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When alcohol industry reps unleash their charm offensives on the corridors of power there is one office they dodge, that of Progressive leader Jim Anderton.

"They don't come and see me any more because it's not a pleasant experience for them," says the MP for Wigram, who is outspoken on toughening up controls on the alcohol industry.

And as the multi-billion-dollar alcohol and hospitality industry - historically renowned for lobbying Parliament and donating cash to political parties - defends its patch in the face of pressure to lower the drink-drive limit, those left to mop up the mess after road accidents involving alcohol wonder just how much weight that lobby carries.

Anderton claims it is pressure from that industry that is behind the Government's failure to lower the drink drive limit from 80mg to 50mg alcohol (per 100 ml blood), despite strong recommendations from the Ministry of Transport and the Law Commission.

"There's only one answer, that has to be the power of the liquor lobby because there is no other logical answer," says Anderton. "The public opinion is on the side of cutting down on road deaths and serious accidents and that's a no-brainer."

Anderton, who restricts his drinking to a cool beer after mowing the lawn on a hot day and the occasional glass of wine, has signed up to the Herald on Sunday's Two Drinks Max campaign.

"People are now intolerant of stupidity," says Anderton. "It is stupid to uphold a law to legally drive while you're drunk."

He questions why the Government has not changed the law already, in the face of polls showing the majority of Kiwis are in favour of lowering the limit. Instead the Government has opted for a two-year research project into the impact of lowering the limit.

Although Prime Minister John Key has refused to sign up to the Two Drinks Max campaign, he has voiced tacit approval for a lower drink-drive limit, telling the New Zealand Herald earlier this year that he "would never have more than two beers or one glass of wine" before driving.

Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, also restricts his alcohol intake to one or two drinks before driving but said it would be "inappropriate" to put his name to the campaign.

So why the back peddling? And who stands to lose from lowering the drink-driving limit?

Evidence to support a change is already in hand. Ministry of Transport reports estimate that lowering the drink-drive limit would save between 15 and 33 lives, and prevent between 320 and 686 injuries every year, corresponding to an annual cost saving of up to $238 million.

But the alcohol industry stands to lose many millions more if the drink-drive limit is lowered. A study published in the Australasian Medical Journal last year showed lowering the limit was one of the key concerns for the alcohol industry.

The study, Access to Confidential Alcohol Industry Documents: From Big Tobacco' to Big Booze', examined internal documents for key concerns and strategies of the drinks industry, by applying methods used to investigate big tobacco companies. The report concluded "the primary concern of the industry throughout is to maximise sales and profits and to minimise any constraints on its activities".

It's a slice of the pie worth fighting for. New Zealanders spend between $4 billion and $5 billion a year on alcohol - roughly $85 million a week, according to the Law Commission's 2009 report, Alcohol in our Lives.

And the industry is a huge employer, with the hospitality sector employing more than 70,000 people and a further 7270 working in manufacturing. The New Zealand Government has a long history of being entangled with and influenced by the alcohol industry. Conrad Bollinger documents the struggles between "the self-righteous prohibitionist and the profit-seeking brewer" in his 1967 book Grog's Own Country - The Story of Liquor Licensing in New Zealand.

"New Zealand's liquor trade has been described as a trade which is peculiarly susceptible of abuse, and which, as everyone knows, is of great political influence," writes Bollinger.

The book documents the alcohol industry rigging parliamentary votes, funding political campaigns and blatantly influencing parliamentary debate over licensing laws.

"Readers may be sceptical about the possibility of the trade taking such a direct hand in the business of law-making today as it apparently did 40 and 50 years ago," writes Bollinger. "But we must remember that the trade still has tremendous resources at its disposal."

And tactics used by the liquor industry over the decades have emerged in a new book about rugby writer and author Sir Terry (TP) McLean, whose father-in-law Percy Coyle made a career out of defending the liquor industry.

He became the secretary of the National Council of the Licensed Trade and, wrote McLean, "his job was to keep an eye on the Hill (the Wellington term for Parliament). He personally knew all of the parliamentarians and was on terms of the warmest friendship with the principal private secretaries of the leading cabinet ministers." Coyle "kept tabs" on members of the Press Gallery and every Christmas donated a 136-litre keg of beer to them.

McLean wrote that he suspected sympathetic MPs received agreeable presents. "Most decidedly, their campaigns at election time were financially supported."

Seventy-five years later the liquor industry is still courting Parliament. Herald on Sunday columnist Deborah Coddington says when she was in Parliament as an ACT MP her fridge was always stocked full by the booze lobby and that free alcohol for political party shindigs was part of parliamentary life.

Despite their constant presence, Wyatt Creech, former deputy prime minister and National MP, thinks the power of the lobbyists is overrated.

"I think individual MPs ... make up their own mind about these issues. The lobbies may press their case and send you correspondence but at the end of the day most of liquor legislation hasn't found favour with the alcohol industry but it has still been passed."

But Anderton maintains that although its power will eventually fade, the alcohol lobby still flexes its muscle with politicians. The liquor industry still has clout around Parliament, unlike the tobacco industry. It used to be exactly the same. If the liquor industry wants to know where it's going, have a look at the tobacco industry and that's where you'll be."

