28 Apr 2010

Alcohol law 'should not be conscience vote'

10:33 am on 28 April 2010

The Law Commission says any vote by MPs on changing the alcohol laws should not be a conscience vote.

In a major report released on Tuesday, the Commission has recommended increasing the age at which people can buy alcohol from 18 to 20, raising the price of alcohol through excise tax increases, and imposing closing times on liquor outlets.

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

Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer says alcohol legislation is the hardest to pass because it is traditionally put to Parliament as a conscience vote.

He says it's time to do away with that tradition so progress can be made quickly.

Justice Minister Simon Power says there is some way to go on the issue of a conscience vote, because it will be a matter for individual party caucuses to decide.

Meanwhile, whanau violence prevention worker Ngaroimata Reid says changes to liquor laws can't come soon enough.

Ms Reid, of the Tu Wahine Trust in west Auckland, says most of the Maori families she works with are living with the negative consequences of alcohol abuse, and proposed reforms would help support whanau who want to break away from that.

Hospitality Association chief executive Bruce Robertson says the organisation does not oppose ending liquor sales at supermarkets and off-licences at 10pm, acknowledging such a move would benefit his members.

He told Morning Report he does not think the Law Commission recommendations on changes to alcohol laws will make much of a difference overall.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams, told the programme she is very disappointed the Government will not be increasing excise tax on alcohol, but is pleased at the recommendation to raise the purchasing age to 20.

Parental fines questioned

The Law Commission is also recommending parents be fined if they do not properly supervise minors while they are drinking.

A senior solicitor at community law centre Youth Law, John Hancock, says it is questionable whether a fine for parents who supply alcohol to children will actually work.

Mr Hancock told Morning Report fining parents would be costly, as more resources would be needed to enforce it, and would create a whole new range of offences at private gatherings.

Medics welcome Commission's report

An emergency specialist at Wellington Hospital says increasing the age at which people can buy alcohol may help reduce the numbers of young people arriving at emergency departments.

Dr Paul Quigley says young people are behind a surge in patients on Friday and Saturday nights. He says 60% of those arriving with injuries are suffering them as a result of alcohol.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board says treating alcohol-related injuries costs it up to $2 million a year, and the majority of the injuries involve young people.

However, a group formed from the youth wings of the National, Labour, Green and ACT Parties will be lobbying MPs to keep the age at which alcohol can be bought at 18.

Spokesperson for the Keep It 18 campaign, Jenna Raeburn, says in every other sense, 18-year olds are considered to be adults, such as voting and joining the armed forces.