Editorial: Delay on local drink rules makes no sense

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Following on from its failure with the Alcohol Reform Bill, the Govt has dealt up another dollop of disappointment for lobbyists

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

The Alcohol Reform Bill now bears scant resemblance to the core recommendations of the 2010 Law Commission report which precipitated its introduction to Parliament.

The drinking age will remain 18, there will be no substantial alcohol taxes or minimum prices, and nothing will be done about alcopops.

Those still harbouring hopes that at least one effective response to drunkenness and alcohol-fuelled violence would emerge from this reshaping of the liquor laws have been left to focus on the local alcohol policies prescribed in the legislation.

But this week, as the bill went through its committee stages, they were served up another large dollop of disappointment.

Rather than allow local councils to quickly set their own rules on the number, location and opening hours of licensed premises and suchlike, the Government has decided they must wait a year.

This means it will be at least 16 months before any plan will be in place. Justice Minister Judith Collins justified this by saying many small councils could not be ready any earlier.

The policy, she said, should not be extended haphazardly, and time was needed for consultation. "It's somewhat ridiculous to expect part of the country to be covered by a law and the rest of the country not."

Such comments suggest the drunken disorder that has dogged Central Auckland in recent times has somehow passed Ms Collins by; that she, the MP for Papakura, part of the Super City, is oblivious to the extent of the problem.

So bad had this become by mid-year that the Auckland Council, with police co-operation, decided to draw up a local alcohol policy, to be implemented as soon as possible.

A key feature was instant fines for breaching liquor bans. No longer would the police have to go through the time-consuming process of making an arrest or issuing a warning. This local initiative awaited only the passage of the reform bill.

Now, it must be postponed. Even an amendment entered by Labour MP Phil Twyford reducing the wait to three months so council plans could be in place within seven months was rejected by the Government. And all for no good reason.

It makes no sense to claim there must be a timeframe that small councils can meet. Many of these councils will see no great need for an alcohol policy.

Each will have its own priorities. None will have problems of drunkenness as serious as those in Auckland. Each should be able to act as and when it sees fit. That is the whole point of local policies.

The Government's approach is the more baffling in that having largely sidestepped alcohol reform, it can, through local policies, transfer future responsibility to councils.

The delay simply underlines its unwillingness to act decisively. Commendably, Mayor Len Brown has been far more assertive in Auckland, setting up a taskforce to curb drunken, noisy and violent behaviour in the heart of the city.

This has come up with a prescription that, by and large, strikes a happy medium.

The local alcohol policy will allow people to walk up Queen St without feeling intimidated. At the same time, there will be no unreasonable restrictions that inhibit the area's entertainment appeal.

Auckland's crime, in the eyes of the Government at least, is to have been too quick off the mark.

- NZ Herald

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