I move, That the Alcohol Reform Bill be now read a second time. The bill implements the Government’s response to the Law Commission’s report Alcohol in our Lives: Curbing the Harm. The bill represents a balanced approach that aims to support the safe and responsible sale, supply, and consumption of alcohol. It will increase community input into local alcohol licensing decisions and improve the operation of the alcohol licensing system. The bill repeals and replaces the entire Sale of Liquor Act 1989, and for the first time in more than 20 years Parliament is acting to restrict rather than to relax our liquor laws. This bill will make fundamental changes to how, when, where, and what New Zealanders drink. In particular, the bill hones in on the disproportionate impact that alcohol-related harm has on our young people.
I take this opportunity to thank the Māori Party and United Future for their approaches to the report back of this bill. I also thank the Justice and Electoral Committee chair, Chester Borrows, for the sterling job he did in steering the committee through its consideration of the bill. My thanks also go to the Justice and Electoral Committee for its hard work and sensible recommendations.
Altogether, the committee received 1,647 substantive submissions and 7,175 form submissions on the bill, and sat for more than 90 hours of hearings. The majority of submitters who expressed a view on the bill supported its intent, but considered that further restrictions on the sale and supply of alcohol were warranted. The Government has acted on these concerns, adopting all 130 of the select committee’s recommendations.
One of the major, substantive changes recommended by the committee is to require supermarkets and grocery stores to display alcohol in only one, non-prominent area of the store. This move aims to reduce concerns about the normalising effect of alcohol sales in supermarkets alongside sales of everyday household goods. It will also reduce the exposure of young people to alcohol. The select committee recommended introducing a minimum age of 20 years to obtain a manager’s certificate. This is in line with the minimum age to be a licensee, and reflects the increased responsibility of managers under the new regime. The bill also now requires Police, Fire Service, and Defence Force canteens and messes to implement internal codes of practice that will closely follow the rules and restrictions applying to clubs.
Other changes to the bill are designed to improve the workability of the legislation, and to more closely reflect modern business practices. For example, the bill now explicitly prohibits convenience stores from selling alcohol. The definition of “grocery store” has been amended to make clear that dairies are not eligible for an off-licence. The term “grocery store” will be limited to premises that sell a wide range of food products and other household items, where the principal business is the sale of food products other than convenience foods. A further trading hours amendment provides for limited exceptions for genuine events to the national maximum hours.
Although the select committee has made major changes to some parts of the bill, the provisions that will have the biggest impact on young people remain essentially unchanged. Once the bill is enacted, it will be an offence for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide alcohol to an under-18-year-old without a parent or guardian’s consent. In addition, when alcohol is provided to an under-18-year-old, the parent, guardian, or authorised person will need to ensure that the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner. The bill also introduces a new purchase age regime: 18 for on-licences, and 20 for off-licences. The committee did not make any recommendations in this area, as these provisions will ultimately likely be subject to a conscience vote in Parliament.
Of course, legislation alone will not be enough to turn round our drinking culture. That is why, in addition to the measures contained in the bill, the Government recently announced that an extra $10 million per year of excise revenue will be used to fund alcohol treatment and workforce training. The Government announced also that an expert forum will be set up to examine whether further restrictions to advertising and sponsorship are necessary to reduce alcohol-related harm. Alcohol advertising is a complex and evolving area, and the impacts of any further restrictions need careful consideration.
The Government will continue its investigation into a minimum price regime alongside the introduction of this bill. A key part of this investigation is obtaining alcohol price and sales data from the alcohol industry. I remain very hopeful that this information will be provided voluntarily. However, a regulation-making power has been added to the bill as a backstop measure should non-regulatory options for obtaining this data fail, or if further data is required.
The bill will provide a strong and enduring legislative framework for the sale and supply of alcohol in New Zealand, and I commend the bill to the House.
Given the Alcohol Reform Bill’s genesis, I should be welcoming its report back from the Justice and Electoral Committee, but I am not. Although Labour will not oppose the second reading of this bill, there is not much enthusiasm on this side of the House for what has been a squandered opportunity.
Never before in our history has there been such an in-depth review of alcohol as that conducted by the New Zealand Law Commission. It was an incredible review, and I want to place on record a tribute to the New Zealand Law Commission for the work it did. It did an outstanding job. It heard submissions all around the country; its members went out after hours and saw what alcohol was doing in our streets and our communities. At the same time, the level of public support for change is unprecedented. Communities from one end of the country to the other are taking to the streets to oppose the granting of liquor licences. This is unprecedented.
The member for the Wainuiōmata area calls out, and I know that people in Glenn Innes have taken to the streets, as well. Down in Christchurch recently the same thing happened in the Ilam electorate, the electorate of the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery. People are absolutely determined to have a say in what is happening in their communities. More than 3,000 New Zealanders submitted to the Law Commission on its draft report. When we combine that number with the number of those who submitted on this bill and the previous bill, that is over 5,000 submissions in total, and there were just over 7,000 form submissions from interested groups and individuals.
I have to say that this bill is a travesty, because it does not even begin to address the challenges that were posed by the evidence that the Law Commission has put in front of the Government of New Zealand and that should have been the basis for a bill that was introduced into the House. The bottom line is that this bill ignores what the people said they wanted. The Government did make itself available to the corporate interest, but not, I am afraid, to the people of New Zealand. The truth is that this bill adds almost nothing to the bill I introduced into this House 3 years ago, which had its first reading in March 2009. If the Government had amended the bill that I introduced with the few additional elements added to that basic framework, and if it had referred that to a select committee by way of a Supplementary Order Paper, then we could have had this legislation passed and enacted by now. It could already have been taking place and we would not have to have communities marching in the streets demanding something that this legislation would have already given them.
The other thing—and this is the real reason why I think the Government decided not to do it as a Supplementary Order Paper to my bill—is that we would have had amendments dealing with the question of the breath-alcohol content levels, as well. The move from 0.08 to 0.05 would have been within the scope of the Sale and Supply of Liquor and Liquor Enforcement Bill but not within the scope of this bill, and that is the reason why the Government did not want my bill amended; it wanted a new bill so that it could leave the transport amendments outside the scope of the bill.
Our Prime Minister just loves to kick the tyres on these tough issues, but he does not like to make decisions, and that is what kicking the tyres is all about. Sometimes we need to have a Prime Minister who is prepared to get up and make hard decisions, and this would be one of those decisions that I would like to have seen from our Prime Minister—like the decision of a former Minister of Health who, in an election year, was prepared to put smoke-free environments on our legislative timetable.
This Government has not got what it takes, in my view, and this Prime Minister does not have what it takes, to make these decisions. It is intolerable, in the wake of the evidence presented by the Law Commission. I am particularly disappointed that this bill is one of the final acts of this Minister of Justice; it could have been the one law reform that could produce a legacy that any—any—Minister of the Crown would be proud of. As a Minister who jointly spearheaded the ministerial committee on the Drivers of Crime nearly 3 years ago, he should have been able to do better than this.
I went to an Alcohol Action conference a while ago where a number of us were asked to imagine what New Zealand would be like without alcohol damage. I am not saying “without alcohol”; I am not putting up a proposition in terms of a wowser’s argument here. I am talking about what we were asked to imagine: New Zealand without alcohol damage. I immediately thought of the lives that would be saved, of the resources that would free up in our hospitals and within the health system as a whole, and of the resources that would flow to the justice system.
Imagine the impact that a New Zealand without alcohol damage would have on our police, our courts, and on our prisons. I thought of ACC levies and the fact that they would plummet in the earners account and the motor vehicle account. I thought of the families that would be freed from the scourge of domestic violence. But imagining New Zealand without alcohol damage is an unrealistic dream, unfortunately, while we as a nation are not prepared to contribute to the change that would make it a reality within ourselves, our families, and our communities, or to require it of this place—Parliament—and require us as members of Parliament to vote for the right thing.
