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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Alcohol Reform Bill

The Alcohol Reform Bill passed its third and final reading yesterday and will become operational in a year's time. It may not be the complete wowser's charter that the usual array of health and socially conservative interest groups wanted to impose, but it's half way down that path. The lobbyists on the other side - the liquor, hospitality and grocery groups - have helped take the edge off the Law Commission's proposed wind-back to the 1960's. The result is greater restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
NZ Herald: on the changes:
Parents or guardians must give consent for minors to drink. It will be a criminal offence (with $2000 penalty) to supply alcohol without such consent.
A voluntary code to be created by industry. Government will have the power to restrict the sale of RTDs if no code is forthcoming.
Bars, clubs and restaurants to close between 4am and 8am, and stores from 11pm to 7am.
Buying age remains at 18. Alcohol given to 18 and 19-year-olds in a private setting must be supplied responsibly.

A criminal offence for using a fake ID, or lending ID to someone knowing it is for buying alcohol.

Convenience stores banned from selling beer, wine and spirits. Some will be allowed to sell other alcohol.

Alcohol displays and promotions limited to a single, non-prominent area.

Will have power to formulate policies on opening hours, ban alcohol outlets near schools, or impose conditions on licensed venues.

Fees determined by associated "risk" of venue - capacity, opening hours, and record. Bars or managers who sell to drunks and/or those underage three times in three years will lose their licence or manager's certificate.

Further restrictions, including on the promotion of free alcohol outside bars and advertising discounts of 25% or more at off-licence premises.

A minimum price regime is being investigated.


I generally support the powers of councils to set conditions on licences as this is a function of local democracy. Shutting off the corner dairy from selling booze will probably put a small dent in underage purchases and in places where there is a proliferation of these it may have a localised effect so may have some value. The age and consent issues seem sensible.

The ID issue seems unnecessary if other laws cover it, but as long as the penalty is lower then this is a positive thing as the only people offending in this way would be younger teenagers who do not merit full-on forgery and uttering charges for their best efforts at impersonating an adult.

The three strikes policy on licenses seem quite harsh and the third strike will bring out the lawyers. To me three incidents in one year would be a trigger point in identifying problem shops rather than one per year. The odd rogue part-timer in the course of a few weekends making a mistake could end up closing a whole business. This gives a huge incentive for management to maintain 100% compliance, but is a very high threshold - maybe too high.

The supermarket display rules won't do much if anything and the advertising discount ban seems of similarly low marginal value in changing behaviour. The Ready-to-drink code is a cop-out and a win for the liquor industry, but moving to ban on percentages is a recipe for killing off other drink (as what happened when Jim Anderton upped the tax on fortified wines and killed the port and sherry industry) so it is good they didn't opt for that.

The legislation concerning the local alcohol bans continues to be wide enough to drive a paddy wagon through. The Bill says a constable does not need a warrant to search or seize - including in a vehicle - that is just too far without restrictions on police to counter-balance the rights of the public to go about their lawful business. And some of the wording still looks crook (was it changed by an SOP later on?)

(3) Alcohol or a container seized under subsection (2)(b) is forfeited to the Crown if the person from whom the alcohol or container is seized pays the infringement fee.
So you pay the infringement fee (not fine, but "fee" as if it were for a money-making purpose) and then that means it is forfeited. Which is the opposite of what anyone would expect - you pay a fee you get it back, not pay a fee and that means it gets seized! By corollary, if you don't pay the fee then it must not - or hasn't deemed to be - seized and the police should return it. A lawyer's field day here.

The licensing hours are the most profound reform. There were ideas about a one-way door policy of restricting access after a certain hour (either 2 or 3 am) whereby the punters inside a bar could stay on after the doors closed and could only exit (but not re-enter). Trying to find the wording on the Bill is difficult as it still in a million pieces like a broken jigsaw, but that one-way idea didn't make it - there is no sale of liquor after 4am. So closing hours will be 4am. The casinos however still keep their exemption from the rules! They only have to shut for a few hours on Christmas, Good Friday and ANZAC Day morning. One rule for them... All the punters in Auckland City after the magical hour of 4am who want a drink will all have to go where? Sky City. Ka-fucking-ching the House wins AGAIN!

Every time I hear "closing hours" I think of two things: 1. The legendarily backward, prohibitionist "6 o'clock closing" that ended in the late 1960s, and 2. When do they open?

Bars can open again at 8am. The liquor shops at 7am. This is surely the problem. Is the sort of person turning up at 8am outside a bar going to be a responsible drinker? Is the sort of person waiting around for the booze shop to open at 7 in the morning a responsible drinker? Aren't they more likely to be the problem?


At 13/12/12 3:00 p.m., Blogger Tom Thumb said...

In my life time these wouzers do-gooders and bloody religious freaks have attempted to legislate and regulate good behaviour into drinking habits probably a half a dozen times.

In a hundred and fifty years or so of trying nothing these idiots have come up with has worked it has only separated the younger drinker from the older and the chaos will continue.

Lets see what the situation is like this time next year I believe nothing will have changed for the better in fact I think we will be worse off as usual.

At 27/12/12 12:12 p.m., Blogger Frank said...

Interesting how some label as "wowsers" and "do gooders" anyone who tries to address a groqwing liquor problem in this country.

Aside from costing us over $4 billion annually (BERL figures), the cost in terms of family violence; booze-fuelled crime; injuries; clogging our hospitals; pushing up ACC levies; deaths; is something that can be swept under the carpet - but will not go away.

Labelling with derogatory epithbets those who recognise the problem is not a solution. It is part of the ongoing problem.

And it apparently serves the interests of the liquor industry who welcome this dismissive derision of activists.


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