Alcohol Reform Bill changes again

The Alcohol Reform Bill has had further changes added making the measures more ''flexible,'' Justice Minister Judith Collins says.

The bill has been moving through the parliamentary process for 20 months, with Collins mooting her own amendment in May, when she said the bill was set to come back for its final stages in June. But the bill remains on ice as the Government seeks the ''huge amount of time'' it needs to pass it through the complex committee stages.

Collins' proposed amendment originally included a ban on the sale from off-licences of "ready to drink" (RTD) mixes with an alcohol content of more than six per cent. That was a change from an earlier proposal for five per cent. Collins today admitted that measure had changed again, but refused to say to what.

''There will be a provision on RTDs and that provision will be a bit different from what we did in May, just to make it a bit more workable and more flexible to make it better able to react to any initiatives by the industry that might be counter-productive to what we're trying to do.''

Distilled Spirits Association chief executive Thomas Chin earlier this month claimed the Government risked a challenge through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over its proposed measure on RTDs. Chin said the proposal was ''not fully developed and well considered'' and had ''very serious trade implications with Australia''.

Collins today denied changes to the RTD rule had anything to do with a threat via the WTO, which was "just nonsense''.

Chin had made ''very unfortunate remarks'' and he was ''frankly wrong,'' Collins said.

''The WTO threat has no threat to us because we have never proposed preventing the importation or sale of particular products but what we have said is that we could look at where they are sold in New Zealand and that is something our advice tells us is not something that's an issue for the WTO. So I think Mr Chin was simply wrong.''

Collins said the process of the bill in to law had been slowed by the need to establish how parties would vote on the different aspects of it - whether on a conscience or bloc vote basis.

''It's important that it doesn't turn in to a complete mess as previous alcohol bills have,'' she said.

The Maori Party has one of the eight amendments to the bill so far tabled by MPs. It includes a minimum pricing regime and a range of measures to clamp down on alcohol promotion.

Collins said besides changes to her amendment, ''some other improvements'' to the bill would be included ''after consultation with other parties''.

''There are several changes but ... I think they will make them more workable, which is important. We work with our support parties in particular in this area.''

Asked if a minimum pricing regime could be included in the bill, Collins said: ''You'll have to wait and see on that one.''

The legal purchase age, proposed in the bill to be split between 18 and 20, has attracted amendments from two National MPs to keep the age at 18 or move it up to 20.

Collins today indicated she wanted those two amendments for the purchase age to be voted on first when the bill returned for its final stages.

"My preference is that people get a fair vote on those and I think it's only right that they should," she said.

Fairfax Media