Unfortunately, most of the public discourse around alcohol reform is self-interested, not public-spirited. That is why there is such huge support for increasing the age to 20 but not for removing cheap booze from our supermarket shelves. As I have said on many occasions now, law reform in its own right cannot provide the total solution. What is required is a major attitudinal shift towards alcohol and the level of societal tolerance for the behaviours it induces. Law reform that is evidence-based can make a difference to an environment that has normalised alcohol as an everyday commodity, masking the devastating consequences that it is having on our communities from one end of the country to the other.
The impact of the retail sector—particularly the two supermarket chains—must be addressed. It has been driving down the price of wine and beer and fuelling the pre-loading generation. Pre-loading has become the norm in that new generation of drinkers, who have had virtually none of the restrictions that we had when we first started to drink. I do not think we would be brave enough in this House to take wine out of supermarkets, but we should set a minimum price that would prevent wine from being sold for less than $2 for a standard drink. This new generation does its own cost-benefit analysis—I call it a price-trash analysis—“How little can I spend to get trashed?”. That is what these young people do today. I am talking about people in their 20s and 30s; I am not talking about people under 20. That is what happens—when the prices spiral down, the harm climbs higher.
There has been an exponential growth in the number of off-licences, and the amount of alcohol now consumed from off-licences as opposed to on-licences has flipped. In terms of alcohol consumed now, twice as much has been bought from off-licensed premises than from on-licensed premises. It is a measure of inequity, as well. A study done by Otago University showed that lower socio-economic suburbs were likely to have more liquor outlets than any other suburbs. That is fuelling the problems that we see in places like South Auckland.
We cannot ignore the enormous burden that we are all being invited to carry for the sake of those who are causing harm in our society. As Sir Geoffrey Palmer said, not everyone drinks in a manner that is harmful, but the consequences of harmful drinking affect us all. We have to want change to happen. Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity, and it ought not to be treated as such. It should not be advertised or discounted, as both of those actions are designed to increase consumption, which does nothing to fit the harm-reduction objectives of a responsible regulatory regime.
There is a connection, well researched and evidence-based, between accessibility and harm. Accessibility is about the convenience of the outlets, their hours of operation, and the price of the alcohol, and all three have to be addressed—and I say sooner rather than later, as later will be too late for too many.
It has been a privilege to chair, through the Justice and Electoral Committee, the debate that has been circulating on alcohol over the last term. It is interesting to note too that the previous Government introduced the Sale and Supply of Liquor and Liquor Enforcement Bill on 6 August 2008, which the previous speaker, Lianne Dalziel, spoke on, which was just a few days before the House rose, with the Government having spent most of that previous year debating such hugely important things as the Electoral Finance Act. Subsequent debates went on through that time, and the Electoral Finance Act was railroaded through the select committee process.
I have been through these debates a couple of times in this term, firstly, in debating the bill promoted by the previous speaker, which was given its first reading by the incoming National Government in March 2009, and then in transacting this current bill, the Alcohol Reform Bill, which was brought to the House by the Hon Simon Power. That came after the Law Commission was asked to bring forward the report back in respect of its discussion paper, so that the bill could reflect as many of those recommendations as possible.
I am proud to have been in charge of steering this legislation through the Justice and Electoral Committee. I thank select committee members for the way in which they engaged in a bipartisan manner with the several thousand who engaged with the committee in bringing their submissions. About 1,500 of those gave their own written submissions, and several thousand more sent in form submissions. There were over 90 hours of hearings that this committee went through.
I thank those people who, previous to this select committee process, contributed their expertise through this process and through the public debate. Gerard Vaughan, Doug Sellman, and Paul Quigley are individuals in particular who have gained some notoriety—and quite justifiably so—for the way in which they have brought before the public of New Zealand the issues around the consumption of alcohol.
I thank those community groups like the Glen Innes Drug and Alcohol Action Group, and similar groups in Māngere, Ōtara, Christchurch, and other parts around the country, because this is a process that people have engaged with. I reject very roundly the suggestion from the previous speaker that the Government and Government members were prepared to engage only with corporates, because that is total crap. In fact, Government members engaged with those particular people and with those alcohol action groups not only as members of the select committee but also as individual members of Parliament and as caucus committees, as did those members from the other side of the House.
That’s not what I said, and don’t use language like that—that’s revolting.
If they want to sit incredibly high or tall in a saddle—like that member on her high horse—I tell them they have got the wrong end of the stick.
A number of themes have come out of the public discussion on this debate, and one is that we cannot legislate for a culture. We do have the problem of a binge drinking culture in this country, and we need to deal with that problem. We will not deal with it by way of legislation, but we can assist a change in behaviour through legislation, and I believe that that is what we are achieving through this bill—albeit we will not turn round 80 years of liberalisation, from the times of prohibition, in one bite. I do not believe that any Government of any hue would be able to do that.
The other underlying—or overriding—theme that has come through all of this debate is that everybody’s drinking is a problem except my own. I do not mean mine personally, but I mean ours individually as we discuss it. Everybody believes that we have a big problem with alcohol in this country, but they refuse to look at the manner in which they themselves drink, or to tailor that according to the research and the study that we understand.
The third point is that everybody in the sector points at somebody else for creating the problems around alcohol. If we talk to people who are running bars, and those who are managers of on-licensed premises, we find that they point to individual responsibility, the drinking that people do before they turn up at bars—that is, the level of alcohol people have on board before they start drinking—and whether bar managers can determine the level of intoxication of their own patrons. They throw it back on those patrons. If people want to talk about supermarkets and the accessibility and availability of alcohol—the availability of cheap alcohol, as the previous speaker said—we can quite rightly make the point that alcohol has never been as cheap as it is today. It is unrealistically cheap in respect of other commodities and it is unrealistically cheap in respect of the cost of production, and not only is the supply of alcohol as cheaply as it is unfair to the producers but it creates a huge social problem. It is interesting to note that as quick as the previous speaker was to seize all the benefits of the legislation she previously put forward, her legislation never addressed minimum pricing. In fact, that issue came before the committee time and time again, and, thankfully—
Well, some of us did not need the Law Commission’s report to tell us that there was an issue about minimum pricing, and that that needed to be addressed. In this bill it is being addressed, albeit it is there as a facility for regulation. We are saying to the retail industry that retailers had better supply us with the information they have in relation to costs and the mechanisms for costing within supermarkets, or we will deal to them via regulation and via this legislation. I have already indicated that this is a statement made to alcohol retailers.
The point is, too, that a number of the crucial issues and critical issues around drinking have been addressed through this legislation, albeit it has not gone as far as a number of people would have liked. I was at a public meeting in Manurewa just last week and I spoke to a group of people there. Those who were attending the meeting were very disappointed that they had not achieved their end goal. I said to them: “You need to be aware of how you have changed the debate, and you need to be conscious of the fact that you have made significant changes in turning round the debate from one of liberalisation to one of constraint.” When I reminded the groups that they needed to take some heart from that, they responded in two different ways and in the manner in which one would expect activists to respond. Half of them said: “Well, we’ve got so far to go and we’re looking forward without looking behind to see how far we’ve come.”, and the other half of the group were so grateful for the fact that the Parliament had taken cognisance of what the group was saying and gratitude for the fact that all their hard work had achieved a number of things.