Wine writer and broadcaster Keith Stewart says where the industry and politics connect, vast sums of money are involved but "it's never a straight forward deal. It's all chum chum," he says. "It's not bribery like it used to be."

Stewart backs the Herald on Sunday's campaign because, he says: "It's popularising the notion of being responsible as opposed to popularising the notion of being irresponsible, which is what we've done for the last two generations."

Stewart says there is a great deal of denial of responsibility within the alcohol industry.

"Everybody you talk to, there is someone else causing the problem but every single participant in the industry has been part of the problem in New Zealand forever," says Stewart. "They all make cheap plonk because that's where their profits are made. They're turning sugar into alcohol."

Stewart recalls asking one manufacturer why he used sugar in his drinks. "Because kids don't like the taste of alcohol," he was told.

"We have a drinking problem in NZ; it's not going to go away," says Stewart. "What the liquor industry hate is when they're compromised by changes, for example drinking and driving, because it cuts down on the social use. If you can't get together with your friends to have a drink that's going to cut into your consumption of alcohol."

Hospitality Association chief executive Bruce Robertson confirms this. He is concerned a change in law would stop people going out to bars and restaurants, and that's the last thing his industry wants.

"The hospitality retail sector is hurting significantly from the downturn," says Robertson. "We're seeing businesses closing on a daily basis. Any measure that encourages people to stay at home, we don't think it's helpful."

Robertson refused to sign up to the Two Drinks Max campaign, saying the hospitality industry had been advising drivers for years to limit their intake to two drinks in the first hour and one drink every hour after that. "Our concern is having trained the population to 0.05 [50mg/100ml], two drinks in the first hour and one drink every hour thereafter, if you now say you're lowering it, those people are going to say, I'm not going to drink at all'.

"Despite all this rhetoric around evidence, there is no evidence that people between 0.05 and 0.08 are killing people on the roads. All the data around saving 33 lives are projections and hypothetical in different jurisdictions," says Robertson.

Distilled Spirits Association chief executive Thomas Chin also questions whether the scientific evidence the Ministry of Transport based its advice on was relevant to New Zealand and supports the Government's call to gather more research before lowering the limit.

"The research that is currently in the public domain relates to overseas jurisdictions and overseas conditions. What's applicable overseas is not strictly applicable in New Zealand," says Chin, who refused to sign his name to the Two Drinks Max pledge.

"What I will sign up to, is whatever is the law of the land," he says.

Chin does not know if lowering the limit will have any effect on sales. "It will have an effect on consumer behaviour. There are a lot of drinkers who drink and don't drive."

He points the finger at consumers, saying the drink-drive issue is one of personal responsibility.

The corporate manager of DB Breweries, Mark Campbell, took a similar line, saying DB encourages the responsible consumption of alcohol. He urges New Zealanders to be aware of how much a standard drink really is.

"The new two drinks' message generated by the Herald on Sunday appears to be resonating with Kiwis but some consumers may need greater clarity about what constitutes two drinks. The alcohol content in a glass of wine is very different to a glass of beer for example and there are a multitude of glass sizes and drink options."

The nation's other giant booze brewer, Lion Nathan, also declined an invitation to sign up to the Two Drinks Max campaign. Corporate affairs director Neil Hinton says: "Lion Nathan does not have a view on what the correct adult blood alcohol level should be but welcomes the Government's moves to gather factual New Zealand based data to better inform this debate."

Lion Nathan did not make a submission to the parliamentary select committee currently considering changes to the drink driving laws.

In a submission to the parliamentary select committee this week Clubs NZ chief executive, Larry Graham, claims cutting the limit will ruin clubs financially. His organisation represents 300 chartered clubs employing 2500 staff and catering to 270,000 members.

"The decline in patronage, which will be inevitable following a reduction in BAC to 0.05, will see the economic viability of clubs in jeopardy and thereby reduce the number of premises where controlled drinking may occur," says Graham.

While it is perhaps not surprising that the alcohol industry has refused to sign up to the Two Drinks Max campaign because, as Robertson indicated, it fears the impact of a lower drink-driving limit on profits across the bar, lack of support by the Automobile Association (AA), an organisation strongly focused on road safety, for a law change is surprising.

General manager for motoring affairs, Mike Noon, says AA is "complimentary" of the Herald on Sunday's campaign and commends it for raising awareness on the issue but he does not think lowering the drink drive limit would be a "silver bullet". Noon says the problem lies with serious drink drivers, who are continually caught well over the limit and he doubts they will be signing up to the campaign.

"AA has called for every driver involved in a fatality or serious injury to be tested for alcohol and drugs. We want to look at the evidence of where accidents are happening, then we want a much more detailed plan." he says.

What we do know, unequivocally, is that when the blood alcohol content of drivers increases, the risk of them being in a fatal crash increases exponentially. A driver aged 30 or over who has consumed a couple of drinks (blood alcohol level of 50mg) is 5.8 times more likely to crash than a sober driver but if that driver keeps on drinking and gets behind the wheel with a blood alcohol limit of 80mg - the current limit - they are 16.5 times more likely to be involved in a crash causing death.

The numbers are even more chilling for a driver aged 20 to 29 who drinks to the current drink-drive limit. They are 50 times more likely to kill you or themselves on the road than a sober driver. And, lost profits aside, those are difficult figures to argue with.