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The Drug Foundation today described the government’s alcohol policy proposals as feeble, saying they are a soft political response to a serious health issue. The foundation also criticised justice minister Mark Burton for recommending only limited changes to the Sale of Liquor Act, resulting from his ministry’s 11-month review.

The Ministry of Justice review of supply and sale of liquor to under 18 year olds was announced on the eve of last year’s Parliamentary vote on the ‘drinking age’ bill.

“The Minister’s announcement, in November last year, sunk Martin Gallagher’s member’s bill to raise the minimum alcohol purchase age from 18 to 20 years. Parliamentarians, hoping the review would take a broader look at alcohol policy, voted against Mr Gallagher’s bill 72 to 49. However, the outcome of that review does not meet the expectations of Parliament or the public – it appears the Minister has hoodwinked us all,” said Ross Bell, Drug Foundation executive director.

Mr Bell criticised the review for ignoring liquor licensing issues and the growing problem of cheap and discounted alcohol, and for leaving alcohol marketing control in the hands of the media and advertising industries.

“Political parties, the public and alcohol agencies expected more from this review. We were all told the review would tackle alcohol availability, visibility, affordability and advertising. We had confidence the review would result in real actions to tackle our drinking culture. Our confidence was misplaced: these proposals lack teeth, they focus narrowly on youth drinking and leave the status quo largely unchanged,” Ross Bell said.

The Drug Foundation says the focus now shifts to Parliament, with MPs from all parties being given the responsibility to ensure the government’s soft proposals are strengthened in the select committee hearings.

“The Minister has misread the level of public concern about alcohol. It’s time for Parliament to show stronger leadership than the Government has, and take bolder action to tackle this serious health issue,” said Ross Bell.

The Drug Foundation has also requested that the amendment bill is sent to the Health Committee for public submissions, rather than the Justice or Law and Order committees.

“Alcohol law is fundamentally about limiting the health and social costs of alcohol, so this bill should be examined by MPs with knowledge of health issues. In fact, the Sale of Liquor Act should be administered by the Ministry of Health, not the Ministry of Justice, just as other health laws such as tobacco and illegal drugs are,” said Ross Bell.

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