I have to say that it was very good to have the input of Sir Geoffrey Palmer and the Law Commission report on this issue. In fact, I think he believed at one stage that he was so popular he could come and do a “Don Brash” on the Labour Party and seek to roll his good friend Phil Goff for the leadership. However, I understand that he has taken retirement, or realignment, in respect of that.
Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson is giving me the signal to wind up, and I understand that. It is just the one finger, and will not appear on the front page of the New Zealand Herald.
We have addressed community ownership of these problems by allowing communities to be able to dictate how alcohol will be sold and supplied within their areas, and that has been a long time coming. We have differentiated between supermarkets and dairies to make sure that alcohol cannot be sold within dairies, because when the ability to sell alcohol was extended to supermarkets back in the day, that was where Parliament intended it would go. We have addressed the purchase age of alcohol, and there has been a constraint, a restriction, a lifting of the age to purchase alcohol to take away. That is a good thing.
Parental supply is something where, through this bill, we have put the responsibility of supply of alcohol to minors back on to parents, albeit there is not a legislated drinking-age. When the select committee investigated what that drinking age would be, there was no consensus. I have covered, for instance, the restrictions on price.
I finish by making one point, and that is to go back to what I said about the sector. Every part of the alcohol industry points to another as being responsible for the evils of alcohol. Every problem with youth drinking starts from an adult wanting to push the envelope, push the boundary, in respect of what is acceptable. New product designs, the way alcohol is sold, and the mixes of energy drinks and alcohol are just some indications. It is over to us as legislators in this Parliament, and it is over to those people involved in the industry, to take the lead and take the responsibility, albeit this is about individual responsibility. Thank you.
I begin by acknowledging the chair of the Justice and Electoral Committee, Chester Borrows, for the diligent chairing that he undertook during the exercise that he has just described, and by paying tribute to all the members of the select committee who heard submissions on the Alcohol Reform Bill.
The first thing I want to say is that this bill is better than the legislation that we have at the present time, and much of that is down to the hard work of the officials, some of whom I see are in the Speaker’s gallery. I acknowledge their input into making the legislation better than what we have on the statute book at the moment. I acknowledge each of the members of the select committee for the work that they did in looking at the provisions of the bill and trying to work out how to make the law better. That is the best exercise that any parliamentarian can involve themselves in in this place.
There are a number of really important recommendations from the Law Commission’s report that are incorporated in the bill, and they are incorporated well. There is much harsher regulation of the irresponsible promotion of alcohol, and that has been a long time coming. It is good to see it in the legislation. There is a regulation-making power to ban dangerous alcohol products, and to restrict the alcoholic content of ready-to-drink beverages. There are better and new enforcement provisions around alcohol offences, and there are tougher penalties for those who breach them.
So that is progress. It was for that reason that members on this side of the House, in response to answers given at the select committee by submitters, asked them whether, although the bill did not go as far as we would like, it was enough of an improvement on the status quo for them to want us to support it. Unanimously the community groups said that, yes, the bill was better than what there was at the moment and would we please support it as far as it went. So in the second reading debate Labour members will vote to read the bill a second time.
I mentioned that the officials are in the Speaker’s gallery, and that is an unusual thing, as members will know. Normally we have officials in the well of the House, ready to assist us in the Committee stage. There will be no Committee stage for this bill in this Parliament, because there is not enough time to progress the legislation through that stage, so we will not be able to scrutinise it fully. Expectations were raised amongst the nearly 10,000 submitters who expressed their views to the committee. They had their hopes raised that this much better bill would actually become law prior to the election, but those hopes have been dashed, because there will not be time, and we will not have a detailed level of scrutiny in the House itself as to the provisions of the bill. That is a real shame.
The other real shame is one that has already been alluded to by my friend and colleague the Labour spokesperson on this issue, Lianne Dalziel. That issue is that we did what we do far too often in New Zealand at the moment: we, or at least the previous Government, sent this issue off to the Law Commission for an expert, dispassionate review of the law on this subject. The Law Commission was asked to hurry its review, such that it did not produce, as it normally does, a draft bill for Parliament to consider. But, none the less, the commission came back with its recommendations.
They were comprehensive recommendations, they were good recommendations, and they were carefully thought-out and backed up by the evidence. If we had done what we should do as a matter of course with Law Commission reports, which is to model legislation on the entirety of the report, bring it into the House, have it read a first time as per the Law Commission’s recommendations, and have a good old debate about what the Law Commission said we should do and why we should do it, then we might be in a different position.
But, as usual, the executive thought it knew better. It rejected the idea of bringing forward a number of the Law Commission’s recommendations into legislation. Many of them did not make it as far as the bill. So what we are looking at today in the House is a much-truncated version of what the Law Commission asked us to do and said would be necessary to make a real change to our binge drinking culture.
In his earlier contribution Chester Burrows very properly recognised that we do have a problem with alcohol consumption in New Zealand—we do have a binge drinking culture. He said that legislation should not be the only solution that we apply to that sort of thing, and of course he is right. But it is a necessary, if not a sufficient, thing to apply to this sort of problem.
If anybody needs evidence of that, they just need to think about the difference in New Zealand now compared with 25 years ago on issues like drink driving or smoking in public places. The huge culture change we have undergone in this country over questions like those has not all been because of the law, but changing the law was what kicked things off.
Those changes made it safe, for example, in the case of the smoking question, for people to say they did not want people smoking next to them or in their workplaces. With the drink-driving question, they made it OK for people to say “Hey, look, you’ve had too many drinks. How about you just stop there and, if not, take a taxi home?”. The law plays an incredibly important part in these matters.
What we have failed to do is make the law comprehensive. The Law Commission said that we should have looked at four important areas where this bill fails to address any questions whatsoever. The first is a lack of minimum pricing. In its final report, the Law Commission said: “We regard pricing policies as the central plank of any reform package aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm.” It is very clear that inexpensive, readily available alcohol is one of the key drivers of alcohol harm, yet there is no action on the table to deal with this issue.
The international evidence is unambiguous: price is one of the most effective ways to combat alcohol harm. Just as we saw with the smoking issue, price makes a difference. If we do not deal with price, we fail as a Parliament to address the sort of culture change that we all know we need in this area.
The second issue on which the Law Commission urged action was the availability of alcohol. We have had an experiment going on in New Zealand since we last had a comprehensive reform of alcohol law. Essentially, we have had laissez-faire—basically, very free availability of alcohol, on very few conditions. It has not worked, because we have this binge drinking culture in place. We needed to address the excessively free availability of alcohol in this country, and the bill does not do it.
The third issue is advertising and sponsorship. Ninety-four percent of submitters to the select committee wanted greater restrictions on advertising, and the bill just does not go there. Seventy-nine percent actually advocated a complete ban on alcohol sponsorship. Labour agrees that those three steps—dealing with price, dealing with availability, and dealing with advertising and sponsorship—would have made this bill so much better.
I mentioned a fourth issue, and it is the issue of the legal alcohol limit for driving. I will not go into that in any detail, but it is a matter that Parliament will just have to address if it wants to get serious about these questions.
I conclude my remarks by saying that, yes, this is better legislation. It is a shame it will not pass in this Parliament. But it is legislation that could have been so much better if politicians did not think they knew better than the Law Commission, and if they did not pay excessive heed to the interests of the industry. Failing to address those issues of availability, price, and advertising and sponsorship means that this bill is truly a lost opportunity for us to address the binge drinking culture that we see causing so much damage in the daily lives of so many New Zealanders.
The Green Party will support the Alcohol Reform Bill too, even though we do not think it goes nearly far enough. We congratulate Chester Burrows on his impartial chairing of the Justice and Electoral Committee, and the thousands of New Zealanders who took time to make submissions on this bill.
