'Booze crisis' a media myth

Last updated 05:30 23/12/2013
KIWI DRINKING: Do we really want or need tougher alcohol laws?

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We've asked what can be done to change New Zealand's booze culture - or if it even needs changing.

An outsider reading New Zealand's press might well come to believe that there is a massive groundswell of public opinion in this country that liquor laws are too lax and that radical changes are wanted. That we want fewer outlets, shorter hours, more limited options and higher prices. That New Zealand is on the verge of demanding prohibition, but that our politicians consistently let us down by failing to make the changes we want.

An outsider may well believe this, for those of us who actually live here is this the popular view? Unless I move in very unusual circles I am quite certain that it is not, and I'm equally certain that those who write these endless stories in the press know it isn't.

The reality is that New Zealanders drink because we like it. We like the convenient outlets, reasonable prices and long hours. We love the pubs and clubs. We are massive fans of wine, beer and spirits, because if we weren't there wouldn't be all those outlets selling such a massive variety of products.

The politicians know this. They know that despite the noise made by a minority of puritans and social engineers that the New Zealand people are pretty happy with the status quo. We accept that alcohol is a part of our society and we accept the risks that this entails. We know it makes us drunk, we know that in excess it's damaging to health. We also believe that it's up to us what we choose to do with our own bodies.

We also believe that hurting and killing others is a very bad thing that should be discouraged and severely punished, that drinking and driving is at best reckless endangerment, but on the other hand most of us do none of those things, and we don't believe our freedoms should be limited because there is a minority that can't behave in a civilised manner when drunk.

Hurting other people is already illegal. Catching and punishing those who do so is the right way to deal with it. Attempting to engineer an entire society to improve the behaviour of a minority on the other hand is not the right approach, and it is not an approach the electorate wants.

The fact is that a large majority of those who drink in New Zealand harm nobody but themselves - moderation is more common than excess and the idea of some kind of a "booze crisis" is a media myth designed to fill column inches.

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