools for battling alcohol-related harm.

She emphasized the importance of the bill's local alcohol policies, which gave councils power to set their own alcohol rules in consultation with residents.

This could include stricter opening hours for bars or liquor stores or banning bottle shops near schools.

If local authorities did not adopt local policies, they would follow new national rules such as banning bars from opening between 4am and 8am.

Opposition members described the bill as a "missed opportunity" which had strayed from the original recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2010.

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said: "It is not a shadow of the law the Law Commission would've written and that is why I've been saying throughout this debate that it is a travesty."

She felt it was a toothless piece of legislation because it did not address the price, availability or promotion of alcohol.

Another Labour MP, Iain Lees-Galloway, argued that the bill had been heavily influenced by lobbyists such as the Food and Grocery Council and the Hospitality Association.

He said this was particularly evident in the decision not to restrict the sale or alcohol content of alcopops, which the Law Commission had singled out as a favourite choice of binge drinkers and young women.

The industry would be left to draw up its own voluntary code on alcopops, but Government would step in if it did not think the industry was acting on it.

As well as giving councils a greater say in alcohol policy, the bill banned the sale of alcohol from convenience stores and restricted the promotion and sale of alcohol in supermarkets.

It also required express consent to be given to minors for the consumption of alcohol, which could be provided by parents or guardians in person, in a note, or in a text message or phone call.

Most of the major changes would come into effect in 12 months.

- NZ Herald

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