An alcohol watchdog says the Government's wide ranging liquor reforms are like "treating cancer with a couple of aspirin".

Alcohol Action spokesman Professor Doug Sellman, who is a National Addiction Centre director, said New Zealand was facing an alcohol crisis and expected today's changes to have little impact.

"We expect widespread disappointment and anger when the public sees how little is really being proposed," Mr Sellman said.

Reforms target minors

Among the reforms are restrictions on Ready To Drink beverages (RTDs) and the confirmation of split ages for on-licence and off-licence alcohol purchases are among the key features of the Government's alcohol reform package.

Ready To Drink beverages will be restricted, under new laws, so they cannot hold more than 1.5 standard drinks or have more than 5 per cent alcohol content.

A split purchase age for purchasing liquor of 18 for on-licences (bars and restaurants) and 20 for off-licences (liquor outlets and supermarkets) will also become law.

Another reform will allow the Justice Minister, in consultation with the Health Minister, to ban alcohol products that are particularly appealing to minors or very bad for health.

Prime Minister John Key said binge drinking was a major societal problem for New Zealand and the legislative changes were a measure to help, but attitudes overall needed to change.

But Labour MP Lianne Dalziel accused the Government of tinkering rather than making substantial changes.

She said issues with cheap alcohol from supermarkets, an oversupply of outlets and other issues needed to be tackled and putting off lowering the drink drive limit was "ridiculous".

Govt aims to reduce harm from liquor

The package, released today, outlines the Government's intended action to address the harm of alcohol in New Zealand, following a comprehensive review from the Law Commission that was released in April.

The Government has accepted or partially accepted 126 of the commission's 153 recommendations, which will be introduced to Parliament later this year and be open to select committee scrutiny, and which would come into force after the Rugby World Cup next year.

The package includes:

* A split purchase age for 18 for on-licences (bars and restaurants) and 20 for off-licences (liquor outlets and supermarkets).

* Having national trading hours of 7am-11pm for off-licences and 8am-4am for on-licences.

* Empowering local authorities to override these trading hour restrictions, though extremes of a 24/7 free-for-all or a totally 'dry' policy would fall foul of the test for reasonableness test.

* Local communities will be able to decide on the concentration, location and hours of alcohol outlets, including one-way door policies. Granting licences will have to consider whether "the good order of the area would be lessened".

* Ready To Drink beverages will be restricted so they cannot hold more than 1.5 standard drinks or have more than 5 per cent alcohol content.

* Making it criminal offence to provide a minor (under 18) with alcohol without a parents' or guardians' consent, and if consent is given, the alcohol must be supplied in a responsible manner.

* Dairies and convenience stores will have to be considered "grocery stores" before being eligible to be an off-licence.

* Cracking down on those who drink in carparks, school grounds and other private places by including them in the definition of a 'public place'.

* Restrictions on alcohol promotions apply to all businesses.

* Investigating a minimum price regime.

Liquor advertising recommendations rejected

But the package largely rejects the Law Commission's recommendations on restricting advertising and sponsorship of events, which the commission said should have been an important plank of the reforms.

The Government has agreed that promotions should not have appeal to under-18s, but this is already part of the voluntary self-regulating scheme that already exists.

Promotions such as Tui billboards and television advertisements showing euphoric parties and bikini-clad models will not be affected unless the Advertising Standards Authority deems them to target under-18s.

The Government has rejected a Government body to replace the self-regulating body and an eventual ban on sponsorship of events and sports teams, and all advertising except for objective product information.

It has accepted that promotions of a 25 per cent discount or more should only be allowed inside the stores that are using the promotion.

Any promotion of free alcohol or alcohol will not be allowed.

The Government has also rejected providing police with the power to serve a notice of debt of $250 on drunk people they take into custody, to a temporary shelter or home.

Justice Minister Simon Power said alcohol consumption had many negative social impacts, and the Government needed to find a balanced package to deal with binge drinking in New Zealand.

"It is estimated that during weekend up to 70 per cent of injury-based ER presentations are alcohol related, and according to police figures, alcohol is implicated in 30 per cent of all police recorded offences, 34 per cent of all recorded family violence, and half of all recorded homicides between 1999 and 2008," Mr Power said.

The number of licensed premises has increased from 6295 in 1990 to 14,424 in February 2010.

"It is clear from these figures that the pendulum has swung too far towards relaxation of alcohol laws."

He said the changes would make licences "harder to get and easier to lose".

There will also be rules around supplying alcohol to minors, which would affect after-ball parties held on private property.

"The Government will give parents more tools to help control their children's drinking. Currently when alcohol is supplied to minors at a private social gathering, there are very limited controls over supply.

"We will change that by making it an offence for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide alcohol to an under 18-year-old without a parent or guardians' consent."

The penalty for breaking this rule will be a criminal conviction and a fine of $2000.

Mr Power said a split purchase age was a good place to start the age debate, as it recognised the different environments between on-licences and off-licences.

National MPs will be open to vote on the purchase as they please, and it is likely that MPs will propose a purchase age of 20 at some stage of the parliamentary process, giving MPs a chance to vote on all options.

Mr Power said he would likely vote to keep the purchase age at 18, as he had in the past.

"This package is the starting point for parliaments' consideration of our alcohol laws. The Government does want to build consensus around the finer points of the package during the select committee stage of the bill. We will be listening very carefully to what the public has to say on these issues as we proceed."

- with NZ Herald staff