27 Apr 2010

No increase to tax on alcohol

7:13 pm on 27 April 2010

The Government has ruled out raising the price of alcohol by increasing the excise tax on liquor.

In a major report released on Tuesday, the Law Commission is recommending the price of alcohol be raised by an average of 10% through excise tax increases, to curb heavy drinking.

The commission has also told the Government to return the minimum purchasing age for alcohol from 18 to 20, with no exceptions, and to restrict the opening hours for liquor outlets.

The commission considered 2939 submissions and tabled its final report in Parliament recommending what it calls sweeping alcohol reforms.

It says the liberalisation of New Zealand's liquor laws from 1989 went too far.

The commission says the country has a pervasive culture of drinking to excess and binge-drinking and laws must be completely rewritten to tackle it.

It says the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 should be repealed and replaced by a new Alcohol Harm Reduction Act.

Also sought are regulations to target irresponsible promotions of alcohol and to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of parents for supplying alcohol to minors.

The commission says 24-hour trading of alcohol should be stopped, with maximum trading hours set for those holding off-licences and on-licences. It says on-licence premises should close by 4am at the latest, while off-licence premises should stop selling alcohol by 10pm.

Price rise unfair says Key

Prime Minister John Key says the Government will make some changes to liquor licensing but there is no appetite for an excise tax increase.

He says a price rise would be unfair because it would affect everyone and not just those who misuse alcohol.

Mr Key says the public is in the mood for change, but not a major overhaul of alcohol sale restrictions.

Some elements will be subject to a conscience vote in Parliament, which would take them beyond party lines.

Justice Minister Simon Power says law changes are likely before the end of next year.

He says the Government will focus on restricting where and when alcohol can be sold.

Mr Power has also indicated the Government is unlikely to pick up a recommendation that parents be fined up to $5000 if they do not properly supervise minors who are drinking.

Cost key for ALAC

The Alcohol Advisory Council says raising the price of alcohol and setting a minimum price should both remain under consideration by the Government.

Chief executive Gerard Vaughan says the Law Commission has done a good job but both topics to do with pricing remain key.

He says the issue of very cheap retail prices for alcohol must stay on the table and more detailed work is needed, including collecting sales data from the industry.

Reforms aimed at heavy drinkers

Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer says the changes would have little effect on moderate drinkers who enjoy alcohol socially and in a low risk way.

He says the reforms are firmly targetted at reducing harms associated with heavy drinking and drinking to intoxication.

Health professionals, law enforcement authorities and others have expressed growing concern about the cost and overall impact of alcohol mis-use.

Public consultation over an early discussion paper from the commission is expected to have led to substantial changes to the final report.