It is interesting that in all the articles and all the commentary that have been written about this bill, I have not come across one commentator who believes that the bill goes far enough. Even Michael Laws said in a column the other day that the bill was simply too watered down to have an impact. Tapu Misa said in her column: “The Government has … diluted [the Law Commission’s recommendations] into an insipid, ineffectual brew to make us feel like something is being done.” She said: “If I were in the alcohol industry I’d count the updated Alcohol Reform Bill as a win.” That, sadly, is the reality. All the way through this debate we have seen that tug of war between vested interests and the public interest, between the liquor industry, the hospitality industry, and the food industry on the one hand, and on the other hand Alcohol Action and the health professionals who have to pick up the pieces that result from alcohol abuse. So far, to this day, the vested interests have been wining hands down, and we assume that that is because the Government is simply not prepared to get offside with these vested interests.
I spoke to Sir Geoffrey Palmer the other day, and he is clearly extremely disappointed that the key recommendations of his report, such as price, have been rejected. He pointed out at the time that the Law Commission report is a package; if we want real change then one has to accept the whole comprehensive report, the package of reforms, and not simply cherry-pick them. But the ironic thing is that in diluting the Law Commission’s recommendations to the point where they will not be effective, the Government is completely out of step with public opinion, which is actually clamouring for political leadership on this issue. People are simply fed up with the havoc and the destruction that alcohol is causing in our society—the violence, the injury, and the hospital admissions. People are demanding a tougher regime.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians said recently that given the incredible harm that alcohol causes in our society—and it pointed out more than 1,000 deaths a year, costing the health system $1.2 billion in direct costs from dealing with alcohol—it cannot understand why its key recommendations to combat the ultra-cheap price of alcohol, and the irresponsible marketing of alcohol, had not been included in the bill. But there is still time, and we are still hoping that the Government will realise that it has seriously miscalculated public opinion on this issue and that it will support some of the changes we will be putting up as amendments to strengthen the bill.
We do need to remind ourselves that alcohol is a drug, a legalised drug—the equivalent, we are told, of a class B drug—so it does seem odd that we would allow a legal drug to be sold 24/7 right around the clock in virtually every dairy and supermarket in the land. The number of outlets selling alcohol has doubled in the last decade to the point where there are now more than 14,000 outlets selling it. In fact, one submitter to the Justice and Electoral Committee said there were far more alcohol outlets in New Zealand than there were in Australia, despite the fact we have only about one-fifth of Australia’s population.
It is extraordinary too that we have allowed this legalised drug to be heavily marketed and advertised, including to teenagers and young people. We do not allow morphine to be advertised and promoted, and targeted at children, so why do we allow the legal drug alcohol to be, especially when there is compelling evidence that alcohol advertising encourages people to start drinking at a younger age and to drink to excess? There is so much liquor advertising on television that 90 percent of children are exposed to alcohol advertising, not to mention marketing, on television every week. It is not surprising that alcohol advertising normalises and glamorises drinking, and makes young people think it is cool and sexy to drink. It is hardly surprising that there is intense peer group pressure on teenagers to drink, or that it has got to a point where young people think that they actually have to drink to be cool and to enjoy life, and that actually not drinking at a party is abnormal, uncool, and even nerdy. In our view, we will never reduce our binge drinking culture if the saturation advertising, marketing, and sponsorship of alcohol continues unabated. We want to see a tobacco-style prohibition on all alcohol advertising across all media, and a phasing out of the alcohol sponsorship of, and advertising at, sporting and cultural events.
There is also compelling evidence that cheap alcohol encourages people to drink more often and in large amounts, yet we allow supermarkets to sell alcohol so cheaply—at below the cost of production—that young people can go to their supermarket and load up every weekend with their 20-pack of beer for about $15. Submitter after submitter said to the select committee—just as Sir Geoffrey Palmer did—that price was the single most important issue in reducing our binge drinking culture. Submitters pointed out that alcohol is sold so cheaply in supermarkets that even liquor outlets and bars can buy their alcohol more cheaply in a supermarket than they can from a wholesaler—how ridiculous is that? Yet this amended bill does nothing to stop supermarkets from engaging in that predatory practice of selling alcohol below the cost of production to entice young customers into their shop.
Supermarkets told us in the select committee: “Oh no, we are not selling liquor below the cost of production.” But when we probed that in a secret hearing, the supermarkets had to basically admit that they had created a complex system of rebates and discounts that enable them to sell liquor at below the cost of production, even while they claim they do not. This Government readily admits that increasing the price of tobacco has been an effective strategy in reducing the number of smokers, so why would we not use the same effective strategy to try to reduce the number of drinkers? Why would we have one rule for cigarettes and a completely different one for alcohol? It does not make sense.
We support the proposal to allow local communities to develop local alcohol plans, but we would point out that these plans will be able to be appealed by businesses, and, as Doug Sellman has pointed out, thousands of New Zealanders will have to put in a huge grind. They are going to have to turn up to hearing after hearing against a well-heeled alcohol industry and its high-flying lawyers. So, as he pointed out, it could take years to bring any real change in the number of liquor outlets in New Zealand, or to reduce the number of hours during which they operate.
Other issues that we think are tremendously important include warning labels on alcohol, particularly about foetal alcohol damage. We have warnings on cigarettes and tobacco products; why not on alcohol? It is almost incomprehensible that the legislation does not lower the drink-driving limit. It allows people to drive around intoxicated. We strongly support the Government’s stated intention of a 5 percent limit on the content of ready-to-drinks, and we consider the threats from Independent Liquor that it will challenge our ruling and continue to import liquor over that limit as an outrageous breach of our sovereignty and an outrageous attempt to circumvent our laws.
The Green Party is divided on the issue of the age of purchase—we will be exercising a conscience vote—but, in general, we think that the drinking age is not a main issue because alcohol is a problem in all age groups. Ninety-two percent of heavy drinkers are aged 20 or over. It is just too easy to divert the debate into one about the drinking age, when it affects every age group. We think we need to address alcohol as a social problem, not a youth problem. The reality is that excessive drinking, particularly in adulthood, is contributing to crime, injury, family violence, and sexual assaults. I think it is 80 to 90 percent of prisoners who have alcohol or drug-related problems. New Zealanders are fed up. They want real action. I appeal to the Government that it is not too late to take some real action.
Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker. We do not have to look too far to consider why this Alcohol Reform Bill is necessary. Just 4 days ago, while the eyes of the world were upon us, spectators and members of the public, acting under the haze of alcohol-induced behaviour, threatened to ruin the wonder of the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony for all of us.
Of course there were issues with transport, with forward planning, and with safety and security that are rightly matters that local and central government must attend to, but we cannot avoid the conclusion that drunk and unruly passengers were hitting the emergency lever on the trains and causing chaos, that wild party-goers were creating havoc at the Viaduct Basin, and that, as my co-leader Pita Sharples has pointed out, at least six of the paddlers on the Te Tai Tokerau waka were taken to hospital after being assaulted by drunk members of the public. This is a shame and a disgrace, and I have no tolerance for alcohol-induced behaviour that places public safety at risk. This may sound hard-line, but I make no apology for our stance. We are faced with a situation in which Māori have four times the rate of alcohol-related mortality as non-Māori, and more than double the rate of years of life lost due to alcohol. We also have the special responsibility of knowing that half of our Māori population is aged under 24 years—the age group that is vulnerable to a far higher level of alcohol-related harm than any other.
I am proud that in Te Wai Pounamu in 1879 all of the South Island iwi joined together to petition Parliament for the total prohibition of alcohol in the southern provinces. And I am deeply sorrowful that here we are 132 years later still tinkering around the edges of alcohol reform. But it is a start, and we acknowledge that some progress has been made. The Māori Party appreciates the spirit of cooperation that has characterised the negotiations our parties have had over the last year with Minister Power, and we mihi to him for his willingness to consider our proposals to move towards a more comprehensive and all-inclusive approach.
