Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Alcohol reforms 'watered down'

Labour and Green parties claim lobbying by private interests has derailed the original bill.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the reforms will not penalise those who drink responsibly.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Justice Minister Judith Collins says the reforms will not penalise those who drink responsibly. Photo / Dean Purcell

The long road to reforming New Zealand's alcohol laws has ended amid bitter protests that the legislation was a pale imitation of the landmark Law Commission report it was based on.

MPs passed the reforms yesterday, which means that in 12 months' time bars will have to close earlier, alcohol promotions will be limited and parents will have to give express consent to allow minors to drink.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the reforms struck a sensible balance by reducing the serious harm caused by alcohol without penalising people who drank responsibly.

She said it would not be the full answer and New Zealanders needed to take responsibility for their drinking habits.

The third reading of the bill marked the end of a long debate on alcohol laws which was sparked by the Labour Government in 2008.

The Law Commission carried out a two-year investigation, which included commissioners observing binge drinking firsthand in downtown areas.

It provided 153 recommendations for the government in 2010, most crucially a 50 per cent tax increase on alcohol and a higher purchase age.

The National-led Government immediately dismissed a tax hike, and a higher purchase age was shot down by MPs in a conscience vote in September.

The Opposition and health sector lobbyists said yesterday that Justice Ministers Simon Power and Ms Collins had increasingly watered down the commission's evidence-based advice as the bill progressed.

Labour's justice spokeswoman 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 that reform needed to be led by the Ministry of Health, not the Justice Ministry.

Labour and the Greens argued that private interests had derailed the bill, with both focusing special attention on the influence of the Food and Grocery Council, which represented alcoholic beverage producers and supermarkets.

Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the Government had created a workable, practical bill which would change the way alcohol was sold.

MPs saw industry influence in Ms Collins' decision to allow liquor companies to set their own rules on the sale of ready-to-drink beverages, a backdown on an earlier proposal to give Government powers to restrict the alcohol content in alcopops.

Ms Collins told the Herald she expected the industry to present a voluntary code to her next year.

The reforms did not affect the price of alcohol, but the Ministry of Justice was researching a minimum pricing regime.

The changes

Consent
Parents or guardians must give consent for minors to drink. It will be a criminal offence (with $2000 penalty) to supply alcohol without such consent.
RTDs
A voluntary code to be created by industry. Government will have the power to restrict the sale of RTDs if no code is forthcoming.
Hours
Bars, clubs and restaurants to close between 4am and 8am, and stores from 11pm to 7am.
Age
Buying age remains at 18. Alcohol given to 18 and 19-year-olds in a private setting must be supplied responsibly.

ID
A criminal offence for using a fake ID, or lending ID to someone knowing it is for buying alcohol.

Shops
Convenience stores banned from selling beer, wine and spirits. Some will be allowed to sell other alcohol.

Supermarkets
Alcohol displays and promotions limited to a single, non-prominent area.

Councils
Will have power to formulate policies on opening hours, ban alcohol outlets near schools, or impose conditions on licensed venues.

Licensing
Fees determined by associated "risk" of venue - capacity, opening hours, and record. Bars or managers who sell to drunks and/or those underage three times in three years will lose their licence or manager's certificate.

Advertising
Further restrictions, including on the promotion of free alcohol outside bars and advertising discounts of 25% or more at off-licence premises.

Price
A minimum price regime is being investigated.

* all changes listed come into force in 12 months' time

Long, slow road

Aug 2008
Law Commission begins investigation into liquor laws, prompted by the Labour-led Government.

Apr 2010
Commission makes 153 recommendations, including a higher buying age of 20, a 50 per cent excise tax on alcohol, and a complete ban on alcohol-related sponsorship for events. National-led Government dismisses any tax rise.

Aug Justice Minister Simon Power unveils reforms, adopting 126 recommendations in part or in full. Included are proposals to raise the off-licence buying age to 20, limiting the alcohol content of alcopops, a new offence for providing alcohol to minors without consent, stricter trading hours and investigating a minimum price regime.

Nov
Alcohol Reform Bill passes first reading 117 to 3. Act alone opposes it. Labour says it will be ineffectual in reducing alcohol-related harm.

2010-2011
A select committee receives 10,000 submissions from the public, 1700 of them unique.

Aug 2011
The committee makes minor changes to the bill, recommending restrictions on where supermarkets can sell and advertise alcohol.

Sep
Bill passes second reading 115 to 5.

May 2012
Justice Minister Judith Collins announces tightening of rules around supply to minors without consent from a parent or guardian.

Aug 22
Collins announces alcohol industry will set their own code on alcopops, and drops proposals to limit alcohol content and terms of sale.

Aug 30
In a conscience vote, MPs keep buying age at 18.

Dec
Amendments put up by Maori Party and Opposition members to introduce minimum pricing, limits on RTDs, and ban liquor stores near schools, are voted down.

Yesterday
Reforms pass into law, most changes taking effect in a year.

- NZ Herald

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