Editorial: Alcohol reforms under-done

Last updated 10:45 04/05/2012

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Blow the froth off the liquor reforms and there's less there than you might expect.

Though generally welcome, the alcohol bill reforms amount to a modest rather than emphatic achievement.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the bill will "drive changes" in the drinking culture, but it won't. You can regulate, regulate, regulate and the reality remains that there's always a way when there's a will. Nothing in this lot changes that.

It really depends to a large extent on parents – more than lawmakers, licence holders, licensing authorities or police – being good at what they do.

Those who have grown up with the wrong messages at home aren't going to have them corrected at school or by public-service advertising. Some will learn by burying their mates. Others, not even then.

Alcohol Action NZ argues that if legislation goes only so far to change culture, how is it that legislation has changed the smoking and phone-while-driving culture?

Short answer: phone-driving was much easier to detect and penalise, and smoking was more readily and rightly identified by the public as a product that killed through its intended use, rather than its misuse. Neither of those battles is won, by the way.

One change to the liquor bill is the supposed toughening of the rules making parents and guardians responsible for their children's drinking. It will become an offence for anyone else to supply alcohol to an under-18 unless they have the parent or guardian's express consent.

Sounds good. A text message will suffice – but find us a teenager who couldn't find a way around that little rule.

Pleasingly, the bill gives local councils more leeway to establish local alcohol plans. Critics say this will require ordinary folk to square off against large corporate suppliers with their legal and financial resources. True, but those ordinary folk, sufficiently motivated, have the voting power to hold their councillors accountable.

Kudos for measures to limit the alcohol content of RTD lollywater.

The biggest remaining arm-wrestle before the bill becomes law will be whether splitting the purchasing age, rising to 20 for off-licence but staying at 18 for on-licence, remains. There are amendments to raise both to 20, or peg both at 18. As these represent a pull in both directions, it makes it easier for MPs to tell folk that the bill takes a middle-ground stance on that.

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- The Marlborough Express

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