Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

High-powered Kiwis unite to push for tougher liquor laws

Caroline Meyer (far left) and Georgina Earl. Photo / Dean Purcell
Caroline Meyer (far left) and Georgina Earl. Photo / Dean Purcell

One of the highest-powered delegations ever to petition Parliament plans to speak out at the Beehive tomorrow in support of tougher drinking laws.

Three knights and two dames, including two former Governors-General, will be joined by three archbishops, leaders of the Maori and Pacific communities and sports icons in a call to raise the drinking age, raise alcohol prices and implement other recommendations from a recent Law Commission report.

They also want MPs to abandon their traditional "conscience vote" on liquor issues so the Law Commission's proposals can be implemented as a consistent package.

Sir Paul Reeves, the former Governor-General who convened the group, said the 14 members shared general public concerns about New Zealand's binge-drinking culture.

"Like many other people, I have been disturbed by the presence of alcohol in schools, school balls and other events, and it seems to me that this is simply symptomatic of the place that alcohol is given in our culture generally," he said.

Anglican Archbishop David Moxon said the Law Commission's report offered "an historic political opportunity to shape the access to, and the price of, alcohol".

Former All Black Va'aiga (Inga) Tuigamala, now a West Auckland funeral director, said a big part of his job was burying the victims of car crashes caused by drunk drivers.

"A couple of Christmases ago I spent most of my Christmas having to pick up and look after young Pacific kids who got killed through speeding. That's the reality of my work," he said.

"We unfortunately have a record of a lot of domestic violence involving alcohol, a lot of deaths, and a lot of youngsters drinking."

The unusual initiative stems from an Anglican synod in Gisborne last month which endorsed a "five-plus" package promoted by Alcohol Action NZ, including higher alcohol prices, a higher drinking age, less-accessible alcohol, cutting marketing and advertising and boosting drink-driving counter-measures, plus more treatment opportunities for heavy drinkers.

The synod also backed a radical ban on all advertising of alcoholic drinks "in the light of the depredations they are having on our communities".

National Addiction Centre director Professor Doug Sellman, who spoke at the synod, said the idea of the leaders' group arose out of "a chat" he had with Sir Paul, another synod speaker.

He then approached the other members of the group on Sir Paul's behalf. He said Dame Silvia Cartwright, another former Governor-General and now a judge on a United Nations tribunal in Cambodia, made final changes to the group's statement.

Dame Silvia last night told the Herald she was inspired to join the group having seen the effects of alcohol on society during her more than 30 years working in the law.

"It has the capacity to ruin the lives of the person who drinks to excess as well as the lives of those around him or her," she said.

"I have identified excess drinking in many, many instances of family violence and relationship breakdown as well as in the areas of criminal offending."

Professor Sellman approached several sporting icons, but not all agreed to join the group.

"What I found talking to a lot of them was just how much alcohol controls rugby and cricket in New Zealand," he said.

But he had no trouble getting agreement from the Catholic and Anglican archbishops and was impressed by the Anglican synod.

Icons speak out:

* Sir Paul Reeves, former Governor-General (convenor).

* Dame Silvia Cartwright, former Governor-General.

* Archbishop John Dew, Catholic primate.

* Professor Sir Mason Durie, Maori health expert.

* Georgina Earl (Evers-Swindell), rowing gold medallist.

* Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green Party co-leader.

* Sir Lloyd Geering, theologian.

* Dame Te Muranga Batley-Jackson, Manukau Urban Maori Authority founder.

* Michael Jones, ex-All Black.

* Dr Semisi Maia'i, Pacific Medical Association co-founder.

* Caroline Meyer (Evers-Swindell), rowing gold medallist.

* Archbishop David Moxon, Anglican leader.

* Inga Tuigamala, ex-All Black.

* Archbishop Brown Turei, Anglican leader.

- NZ Herald

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