We are driven by the wisdom of Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa, the Māori Medical Practitioners Association, which has detailed the impact of alcohol upon our lives. The excessive availability and consumption of alcohol has damaged the lives of whānau in a vast multitude of ways, including through motor vehicle accidents, psychiatric crises, cardiac and neurological emergency, assault, financial strain, and childhood suffering. In line with this advice, we do not agree that a treatment focus on brief interventions will address the longstanding effects of alcohol abuse in our communities. Alcohol addiction is often a chronic and relapsing condition. It does not occur in isolation; mental health, public health, and social problems often coexist with addiction.
We are also mindful of the advice of the National Committee for Addiction Treatment that the capacity of addiction services needs to at least double to enable those who are most severely affected by addiction to gain timely access to treatment. The Māori Party recommends that there should be substantial investment in multiple approaches, bearing in mind that no single approach will work for everyone.
We have been concerned that some of the rhetoric around the association to the Drivers of Crime alcohol work stream restricts treatment options to a context of offending. We believe that a far wider approach that takes a whole-of-life perspective is desirable. Approximately one-third of people with alcohol-related harm change organically as a natural development, without the need for clinical intervention. These are people who make the lifestyle change because they have support around them to address their behaviour. This is Whānau Ora. The Māori Party believes we must really focus on the long-term outlook, the intergenerational shift, that will ensure that we reduce alcohol-related harm right across the whānau.
We must be mindful of a recent article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, which reported that a large proportion of New Zealanders report the experience of physical, social, economic, and psychological harms because of others’ drinking. This broader context of Whānau Ora must be considered in the discussion of alcohol reform. We need to invest in well-being and to study the motivators and triggers that are associated with alcohol use within the whānau. It is about denormalising drinking and distancing our communities from the grasp of the alcohol industry. We need to put the blame for the problem where it belongs, get out of the pockets of the booze barons, and stop blaming the consumers. Alcohol is a drug, and those who produce, market, advertise, and sell it should be the ones who are criminalised, not those socialised into thinking it is normal.
Although we wholeheartedly see the need for significant investment in the sector targeted at alcohol treatment services, we are strongly in support of any initiatives that lessen accessibility to alcohol—whether by limiting trading hours, limiting the number of alcohol outlets, or limiting the types of alcohol products available. We also maintain that alcohol taxation, minimum pricing, and advertising restrictions are the most powerful tools in addressing the harms of alcohol use. We support the intention to keep these priority areas open, such as monitoring overseas developments on minimum pricing and working with the industry to investigate minimum pricing.
We also support the proposal for a cross-agency advertising and sponsorship review, as recommended by the Law Commission. We are particularly supportive of the Law Commission’s advice that alcohol advertising and sponsorship could be addressed by limiting product information to an objective, plain-packet format, which is much the same thing as my colleague Tariana Turia is advancing in the area of tobacco prevention.
We are disappointed that local authority plans remain voluntary. The liberalisation of alcohol sales, opening up supermarket sales, extending opening hours, reducing the minimum purchase age to 18, and increased numbers and density of outlets have all compounded the problem of alcohol addiction in our communities. We cannot help but be concerned that local flexibility may, in fact, open up more opportunities for alcohol-related harm.
I will share with the House the comparison made by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu with the regime of environmental management. It was Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu’s contention that the rights protected under article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi include the capacity to protect and preserve the well-being of our greatest taonga, our people. Accordingly, its view is that iwi have a right to be decision makers on the supply and regulation of alcohol within their respective ancestral lands. The proposal to enable iwi input into local decision-making will be proposed as a key amendment to the part of the bill on local alcohol policy.
Finally, we reiterate our concern about representing alcohol harm as essentially being along the criminal justice trajectory of offending and victimisation. Alcohol harm, like tobacco-related harm, is a complex and comprehensive issue that requires innovative leadership across many levels.
The Māori Party will be supporting the second reading of the bill, and we propose to introduce amendments during the Committee of the whole House stage in order to reflect the areas where we have yet to achieve consensus. In the Committee stage I will therefore be introducing various amendments, including to omit clause 14 from the bill, thus ensuring that the Police, Fire Service, and Defence Force bars are not exempt from its provisions; to provide for the appointment of members by local iwi or hapū on to licensing committees within territorial authorities; to identify proximity to schools as a determining factor in licensing decisions; and to restrict storage of alcohol to a concealed section of a grocery store or dairy. Kia ora.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to take a brief call in the second reading of the Alcohol Reform Bill. This bill has been debated at length by constituents in my electorate.
I think it is important to bring perspective back to the debate. The bill is looking to reduce the harm caused by alcohol as a result of excessive and/or inappropriate consumption of alcohol. We are not talking about the moderate consumption of alcohol that many people whom we represent enjoy. It is important that we keep that perspective. There is no expectation that alcohol is harmful to an individual when consumed in a moderate and responsible way. The Greens member Sue Kedgley talked about the fact that we could be implementing quite Draconian measures similar to the smoking legislation that has been passed, but we need to remember that we are talking about two quite different issues, in terms of the impact on one’s health. It is also quite ironic that the Greens propose such Draconian measures when that same party wants to legalise cannabis.
I want to leave on the record that this bill is about reducing harm. It is about reducing harm caused as a result of either inappropriate or excessive consumption of alcohol. We are not talking about the bulk of New Zealanders, the people we represent who are quite happy to have a glass of wine or a beer on the odd occasion and to be quite sensible and normal in that consumption.
One of the greatest professional pleasures and privileges I have had in this Parliament has been dealing, on the select committees I have been on, with really significant social issues: tobacco on the Māori Affairs Committee and alcohol on the Justice and Electoral Committee. I say from the outset that alcohol has been an altogether much more complex and multifaceted issue. One of the reasons for that comes, I suppose, from a silly little anecdote I heard some time ago about a congressman who was asked by a constituent to explain his attitude towards whisky. He said “If you mean that demon drink that poisons the mind, pollutes the body, desecrates family life, and inflames sinners, then I am against it. But if you mean the elixir of Christmas cheer, the shield against winter chill, the taxable potion that puts needed funds into public funds to comfort little crippled children, then I am for it. This is my position and I will not compromise.” As I say, it is a silly little story that I do not intend anyone to take seriously, but it does contain a kernel of truth that I think much of the media reporting and the public health lobby, and many of the speakers, have missed—that is, that alcohol, fundamentally, is neither solely good nor solely harmful.
The Alcohol Reform Bill, which we have made significant changes to, acknowledges and really grapples and deals with the significant harms. I agree with everything that has been said in this House about the harms in terms of justice, police, health, social, and family areas. Enormous harms flow from alcohol, but it is also worth bearing in mind—and I think we did so as a committee—that for the majority of New Zealanders, alcohol is actually enjoyed moderately and responsibly. As a select committee, we took a bill that was already doing a lot to curb harm and we did more. I think we made some significant and good changes to the bill, which is now before us in its second reading. But to say that the bill only ever dealt with harms, and that that is all we should have focused on, would have been an overly simplistic position.
The Minister of Justice has talked about a pendulum in this area, and I think that is absolutely right. There is a spectrum, if you like. I think Charles Chauvel’s words were that we have a laissez-faire approach on the one side—and that is what we have had, to some extent, since 1989—and at the other extreme we have, I suppose, prohibition, and no one was advocating that. We have in this bill swung the pendulum quite some way—more than ever before, indeed—away from liberalisation and towards a tougher regime. But I think we have also been mindful of those tensions I have talked about and of the need to have an enduring framework. It is all very well, as some members—Lianne Dalziel is one of them, I think—have said, to say that we should have done all these other things. But tensions are involved here, and we needed and wanted to have an enduring framework that would stand the test of time. I think in this bill we basically have that.
