Claims that the Government had backed off making tough calls on liquor law reforms have been countered by Nelson MP Nick Smith who says changes will be "incremental rather than revolutionary".
Revised rules around the sale and consumption of alcohol, which have been several years in the making, will soon become law. The contentious Alcohol Reform Bill, which has an emphasis on reducing alcohol-related harm among youth, will be back in Parliament to pass its final stages next month.
A small group of members of the public and various agency representatives met Associate Justice Minister Chester Borrows in Nelson yesterday at a public meeting hosted by Dr Smith.
He said an opportunity existed to re-jig the law to address Nelson's problem with central city violence and alcohol abuse, through placing greater restrictions on the availability of alcohol.
New laws will also allow greater community input into decisions through giving local government more tools to tackle the issue at community level.
MPs will have a conscience vote on the alcohol purchase age, and at this stage Dr Smith favours a split of 18 for on-licence premises such as bars and restaurants and 20 for off-licences such as supermarkets and liquor stores.
City council Safe City adviser Ingrid Beach said the problem in Nelson's inner city was driven largely by people over the age of 18. While she was in favour of moves to toughen laws around alcohol, the Government seemed to have "backed off hard-hitting measures", such as pricing and restricting advertising alcohol through sport.
Mr Borrows is a former Nelsonian and has worked as a police officer and lawyer, and also chaired the select committee responsible for tightening alcohol laws. He said there were "significant" self-policing rules around sports sponsorship and this would be enhanced through a new code of conduct with the introduction of new laws.
Nelson Baptist Church pastor Hamish Baxter, who runs a rehabilitation in prisons programme, said most of the new laws reacted to under-age drinkers when most of the harm done by alcohol was "out of sight" among adults.
Mr Borrows conceded the revised laws targeted youth, with other groups already managed by the health sector.
Other provisions in the proposed legislation, which Dr Smith described as a "once in a generation attempt" to improve laws around alcohol, will make parents and guardians responsible for their children's drinking.
It will be an offence for anyone else to supply alcohol to an under-18 year-old unless they have the parents' or guardian's express consent, and must do so responsibly.
Anyone who supplies alcohol to minors without consent or in an irresponsible manner may be liable for a fine of up to $2000.
Hospitality industry member Paul Max called yesterday for higher penalties on under-age drinkers who duped the system and thereby placed the managers of licensed premises at risk.
Mr Borrows said raising penalties for youth drinkers had been considered, particularly as the penalty on licensed premises was "huge" and a real inequity existed.
Mr Max also queried the Government's plan to place restrictions on pre-mixed (RTD) drinks, including reducing their alcohol content to 6 per cent by volume.
"RTDs are like lolly water and are gateway drinks for young women in particular," Mr Borrows said.
New laws mean it will no longer be possible to purchase 1.5 litres of rum and cola off the shelf, but complications could arise over trade agreements with Australia and the importing of the product made under that country's laws.
Mr Max said there has been "huge growth" in Australia in the sale of pure spirits as a result of similar moves over the sale of pre-mixed drinks.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should the NZ delegation to Nelson Mandela's funeral include 1981 tour protesters?Related story: Kiwi Mandela delegation without tour protesters