3 Jun 2012

Government investigates minimum alcohol price

2:30 pm on 3 June 2012

Justice Minister Judith Collins says she has asked her ministry to investigate a possible minimum price for alcohol.

The Government is already considering several changes to liquor laws, including the age that people can buy alcohol and restricting the sale of pre-mixed drinks.

The Maori Party is seeking last-minute changes to the Bill, including a ban on liquor advertising and sponsorship anywhere except inside on-licence premises.

Ms Collins told Television New Zealand's Q+A programme that Justice Ministry officials are looking at whether a minimum pricing regime makes the difference that is claimed.

"I also can point out to you that the hospitality industry supports a minimum price because it would drive more people into drinking in their establishments rather than than drinking at home."

Ms Collins says she does not support a ban on liquor advertising and sponsorship but says the new law will impose some controls such as barring young people promoting alcohol.

The Law Commission wants the alcohol excise increased by 50% and Ms Collins says a lift in the tax hasn't been ruled out.

Changes proposed by the Government to the Alcohol Reform Bill include new rules restricting the sale of ready-to-drink alcohol beverages (RTDs) in off-licences and bans dairies and smaller convenience shops from selling alcohol.

The legislation proposes to split the age people can buy alcohol: 18 for premises such as bars and restaurants, and 20 for the likes of supermarkets and liquor stores.

Maori Party wants broader changes

Along with advertising limits, the Maori Party wants restrictions on the proximity of liquor stores to schools and changes to trading hours included in the legislation.

The party proposes a ban on sales from 3am to 10am. Trading hours would be 10am to 10pm for off-site sales and 10am to 3am for on-licence premises with a one-way door restriction period from 1am - 3am.

Under the proposals, the proximity of a school would be a criterion for determining liquor licences.

There would be a sinking lid policy on liquor stores within territorial authorities and replacement of existing stores would be the only exception - and only if there was not another liquor store within 5km.

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell says the party wants to address the harm caused by alcohol which is sapping communities of their potential.

"It's certainly trying to put it in a place that denormalises the whole question about the link between advertising and alcohol," he said.

Alcohol Action NZ spokesperson Doug Sellman, director of the National Addiction Centre, says removing advertising would help deal with problem drinking, in the same way that changes to cigarette advertising affected attitudes to smoking.

"The experience with tobacco, as soon as you got rid of all of the deceptive glamourised brainwashing ... people started to think much more rationally about this drug they're taking," he says.