Todd McClay: Changing binge-drink culture

By Todd McClay

Parliament wrapped up for the year last week but not before it could pass one of the most important pieces of legislation of 2012 _ the Alcohol Reform Bill.

This new law will go a long way in making a real change to New Zealand's drinking culture. It is the biggest overhaul to New Zealand's alcohol laws in two decades.

The passing of this law is important for Rotorua and the many local people who have expressed concerns over the

incredible harm alcohol can and does do in our community. This new law offers greater tools to counter this harm and I am proud to have voted in support of it.

Over the past three years I have consulted widely within the electorate on this bill and received feedback from more

than 4000 constituents.

One recurring theme was that of the provision of alcohol to those under the legal purchase age.

Overwhelmingly the people of our community wanted the age raised to 20 but in a conscience vote in August,

Parliament decided to keep it at 18. For my part I voted for the age to go up because of the harm I have seen on the

streets of Rotorua caused by alcohol.

This legislation gives a tool to parents to meet their obligation to young people and to have a greater say around consent when it comes to alcohol being provided to them.

Under the new law, parental consent will be required where alcohol is supplied to those under 18, and in doing so it must be supplied in a responsible manner. This may seem obvious but previously there was no law surrounding this.

Speaking in the House on the bill, I talked about the terrible tragedy which saw Rotorua 16-year-old Tongarewa Thomas fatally stabbed by his 15-year-old friend following a night of heavy drinking in August 2010. These two kids (I use the word kids because 15- and 16-year-olds are kids) were given alcohol by the mother of one of the boys, an irresponsible act which led to this tragic death. At the trial, the judge was told the 15-year-old said he had never been so drunk. Sadly two lives were ruined.  If someone had taken responsibility for these two boys that night, then Tongarewa would still be alive today.

The new law is not only about setting boundaries when it comes to alcohol consumption but about encouraging a stronger sense of personal and parental responsibility. Communities as a whole will have more responsibility with additional tools being offered surrounding local alcohol policies. You, your family, friends and neighbours will be able to have a greater say on alcohol licensing, such as determining maximum trading hours in your area and limiting the location of licensed premises near certain facilities, such as schools.

Councils will be responsible for developing these local polices and the challenge for them now is working with the community to decide what policies we need here.

It is up to all of us to take on this responsibility in order to change the binge-drinking culture which is present here.

This new law is a good start but it will only work if we as a community decide we want attitudes to alcohol to change.

This law is a tool, it's up to us to use it responsibly.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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