The latest attempt to strengthen New Zealand's alcohol laws will soon come before Parliament. Does it have any chance of passing?
Concerns about funding for grassroots sports may sink Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's bid to reform alcohol laws in New Zealand.
Alcohol Healthwatch, a public health lobby group, will deliver a 6000-signature petition to Parliament on Wednesday, urging MPs to pass Swarbrick's private member's bill. It has the backing of a number of councils, public health and community groups.
The bill, which is likely to be debated by Parliament next month, has two measures: ban alcohol advertising and sponsorship for broadcast sports, and block appeals of councils' local alcohol policies.
Swarbrick said she felt they were two uncontroversial proposals which were strongly backed by evidence. They would give councils more control over alcohol availability in their areas and prevent young people from being exposed to the "normalisation and glamorisation" of drinking.
The bill will be a conscience vote, meaning MPs can vote freely rather than follow a party position.
The Greens and Te Pāti Māori are supporting the bill, while the National caucus has decided that all of its MPs would vote against it.
That means Swarbrick will need another 49 votes from Labour and Act. Both parties are treating it as a conscience vote, though Act says it expects its MPs will vote against it.
Within Labour, MPs have expressed support for the proposal to prevent councils from facing constant, endless appeals when they try to introduce their own alcohol policies. But there is concern among some of its MPs about the ban on alcohol sponsorship.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, who is also Sport and Recreation Minister, said he would vote against the bill. While he was supportive of the proposal to strengthen local alcohol policies (LAPs), he was concerned that the law change would cut off funding for sports groups without a clear plan for how that funding would be replaced.
A briefing to Robertson from Sport NZ, obtained through the Official Information Act, said the total value of alcohol sponsorship in sports was around $20 million and that an immediate ban would have a "profound impact" on some sports groups' ability to operate. That estimate is from 2015 and covers all alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sports, not just the broadcast-related sports targeted by Swarbrick's bill.
Swarbrick noted that the $20m figure was dwarfed by the total cost of alcohol-related harm - an estimated $7 billion a year.
She said community sports should not be forced to rely on funding from a sector which was linked to social harm. Alcohol funding could be phased out in a similar way to tobacco, with the Government plugging the funding gap. Another option was a levy of 3 cents on beer and 7c on spirits, she said.
Sports organisations' dependence on alcohol money is believed to be waning. LeRoy Kururangi, chief executive of Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby Union, said that alcohol sponsorship was increasingly rare and had been all but phased out at the grassroots level. His organisation was now funded primarily by the rūnanga and local businesses.
"It hasn't been done for ages on the Coast - we've slowly moved away from it, and that's the same nationwide. It seems like the All Blacks are the only ones that still have it."
Some Labour MPs were considering a 'Yes' vote for Swarbrick's bill. Labour MP for Manurewa Arena Williams - who will receive the petition from Alcohol Healthwatch on Wednesday - said she supported the proposal to strengthen local alcohol policies. There was enormous frustration in her electorate about the proliferation of liquor outlets, which were often near schools.
"No one is asking for Manurewa East to be the capital of bottle shops," she said.
Attempts to challenge the growth of the industry and availability of alcohol had been stifled by the absence of a local alcohol policy in Auckland, she said. In liquor licensing decisions, there was no overarching policy or guidelines to point to.
Auckland Council's LAP has been mired in legal action for five years because of a challenge by supermarket giants Foodstuffs and Woolworths. It has now been appealed to the Supreme Court, costing the council more than $1m in legal bills.
Williams said she had not yet decided to vote for the bill because she had concerns about its impact on local sports teams. She was considering supporting it at first reading to allow the issues to be debated further.
National's justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith said his party was not supporting Swarbrick's bill because its focus on sport was "arbitrary".
"Why not music festivals, or the arts, or a whole bunch of other things? We don't see the logic there. If you remove Steinlager from a jersey and replace it with a fast food agent, are you necessarily that much further ahead in terms of public health?"
He said local alcohol policies "were not perfect", but he felt it was better to improve them rather than completely remove appeal rights. Councils did not always get their policies right, he said.
Alcohol law reforms in 2012 were designed to give councils powers to set their own rules, such as setting limits on the number of bottle shops in a suburb or their opening hours.
But many councils' LAPs have been repeatedly challenged in court by supermarkets and the liquor industry. Ten years after the law change, 42 councils have brought in local policies, but they cover only 34 per cent of the population, according to analysis by Alcohol Healthwatch.