The Government's much-criticised alcohol reforms have become
law, with the Alcohol Reform Bill passing its third reading
in Parliament last week.
The Bill, which was split into the Sale and Supply of Alcohol
Bill, the Local Government (Alcohol Reform) Amendment Bill
and the Summary Offences (Alcohol Reform) Amendment Bill, was
introduced to Parliament at the end of 2010, and was the
Government's response to the Law Commission's 2010 report,
''Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm'', instigated by the
former Labour government.
The Bill's stated objectives were to reduce excessive
drinking and alcohol-related harm (including crime, disorder,
health impacts), to support the safe and responsible sale,
supply and consumption of alcohol, and to improve community
input into alcohol licensing decisions.
The new laws will mean communities can have a say on the
trading hours and location of licensed premises, licences
will be harder to get and easier to lose, there will be
stronger rules about the types of stores eligible to sell
alcohol and the display of alcohol in supermarkets and
grocery stores, consent must be obtained from parents or
guardians before alcohol can be supplied to minors, and there
will be stronger controls on alcohol advertising and
promotion - particularly that which appeals to minors. The
legislation will take effect within the next 12 months in
part to give territorial authorities, licensing bodies and
licensees time to prepare for the changes.
Justice Minister Judith Collins, who introduced
the Bill, said the legislation marked ''a major milestone'',
which delivered a ''wide range of measures to reduce
alcohol-related harm in our families and communities'' and
was the ''first time in more than two decades Parliament has
acted to restrict, rather than relax, our drinking laws''.
But Opposition parties and health sector groups have been
critical of the reforms throughout the process, saying they
have not gone nearly far enough in terms of adopting the Law
Commission's 153 recommendations, including a tax increase on
alcohol, minimum alcohol pricing, raising the alcohol
purchase age and limiting the alcohol content of some drinks
such as ready-to-drink beverages - on which the Government
has left the industry to draw up its own code - and they
claim the Government has been swayed by powerful industry
lobby groups. Labour's justice spokeswoman, Lianne Dalziel,
called the Bill ''toothless'' and a ''travesty'', saying it
was ''not a shadow of the law the Law Commission would have
written'', and should been led by the health, not justice,
''Watered down'' or not, the impact of the new rules has been
feared by licensed premises, which have warned that expected
additional licensing costs may force some out of business.
While the various impacts of the new legislation will only
become clear in time, for now it is surely a positive thing
that any measures that go some way towards reducing the
considerable harm caused by alcohol - through violent
offending, domestic abuse, long-term physical and mental
health issues, road crash statistics and deaths, and is
estimated to cost taxpayers $1.2 billion annually - can only
be a good thing for individuals and society.
As the Law Commission said in its 2010 report: ''It is hard
to think of any other lawful product available in our society
that contributes so much to so many social ills. While
alcohol misuse is only one of several risk factors
contributing to these harms, alcohol distinguishes itself
because, unlike many other factors associated with crime,
injury and social dysfunction, the harmful use of alcohol is
a modifiable risk factor. In other words, as a society, we
can modify our use of alcohol.''
Ms Collins said the reforms ''achieved a sensible balance''
between curbing that harm ''without unfairly affecting the
majority of those who are responsible drinkers''. That
remains to be seen, but she is certainly right when she says
everyone has a ''part to play'' to achieve social change