I will not go through the select committee changes; there are 130 or thereabouts. I thank and acknowledge all members—I think all members engaged constructively—and the officials, who did a fantastic job. I briefly say on the conscience vote—the issue of age, which is, indeed, likely to be a conscience vote—that my position, and perhaps that of some others, coming out of the select committee was that it ultimately became a pretty simple issue. I will be voting to put the age to 20, simply because that is what the vast majority of people who submitted to us and whom I have spoken to all over New Zealand have said they want. But it is also because all of the research we saw that came to us also pointed that way. Research from the US effectively said that when the age went up all over the United States, the road toll for 15, 16, and 17-year-olds came down, and also that alcohol damages the normal growth and development of a teen’s brain. We heard that over and over again. So I think there are very strong reasons to put the age up.
But I come back to the point that ultimately we have moved the pendulum.
Lianne Dalziel says that we have not actually moved the pendulum. Well, Charles Chauvel, the member next to her, thought we had. We accept that the other side says it is not far enough, but we have moved the pendulum. Like Charles Chauvel said, legislation is necessary but is not a sufficient condition for getting the change we need. The kind of change that we really need, in addition to this legislation, is—as I think the Prime Minister said, as well—a cultural change. It is the sort of change that sees parents—I know it is old-fashioned—being parents and not trying to be mates to their children, who are going out to parties and the like. It sees mates actually being true friends, not just mates, and looking after their mates when they are out. And I know Lianne Dalziel will not agree with this, but it also sees a good healthy dose of individual responsibility in this country, of people acknowledging—
She does not like it—I said she would not—but we need individual responsibility. So the legislation is a good thing, but we need more. We need a cultural change in this country.
I start by commenting on the contribution of the previous speaker.
If the Alcohol Reform Bill, I say to Simon Bridges, was going to get passed in this term, we might actually say that progress will be made, but the reality is that this bill has been delayed and now effectively kicked for touch, and we will not see any change for a considerable period of time.
I will start my contribution by acknowledging the Hon Lianne Dalziel. Lianne Dalziel, whom the previous speaker was commenting on in a somewhat disparaging way, has been passionate about this issue and has worked on it for an extremely long time, trying to get real change. As Associate Minister of Justice, Lianne Dalziel asked the Law Commission in August 2008 to review the law on the sale and supply of liquor. She requested that the Law Commission provide robust evidence on which to base a new set of alcohol laws, which is always a good place to start. Lianne Dalziel also introduced into the House the Sale and Supply of Liquor and Liquor Enforcement Bill. She has continuously worked on this issue since that time, trying to ensure that we get robust, evidence-based changes to law. I really want to say that she has done a great job in that regard.
This issue causes a huge deal of harm in our society. I am a member of the Justice and Electoral Committee, which heard the submissions on the Alcohol Reform Bill, and one of the things that really sticks in my mind is a piece of research that was reported in The Lancet, the journal of the British Medical Association. It talked about and compared different types of drugs. The interesting thing about alcohol is that it is the only drug that causes more harm to others than to self. In other words, alcohol abuse is bad for individuals who are abusing it, but the harm that that abuse causes to other people—whether they be partners, children, or strangers—is huge and significant. That harm can be due to people becoming more violent. A lot of family and sexual violence certainly has alcohol involved. It can be due to people failing to be able to adequately operate machinery and cars, and I will come back to that point, thereby causing accidents and harm to others. I think that is very important when we are looking at alcohol.
I agree that it is more complicated than dealing with tobacco, because there is no safe level of consumption of tobacco. With alcohol, probably most of us in this House would agree that there are many people who drink in a way that is not harmful. They enjoy drinking and do so in a responsible manner. But that does not undermine the extent of harm that is caused in our country by alcohol abuse—certainly, 30 percent of all police-recorded offences, 34 percent of recorded family violence, and 50 percent of all homicides. ACC estimates that almost a quarter of all claims are alcohol-related, as are 70 percent of emergency department presentations for injury. Those are just some of the statistics. I think that is really important.
This bill has probably caused me the most reflection. It has made me think of my own use of alcohol and about how, through different ages, one can see alcohol abused on a daily basis. Probably all of us know of, or are around, people who abuse alcohol regularly. This is deeply ingrained in our culture, so I do accept cultural change is required.
I want to acknowledge a few other people. I acknowledge the chair of the Justice and Electoral Committee, Chester Borrows—I think he did a really good job and he is a very fair chair—and the other members of the committee. We were all engaged around this issue, and we all reflected, I think, very seriously on the points that were raised. I certainly want to acknowledge the work of the officials. They had an enormous workload. We asked many, many questions and they found the information and really tried to respond effectively to what we were asking them, so I want to put on record my thanks. The bill that is before us for its second reading is undoubtedly a better bill than the original legislation. But I particularly want to thank the submitters. There were nearly 9,000 submitters. We heard 90 hours of submissions, and they were powerful. Whether they were from individuals, from community groups, from medical experts, or from everybody else in between, they were powerful submissions.
Our community recognises that we have a problem with this issue. It is something on which people want to see real action taken. I think of groups like the Glen Innes Drug and Alcohol Action Group, which made a very powerful submission, I believe, to Sir Geoffrey Palmer and to our select committee. I think also of people in the community like the Oranga Society, which has been working with its local community to try to have fewer alcohol outlets in the area and to challenge liquor licences. I want to acknowledge them. I also acknowledge individual submitters like Gemma Bergin from Royal Oak, who came to our select committee because she lives right next door to an off-licence. She has a young baby. That off-licence often has very noisy surrounds and individuals who are intoxicated hanging around, causing disruption to her and her family. Her partner was physically assaulted when he tried to quieten down one group. She came to the select committee and told us her story, and there were many other personal stories.
There were some very, very sad personal stories as well. Probably the most powerful submission came from the group of parents of adult children with foetal alcohol syndrome. They had adopted children at a point when that syndrome was not well understood, and they had to spend many years trying to figure out what it was about their children that just did not make sense, and why those children could not develop attachments, could not behave responsibly, and had real trouble taking responsibility for their actions. That was a very powerful submission. So I thank the submitters for their time, and say that it is very sad that we have not lived up to their expectations. The Government will not be providing the comprehensive response that they sought. I think that is a real tragedy, given that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, as people have said.
I think there are probably not that many times where Parliament has the opportunity to move on social policy because there is huge community clamour for us to do so. Often Parliament is legislating and there is fundamental opposition in social areas. I take the smoke-free legislation as an example of that. That legislation was very brave, and the world as we knew it was going to collapse because of it. In the case of alcohol, the community clamour is for much more significant change than we will be getting. I have acknowledged that this is a better bill than the one that was introduced, but I think there is still a long, long way to go.
I think it is worth noting that it has been 24 years since the last full review of alcohol laws. We have the opportunity with the Law Commission report, Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, to take a response that is both comprehensive and evidence-based, and we will not be doing that. Nobody here would say that we should not be balancing the rights of individuals to enjoy alcohol while minimising harm, but there are issues around pricing. Others have spelt out properly that pricing is a major issue when people abuse alcohol. Heavy drinkers and young drinkers are particularly influenced by price, the commercialisation of alcohol and its accessibility, and the lack of restrictions regarding advertising.
