Minister says shorter lead-in for new liquor licensing powers would catch some smaller councils unprepared.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has defended requiring councils to wait for a year before they can use new powers over liquor licensing, saying although Auckland Mayor Len Brown wanted speed, smaller councils could not handle it.

The provision is one of the key features of the Alcohol Reform Bill - a 270-page bill introduced more than two years ago but which only reached the scrutiny of the committee stages in Parliament yesterday.

The bill will allow local councils to set up Local Alcohol Policies which set their own rules on the number, location and opening hours of licensed premises, but it will be a year before councils can act on that.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has said that meant it would be 16 months before a plan was in place and wrote to Ms Collins urging a change of heart.


Labour's Phil Twyford entered an amendment reducing the wait to three months so council plans could be in place within seven months, but Ms Collins has rejected it.

She acknowledged Mr Brown's call for more speed but said many small councils could not be ready within the timeframe proposed by Mr Twyford. She said the policy should not be extended haphazardly and time was needed for consultation.

"It's somewhat ridiculous to expect part of the country to be covered by a law and the rest of the country not."

Ms Collins criticised Labour for numerous amendments and allowing its MPs a conscience vote on the bill.

She said that could drag the debate out for more than two weeks.

Labour's associate justice spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said alcohol issues were traditionally a conscience vote but National MPs were required to vote as a party. That meant they could not vote in support of amendments on issues such as minimum pricing or lowering the drink-driving limit, which Ms Dalziel said would rankle for some who wanted the reforms to go further.

Ms Collins said minimum pricing was synonymous with "maximum profits" and said a balance had to be struck to ensure the majority of drinkers who drank responsibly were not unduly punished.

Opposition MPs have put in 19 supplementary order papers with amendments ranging from restrictions on advertising to banning liquor outlets within 1km of a school.


Local alcohol policies

Councils can adopt local alcohol policies covering:

* The location and number of licensed premises, such as prohibiting those near schools.

* Maximum opening hours.

* One-way door restrictions (eg, if closing time is 3am, nobody is allowed to enter after 2am).

* The policies are optional and councils must consult and set up appeal processes.

* Councils must consider issues including the demography of the residents and visitors such as tourists, health indicators of the region and the nature and severity of alcohol-related problems.