Welcome to our August issue, and welcome, Prime Minister, to the alcohol debate.
I have to confess some cynicism at the prime minister now speaking up about liquor licensing and the impact of alcohol in our communities.
Most observers are well aware of the high level of anxiety over alcohol in recent years, and it’s not as though alcohol hasn’t featured on Parliament’s agenda. Over the past nine years, there have been various member’s bills about purchase age, licensing and marketing. Then there’s the annual data from Statistics NZ showing a constant increase in alcohol consumption (a proven proxy for alcohol harm), driven largely by alcopops. More importantly, we’ve seen communities taking a stand against the proliferation of alcohol – the hikoi in Clendon and Queenstown’s licensing controls the most recent examples.
So why has the prime minister only now found a voice? Some suggest her recent comments about the number of liquor outlets are a cynical political move, exploiting a very sad incident in South Auckland. Others are more pragmatic, saying, regardless of the motivation, the PM is providing a rare opportunity for positive change.
The prime minister showing leadership on alcohol is valuable nonetheless. When prime ministers speak, people tend to listen. But we, and others,have been raising these issues for a long time, only to see action halted. Why have the 2006 alcohol reviews (on supply to minors, and marketing) been stalled for so long? Why has the National Alcohol Strategy been expired for five years?
Fingers crossed, real action will be taken now – the government has recently proposed a new bill giving communities a greater say in liquor licensing, tightening advertising rules and supply of alcohol to minors. Councils, communities, health advocates, even the hospitality industry, are urging change.
But there is one significant hurdle.
Practically, there isn’t enough time on this Parliament’s calendar to see through a law change. The best we can ask is that this bill will make its way past a first reading to the Health Select Committee for public submissions. After that, we hope the new Parliament will keep the bill on its agenda and, finally, that all parties will vote as one for laws that will help make real change to our drinking culture.
NB Over 10 years the Drug Foundation has published 500 articles in the Matters of Substance magazine. Half of these stories are available here as webpages, and the rest are in PDF format only (download August 2008 copy 1.1 MB).
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