I have to say, and Charles Chauvel mentioned this, that it is truly a tragedy that we are not dealing with the issue of the blood-alcohol level for driving. The public are saying to us to drop the blood-alcohol level to 0.05 grams, like most other Western countries. The evidence is absolutely clear, and many of us now know, thanks to the efforts of journalists and others, that one can drive a car perfectly legally while drunk in many, many cases. It is absolutely appalling that the Government is allowing that to continue. The number of fatalities caused by alcohol is just a disgrace. I personally feel that one of the biggest problems with this legislation is that we are not dealing with that issue. Yes, it is about culture but legislation can send a very, very clear message. In this case we are missing the opportunity to put forward legislation that will send that clear message, that will deal with the issue comprehensively, not in a piecemeal fashion, and that will really honour those in the community who have asked us to take serious action. Certainly, what will be seen from this side of the House, if we get the chance—
I preface my contribution by acknowledging the harm that alcohol causes in our society; that has been alluded to during the course of this debate on the Alcohol Reform Bill.
One of the things that I understand and am told about politics is that it is about the exchange of ideas. In my view, when exchanging ideas it is very important that those ideas are based on fact, and not mistruths and rhetoric. Sadly, this debate on alcohol reform is riddled with mistruths and rhetoric. We heard the contribution from the Green Party member Sue Kedgley, who repeatedly said that supermarkets sell alcohol as loss leaders. She knows full well that the pricing lists were provided to the Justice and Electoral Committee, as well as the discount regimes that they provide depending on volume. I have them in front of me. Yet she insisted on, in my view, misleading this House by saying that supermarkets sell alcohol as loss leaders.
The other point that I will note was made by Chester Borrows. Two things surprised me about the submissions. I say in response to the urgings of Lianne Dalziel in this debate and the praise that she gave to Geoffrey Palmer that my suggestion to Geoffrey Palmer was that he did not need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars travelling the country to find out and inform himself about alcohol. All he had to do was open up his window on to Roxburgh Street and take a whiff of the air, or walk 2 minutes down the road—it is all downhill, as Charles Chauvel knows—to Courtenay Place. He would then have found out the problems with alcohol. But no. Typical Geoffrey Palmer was bludging on the taxpayer, doing a roadshow around New Zealand, and then producing a report full of rhetoric.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not normally do this, but those last comments—although I know they were not directed at a member of this House but to a former Prime Minister and now the head of our Law Commission, who has provided an independent report to the Government on the subject matter of this debate—were completely out of order.
I am not persuaded at this point that they are. Can I just ask the person controlling the sound to moderate that a little bit in this instance as well.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take exception to the comment from Mr Quinn earlier that my colleague Sue Kedgley was misleading the House.
I think that the member who was speaking was referring to the information given. I do not think, with the way in which he couched that comment, that any slur was intended. That is my interpretation. I listened very carefully.
My understanding, and we could check the record in due course, is that he said that in full knowledge of information that was supplied to the committee, she made a comment that in his view was misleading the House.
An overwhelming impression is left with me from the select committee process. I should say that the days of passing judgment based on the roar of the coliseum are way gone. I would have thought that if anyone would know that, it would be the Green Party members. But, as Chester Borrows said, two things stood out. One was that everyone blamed everyone else. Of course, the classic was Mr Bruce Robertson, the hospitality industry representative. He said: “Not us; blame the supermarkets.” Everyone blamed the supermarkets.
The other thing that stood out was to “Do as I say, not as I do.” The classic example of that for me was when five doctors turned up and espoused the view that alcohol sales should be banned from supermarkets. Charles Chauvel was chairing the meeting, and after everyone had had their go, I quietly asked how many of them drink. Four of them put their hand up. Then I asked where they buy their alcohol from. They said it was the supermarkets. I said: “The supermarkets? You want me to ban it from supermarkets because you cannot stop yourself buying it from the supermarkets.” They said that it was not them; they were saving the young people. This was the problem with the whole of the submissions. Everyone blamed everyone else.
Here is another classic. We heard a lot about the Law Commission report. In the report there are three pages—
Yes, I have. There are three pages dedicated to licensing trusts. Only two licensing trusts in New Zealand still have monopoly sale rights. One is in Southland and the other is in Waitakere. The statistics out of Southland on the licensing trusts show—and this is from research from the Parliamentary Library—that the rate of alcohol-related violent crime in Southland is 36 percent. In the Southern Police District, which takes in a much wider group, it is 31 percent. The national average is 33 percent. In other words, in an area where alcohol is sold only through licensing authority outlets—no supermarkets can sell it—there is actually a higher violent crime rate, yet everyone is blaming the supermarkets.
I say that if we are going to actually get a paradigm shift in our drinking culture, then let us focus on the facts. There is no simple solution—I agree. In fact, I often think that the simplest solution to this problem and the way to get a paradigm shift is probably to increase the age to about 25. Will that ever happen? No. In fact, in the Sunday Star-Times we saw a new theory. The latest theory in the Sunday Star-Times is that research shows the link to poor parenting. Do members see? I ask them to tell me what the reality is. This is the sort of rhetoric that goes around.
Here is just one last example, by Garth George from the New Zealand Herald. I am sorry about this, I say to Derek. Garth said on 16 June that the Law Commission alcohol report “recommended raising the legal drinking age to 20.” It did no such thing. It actually recommended that the purchase age be raised to 20. Even the commentators cannot get it right. I say let us focus on the real facts and try to reach a long-lasting solution. Thank you.
I have enjoyed listening to the debate and the submissions from different speakers around the House on the Alcohol Reform Bill. I acknowledge that the issue of alcohol legislation and alcohol regulation is not an easy one. Alcohol is not the same as tobacco. It has both its positives and its negatives and our response needs to reflect that.
It is also a deeply political issue. Chester Borrows is absolutely right in saying that everybody agrees that something must be done about the harm caused by alcohol in our country, with a little caveat—so long as that something does not affect them. For that reason, politicians and political parties can be a little bit nervous about taking bold action on the regulation of alcohol. What disappoints me most about the piecemeal changes that the bill introduces, positive as they are—and let me reiterate that Labour is supporting them, because the moves contained in this bill are positive—is that this really was an opportunity for all political parties to get together and make some really meaningful change.
The Government knew full well that Labour would have supported much more meaningful change than this. I think the Greens would have supported it too, and the Māori Party would have supported it; the only party that I am sure would not have supported it would have been the ACT Party. Combined, almost all of Parliament could have pushed through some really meaningful change—and that, in a way, would have taken the politics out of it.
Mr Quinn referred to politics as being the exchange of ideas. Another definition of politics is the art of the possible. Truly meaningful change was entirely possible in this bill, because we had near unanimity around the House. If National had got on board with this issue, we would have had near unanimity around the House on some of those changes.
Chester Borrows also said that we could not legislate for culture. Well, I think the Smoke-free Environments Act disproves that statement, because that Act, through a number of different changes over the years, has changed our culture around tobacco, and it has resulted in a reduction of the use of tobacco and the harm caused by tobacco. Now, as I said, I am not saying that our response to alcohol should be exactly the same as our response to tobacco; they are two entirely different substances. But it does prove that we can affect the culture around a substance through legislation.
Chester Borrows was also right in saying that we spend a lot of time pointing fingers at one another, rather than getting together and actually coming up with a solution. I think the hospitality industry, the liquor industry, the supermarkets, and the retailers are guilty of that—and political parties are guilty of that as well.
