8 May 2019

Students call for cheaper alcohol

11:54 am on 8 May 2019

By Chris Morris for Otago Daily Times

Dunedin students want cheaper beer.

A pint of beer is poured.

Photo: 123RF

But, more than that, they want the Dunedin City Council (DCC) to help them lobby the government to make it happen.

Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) president James Heath raised the idea yesterday, during a presentation to the DCC's annual plan hearing.

Mr Heath, speaking for thousands of students across the city, said OUSA wanted to encourage students to drink alcohol in licenced venues.

Pubs like Starters Bar, which OUSA now owned, were supervised drinking environments which provided a safer alternative for students than unregulated flat parties, he said.

''That's where we want our students to drink,'' he said.

However, the cost of drinking in licensed venues - compared to buying from a supermarket or other off-licence - encouraged students to drink at home or on the street instead.

As a result, the OUSA wanted the DCC to lobby the government to reduce the minimum price bars had to charge for alcohol.

Serving cheaper drinks in bars would help encourage more students into a safer space, reducing alcohol-related harm, he said.

OUSA education officer Will Dreyer contrasted the current drinking environment with Dunedin's past student pub scene, which he told councillors used to be ''really positive and healthy''.

New Zealand does not yet have a minimum price for alcohol, but instead uses excise taxes, set per litre of alcohol, to influence prices.

NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell supported the idea of closing the price gap between on- and off-licence alcohol, but believed the issue was more with the cheapness of the alcohol available at supermarkets.

''The main issue is less the expensive booze in bars, it's more about the cheapness of the booze elsewhere.

''So if we could reduce the gap between on-licence and off-licence booze, particularly cheap alcohol from supermarkets, then that will help people make good choices about going into supervised premises.''

The foundation supported the setting of a minimum price for alcohol, he said.

Hospitality New Zealand Otago president Mark Scully said the high price of alcohol at pubs compared with supermarkets was due to the rising cost of doing business, driven by minimum wage hikes and excise taxes.

''When I was a student it cost you $10 to go to the pub and drink three litres of beer.

''It would be great to see something done to encourage drinking in on-licences.

''I'm the first to admit, as a bar owner, I think the price of drinking on premises is bloody horrific, but I also know a lot of pubs can't afford to charge any less or they wouldn't be here.''

Councillors would consider the OUSA submission as part of their deliberations on the annual plan later this month.

This story was originally published by Otago Daily Times

- Additionally reported by George Block