A pre-loaded idea

06:00, May 28 2014

Anti-government types are often annoyed at how often our elected representatives interfere in day-to-day life.

They dictate what we can smoke, when we can go to the pub and how our taxes get spent.

So some of them must have been happy when the Alcohol Reform legislation was passed last year.

The reforms did a lot of nothing on the surface - minimum pricing was ruled out, no ban on RTDs being above 6 per cent ABV, no movement of the purchase age - but a big shift took place.

City and district councils were given more power to control how alcohol was sold in their patches, including deciding opening hours and imposing conditions on licensed venues.

It looked like a good move; local body politicians are usually more accessible than those at parliament to the general public, making it easier for ratepayers to talk to those who make the decisions.


But shifting more power into their hands is quickly appearing to be a poor choice.

Two local authorities - Auckland Council and Marlborough District Council - are considering banning the sale of single bottles of beer and ready-to-drink spirits. 

Initially mooted as a voluntary requirement for inner city bottle shops in Auckland, the council there has now slipped the suggestion into its suggested alcohol policy document.

The idea is that banning single bottles will stop people pre-loading or drinking bottles from off-licences while in town, all to save a few dollars.

Marlborough is jumping on the bandwagon, with its local alcohol policy-makers also suggesting the ban.

In an article in the Marlborough Express, council staff member Mike Porter said the local Liquor Licensing Authority did not approve of single bottle sales as they could lead to alcohol abuse.

Frankly, that is nothing short of ridiculous.

Imagine the discussion:

Person 1: "People drink too much, so how do we stop it?"

Person 2: "I know, we will stop people being able to buy one bottle of drink. That way, they have to buy lots if they want any. That should stop them pre-loading."

The idea, no matter how well intentioned, is so illogical it is shocking anyone is considering it.

If someone is a drug addict, what would be better: giving them one hit, or access to 12?

If this rule was applied by a publican - minimum purchase of four pints at a time - they would be shut down and fined for encouraging irresponsible drinking.

Even the anti-alcohol groups out there would probably agree buying one bottle is far healthier than being forced into buying a box.

The move appears to be targeting cheap alcohol, but has the consequence of hitting the craft beer industry square in the chest.

The majority of craft beers are sold as a single 500mL bottle, trading for between $8 and $12.

They are sold like that because it would be far too expensive to try sell the product by the dozen.

As much as I love a good beer, there is no way I could afford to buy 12 bottles of $10 beer every time I wanted to enjoy a brew.

People wanting to abuse alcohol are far more likely to buy a 750mL bottle of 13.5 per cent wine for $7, or a 650mL bottle of cheap lager for $4, than a smaller product which costs upwards of $8.

Even though Auckland Council have since suggested single bottles of "boutique" or "handcrafted" beer above 445mL would be safe, brewers like Yeastie Boys - who sell most of their product in single 330mL bottles - would be affected.

The most ironic part of it all is Marlborough is home to some of the best breweries in the country.

Renaissance, which just last week won best small international brewery at the Australian International Beer awards for the second year in a row, is based there and sells almost all its products as single bottles or kegs.

Banning single bottle sales would see their beer, and many others made in the Marlborough, vanish from the area's shelves.

That would be the biggest shame of all.

Manawatu Standard