Here's to the right time and place for a drink

MATT LAWREY
Last updated 10:15 03/02/2014

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OPINION: Like a lot of Nelsonians, I enjoy a drink. I'm particularly fond of beer. I love the way beer tastes and I like the way it makes me feel. I love the buzz I get off beer. I like wine too but I try to avoid it for the simple reason you can get really drunk drinking wine the way you drink beer.

The occasional hangover notwithstanding, alcohol has played a pretty positive role in my life. A big part of the reason I ended up in Nelson 16 years ago is that as a reporter at Radio New Zealand in Wellington I became drinking buddies with a former Nelsonian, who put in a good word for me with the founder of Fifeshire FM (now More FM), Kevin Ihaia.

Almost all of the friends I have made in Nelson since then are people I have got to know hanging out and drinking. I first laid eyes on my wife in a cocktail bar.

Some people will think it's unwise for a Nelson City councillor to be singing the praises of what is, in fact, a mind-altering drug. Politically speaking they may be right but the truth is alcohol has always played a significant role in bringing New Zealanders together.

Of course, that's not to say that everything relating to alcohol is good. Far too often the results of drinking are horrendous.

From about the age of 16 it became apparent to me that there were some people who should never drink.

I also know that when life takes a turn for the worse, getting hammered can seem like a pretty attractive idea.

That's why it's so important to recognise the harm that alcohol can do. It's important to acknowledge, for instance, studies showing that the more you make alcohol available in lower socio-economic neighbourhoods, the more violent crime and motor vehicle accidents you will get in those areas.

That was the finding of a study by academics from Auckland and Waikato universities focused on Manukau in 2012. This isn't someone's opinion. This is credible research.

Last year at the hearings for Nelson's Local Alcohol Policy, Dr Mark Reeves, a senior medical officer working at Nelson Hospital's emergency department, said something anyone who cares about their fellow Nelsonians needs to hear.

Dr Reeves said it's not "nice, white, cosily middle-class kids" getting injured as a result of alcohol-related violence. He said the young people turning up at the emergency department by and large "didn't get to go away to university, or have a family business to go into. They are often doing relatively low-paid jobs working at the port, harvesting or processing seafood or forestry, or in the hospitality and service industries."

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He went on to say: "The port, seafood, forestry, hospitality. To me that sounds an awful lot like the very definition of what Nelson was, is and will continue to be for some time. And yet for some reason, as a town we seem to be apparently OK with the young and not-so-young people who do these jobs being disproportionately injured by alcohol-related violence."

The people Dr Reeves describes don't generally come from Nelson's wealthier suburbs. They live in places like Washington Valley, parts of Stoke and Victory.

My family lives in Victory. We love the place. We love the park, we love the kindergarten, we love the community centre, we love the Railway Reserve, we love Victory Primary School and we love the way a wonderfully diverse bunch of people live there. We are proud to call Victory home.

So, just for a moment, imagine you're me. Imagine you're a recently elected city councillor and just before Christmas a Christchurch businessman opens a new liquor store selling cheap spirits in your neighbourhood 40 metres from the kindergarten and across the road from the children's playground.

Now imagine he got to do it without even having to advertise for an application for a licence. Would you sit on your bum and go: "Oh well, if he's not breaking the law, I suppose it's OK'? I don't think you would. I think you would say: "this sucks".

And you'd be right.

  • Matt Lawrey is a Nelson City Councillor and writer who this week spoke out about the opening of the Victory Liquor Centre. This column is his personal view and not that of Nelson City Council.

- Nelson

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