Tough liquor laws panned

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 07:39 18/12/2013

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Tough new liquor laws which come into effect today will have little effect on the way New Zealanders drink alcohol, industry and health experts say.

The laws will see bars throughout the country have to shut their doors at 4am. Adults can be fined for giving alcohol to minors who are not their own children, and bars stand to lose their licences if an intoxicated person even steps on to their premises.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the new laws struck a "sensible balance" between curbing the harm caused by alcohol abuse without penalising responsible drinkers.

"The reforms place more responsibility on those who may provide alcohol to young people and give parents more control," she said.

"The changes also require the alcohol industry to play their part to ensure alcohol is used, sold and supplied safely and responsibly."

The head of Otago University's Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Professor Jennie Connor, said the laws would do little to curb harmful drinking.

"What works is the regulation of sale and supply of alcohol, and that's why it won't have much impact - because it doesn't do much about that," she said.

"From the evidence that we have about what happens when you close premises earlier, putting a restriction on hours and sales of alcohol will reduce harm."

But a 4am closure was still too late, Connor said.

Supermarket sales had barely been addressed, yet accounted for the majority of alcohol purchased in New Zealand.

Hospitality Association New Zealand spokesman Jeremy Smith said the laws were misguided.

"We think that some of the regulations are good and we do want to try and reduce the harm caused by alcohol and we do want to change people's attitudes," he said.

But the Government "completely overlooked" personal accountability.

"All the regulations are on the licence-holder," Smith said.

"You can be intoxicated in the street, the second you step into a licensed premises the owner and the bar managers are the ones who are breaking the law and get punished."

A three strikes rule is also in play - if a bar breaches the rules three times within three years its licence can be cancelled and it won't be able to apply for a new one for five years.

Police welcomed the new legislation.

"Alcohol is a factor in around a third of all crime," Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls said.

"We are serious about preventing harm caused by excessive drinking."

The legislation provided police with a range of tools to prevent the alcohol-related harm that dominated their Friday and Saturday nights especially in Auckland and Wellington, which have the highest numbers of licensed premises in a concentrated area," he said.

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Police would be able to slap drinkers with "boozing tickets" carrying fines of between $250 to $2000 for behaviour that falls foul of new liquor laws. They could also issue spot $250 fines to people caught drinking in liquor ban areas.

Nicholls said he expected police to exercise "fairness and good judgment" when enforcing the new rules.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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