MPs set for weeks of debate on alcohol

JOHN HARTEVELT AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 05:00 24/10/2012

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A "once in a generation" marathon debate to reform alcohol laws is under way but attempts to introduce even tighter controls to curb New Zealand's binge drinking culture look doomed to fail.

Parliament last night began a clause-by-clause debate of the Alcohol Reform Bill that is expected to take up to 27 hours, or about three weeks of the time the House sits.

MPs will thrash out about 20 amendments, almost all put forward by Opposition parties, to put tighter restrictions on the sale of alcohol after the bill was heavily criticised by health advocates for failing to address issues such as low prices and ready availability.

The proposed changes include introducing a minimum pricing regime, wider restrictions on alcohol advertising, raising excise tax and limiting the alcohol content in ready-to-drink beverages.

However, all Opposition amendments are expected to be defeated because the Government's support partners, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne and ACT leader John Banks, will vote with National.

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said communities across New Zealand had taken to the streets to express their concern about the proliferation of alcohol outlets.

The public was relying on Parliament to do more to reduce binge drinking, she told Parliament. But they would be "hard pressed" to find measures in the bill to reduce the harm alcohol caused.

Greens MP Kevin Hague said 1000 New Zealanders lost their lives every year because of alcohol consumption and 70 per cent of all those seeking help at hospital accident and emergency departments at weekends had been drinking.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act had attempted to introduce a European cafe-style drinking culture in New Zealand.

"All the evidence shows for some this has not worked," she told Parliament.

She said the misuse of alcohol contributed to crime, particularly domestic violence, disorder and public health problems, and about a third of all reported crime involved offenders who had been drinking.

"For most New Zealanders who drink alcohol, they do not abuse alcohol. This bill attempts to strike a balance."

MPs have already voted on the alcohol purchase age, which will remain at 18.

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- Fairfax Media

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