I go back to my statement that there really was an opportunity here for all political parties to get together to create meaningful change. We would have liked to see a mechanism to increase the price of alcohol, because we know—the international evidence is unambiguous, as my colleague Charles Chauvel said—that increasing the price reduces consumption, and harmful consumption. Again, we have seen it with tobacco. In fact, just this week—yesterday, in fact—I visited my local primary health organisation. I spoke to a smoking cessation coach, and I asked whether we had done the right stuff in this term of Parliament. She replied “Absolutely.” I also asked her about putting up the tax, and she said that every time the tax was increased, more and more people quit. It raises the threshold and captures more and more people every time.
The same thing would happen with alcohol. There would be less and less harmful consumption of alcohol, not by increasing tax—I think that increasing tax captures too many responsible drinkers—but by increasing the minimum price. I think that is the mechanism that we should be using.
Paul Quinn disputes the fact that the supermarkets loss-lead. The mechanism by which the supermarkets loss-lead is actually quite a simple one. They take the rebate that they get across the entire range of products they receive from one brewery, or other supplier of alcohol products, and apply that rebate to one particular product on any given week, thus drastically reducing the price of that product, but at the same time retaining the ability to say they have not been loss-leading across their range of products. That is exactly the mechanism that they use to push one particular product in any given week.
I remember this from my student days. We would look at what product was the cheapest that week, whether it was Tui, Rheineck, or one of those other quality products on the market, and that would be the one we would buy. I remember Rheineck being 50c a can. They did that other wonderful trick of saying—
I know; it was disgusting. That is a prime example of buying something for one purpose only, and that is for its alcohol content and its cheapness, because no one would buy Rheineck on the taste, that is for sure.
That is what students were doing. They were buying as much of one particular product as possible. The supermarkets also said that customers could only buy 3 dozen at a time, so of course we bought 3 dozen, and then went back and bought another 3 dozen, and went back and bought another 3 dozen. The supermarkets did not stop us, because the limit was of course just a marketing ploy to make customers think they had to somehow game them by buying as much as humanly possible. The supermarkets did not mind; they were delighted that their marketing worked absolutely perfectly. So, yes, we need to increase the price, and yes, there is loss-leading. We could have taken that opportunity to increase prices through this bill.
The other thing on which we would like to have seen greater restrictions is the availability of alcohol. We know that reducing the availability of a substance reduces the harm. We know that, and that is why we have prohibition on so many substances. I will not debate the merits of prohibition as a policy in and of itself right now, but the reason we have so many products prohibited is in the name of reducing availability, and we reduce availability in the name of reducing harm.
So why not apply the same principle to alcohol? Why is alcohol different from those other harmful substances? Nobody has given me a reasonable answer to that question. No one has been able to explain why we treat alcohol so differently from those other substances.
Louise Upston and Simon Bridges both, in a way, referred to a spectrum or a pendulum. Louise Upston questioned why the Greens would like to see the pendulum move one way towards the middle for alcohol, when they have argued in the past—I do not know whether that is their policy now—for moving the pendulum in the opposite direction towards the middle for other substances like cannabis. But that is what they are trying to achieve, I believe, by trying to move these different substances towards the middle. I do not oppose that; I think that makes a lot of sense.
Simon Bridges said we had moved the pendulum a long way towards the middle. That is not true at all. We have squeaked it just a touch from extreme commercialism. I think we are still in the zone of extreme commercialism for alcohol, and there is a long, long way we could go in terms of bringing that pendulum back towards the middle. No one is advocating prohibition for alcohol, but that pendulum could move a lot further back towards the middle.
I would like to touch briefly on the other side of harm reduction. We have talked a lot about supply limitation; I would like to talk about demand limitation as well. Rahui Katene touched on the fact that we need to see greater availability of addiction treatment services for people addicted to alcohol and other drugs.
Unfortunately, under the current Government we have seen mental health and addiction removed from the list of priorities for district health boards. As a result, we have seen some front-line mental health services and addiction services being cut, because the district health boards have had to move their funding into the other areas the Government deems to be greater priorities than those. Addiction service provision needs to double. We do need to deal with demand limitation. This bill does not go all the way, but the provisions in it are worth supporting, so, reluctantly, Labour supports this bill.
I am very pleased to be the final speaker in the second reading debate of the Alcohol Reform Bill. I do not want to traverse a lot of the ground that has been well covered by others in this debate, but let us just say that across the House I think we have agreement that control of alcohol and dealing with the harm it causes is an issue that we all acknowledge to be a significant one for our society. I think where the differences start to come in is that on this side we are very aware that although legislation is absolutely a part of that solution, it will never be the whole of it. We have to recognise that, and if we think there is anything this House can do that would deal with all the issues around alcohol, short of prohibition—and history tells us that would not work either—then we are not being realistic.
For myself, I came into the Justice and Electoral Committee while that committee was part-way through consideration of this legislation. I want to add my voice to those who have already commended the chair, Chester Borrows, for the excellent process he ran, and, in fact, all of the committee members for what was, I thought, the very constructive way they approached this bill, from all sides of the House.
In listening to the debate this afternoon, I have been surprised by how little some of the specifics within the bill have been touched on. I will certainly not run through them all, but I do want to comment on a couple of the provisions that I am particularly enamoured of. I think the most important of all the changes this bill will bring is the ability for local communities to have a much greater say in where and how alcohol is sold in their district. If there is one thing I hear as a local electorate MP, it is that communities want to have a say on where alcohol can be sold within their communities. In fact, they are always staggered to find that under present law they do not. This bill will deliver that to communities. It will allow the people of Selwyn and communities like Halswell and Rolleston, where these are pressing issues, to work with the Selwyn District Council to ensure that the planning rules reflect their needs. I think that is a tremendous advancement in the law on alcohol control. The bill as reported back from the select committee will be effective in decreasing the visibility of alcohol in our supermarkets, and I think that is a positive step forward.
The other thing I think is worth commenting on—and I do so as a parent of children reaching the age where I am sure I will have to deal with these issues—is that I am very pleased to see that the bill contains a provision that would make it an offence for anyone to supply alcohol to those who are under 18 without their parent’s or guardian’s consent. It is my job as a parent to decide how I want to raise my children in terms of alcohol consumption. I would be horrified if my young teenage children were to go to parties and be plied with alcohol by other parents or older children without me knowing about it. I absolutely endorse that new offence provision.
The other area where I think tremendous steps have been made—and there are many—and the one I want to touch on is the fact that this bill increases and enhances penalties for irresponsible marketing of alcohol, particularly those products and marketing promotions that are specifically aimed at targeting young people. That sort of behaviour is reprehensible and should be stamped out, and this bill sets up the tools for that to occur.
In closing, the comment I make on the balancing of interest we have had to do in this bill is that I think it is very important that on any issue this House deals with, and in particular those that cut across all of society, we do not just listen to the activists who beat a path to our door. Of course we must hear from them, but I think it is valuable to go out, stand on the streets in our shopping communities and shopping areas—as I have done around Selwyn—and talk to the people who would not necessarily make an appointment to come and see their MP. I have spent many an hour standing, asking people what they think about alcohol reform, whether we should have alcohol in supermarkets, what the purchase age should be, and whether they want other people to be able to supply alcohol to their children. Having done that for many hours and having talked to very many of my constituents, I am convinced that the moderate and sensible but important advancements we have made on alcohol control are a good balance between curbing alcohol harm and still protecting—as colleagues on this side of the House have said—the responsible use of alcohol, which most New Zealanders are able to enjoy.
Let me just close where I began, by saying that legislation is a part of the solution. It will never be the whole answer; that is something for the whole of society to continue to address. But I am very happy to commend this bill to the House.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Alcohol Reform Bill be now read a second time.
- New Zealand National 57
- New Zealand Labour 42
- Green Party 9
- Māori Party 3
- Mana 1
- United Future 1
- Progressive 1
- Independent 1 (Carter C)
Bill read a second time.