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Govt opts for show over substance on alcohol

Written By: - Date published: 11:10 am, August 24th, 2010 - 49 comments
Categories: drugs, health, law and "order" - Tags:

The government’s alcohol reforms are so typical of this government: criminalise someone to be seen to be doing something, while ignoring the root causes of the problem.

The centrepiece of the reforms is making it illegal for an adult to supply alcohol to a minor without their parent’s permission. Quite correctly, people have been asking the government how this will actually be enforced – are we going to waste the Police’s time running round after parents to determine whether a 17 year old was allowed to have a beer? The Government admits that it won’t be supplying any resources to enforce this law and obviously doesn’t expect the Police to waste their time. Rather, they are making the laughable argument that this law will give parents a new ‘tool’ to prevent other kids drinking at their place. As one of the journos asked Key as his press conference yesterday ‘do you really think that parents are being peer pressured by teens?’

Key responded by asserting that teens are drinking and having sex at younger and younger ages before saying ‘I don’t have any evidence to back that up’. There you have it New Zealand, more law-making based on Key’s guesses.

And what exact problem is this law meant to be solving anyway? Are kids really getting their booze from their mates’ parents? Like most Kiwis, I was drinking on weekends pretty regularly from about 16 onwards. I could count on one hand the number of times an adult was even present. We didn’t get booze from adults, we got it from our 6 foot 5 mate who just bought it at the store.

As John Campbell put to Simon Power last night, isn’t this just law for law’s sake?

Yep, it is. This is just the government’s attempt to appear to do something. As Campbell pointed out, the existing booze laws aren’t enforced – you can go into any pub in the country and see a pissed person being served. And as a country we wouldn’t have it any other way because (whisper it quietly) the point of going out drinking is to get intoxicated. This government has no intention of enforcing the existing law, let alone the new ones it’s passing.

Then there’s what they’ve chosen not to do. We all know that advertising has a huge influence over society. The banning of cigarette advertising went a long way to making it not normal, which led to a reduction in its use. But this is a government that supports big business’s right to make a profit above all else. Just as they won’t take sensible steps to make smoking less attractive, they have refused to put sensible limits on alcohol advertising.

This is a government that would rather make a criminal of a good parent who lets their son’s mate have a beer at a BBQ than make it harder for booze barons to hook kids into drinking.

49 comments on “Govt opts for show over substance on alcohol ”

  1. Big Dog 1

    Right on, Eddie.

    • Fisiani 1.1

      Yeah right. No, cant say that as it would be banned under Labour as alcohol advertising.

      • bbfloyd 1.1.1

        i see you’re still practicing for the day (don)key asks you to be his speechwriter fis. keep up the good work…

      • Tigger 1.1.2

        Actually Nanny McKee is proving far more ban-happy than you imagine Labour to be. He’s even telling us how to raise our kids now. Do as I say AND as I do…damn, it’s gonna be a boring life if I follow that advice Slime Minister…

  2. Chuck 2

    Young drinkers will need a diploma in drinking to know what and when is legal. Could be something you see offered at polytechs soon. Brought to you by NZ corp – home of arseheaded legislation.

  3. gobsmacked 3

    John Key’s not opposed to all binge drinking …


    “Richshie, yoush my besht friend, Dan, Dan, come here, I love you man, yesh I do …”

  4. swimmer 4

    It won’t change anything.

  5. bbfloyd 5

    i was reading the copy of the herald that were being given away at the asb , and the front page carried the headline “BOOZE LAW PUTS YOU IN CONTROL”. in the fine print the article went on to detail the govt’s intention to give local communities the power to regulate the number of, and the trading hours of liquor outlets within their own neighborhoods.
    the first thought that struck me was how easy it would be for people with vested interests to hijack the decisionmaking process.
    i seen to remember that this was one of the reasons that auckland local body politics were restructured in the first instance. to counter the negative influence of smaller councils being dominated by said vested interests. which led to almost unworkable infrastructure management.
    correct me if i’m wrong, but this strikes me as another example of the government shifting responsibility away from itself, yet again.
    is that a beehive or a chicken coop down there in wellington. ?

    • Jenny 5.1


      With these minor reforms to the liquor laws, even main stream commentators think vested interest has already “hijack(ed) the decision making process.”

      John Armstrong the New Zealand Herald’s political correspondent questions the integrity of the “endless” claims made by the Justice Minister that he had “struck the right balance”.


      ……retail and liquor lobbies – guided much of the Cabinet’s decision-making on the forthcoming new liquor law.
      Buried at the back of the Cabinet paper is a separate report produced by Ministry of Justice officials. It says any package which did not use levers like raising tax rates, tightening advertising and sponsorship rules and changing the minimum drinking age would have a lesser impact on alcohol-related harm.

      When the Business Roundtable praises you for not adopting “heavy-handed” measures, you have to ask yourself if you really have “struck the right balance” – as Power endlessly claimed yesterday.

      If you consider the word “right” in it’s political sense, meaning a political tendency that would put the interests of big business booze barons above the well being and health of society. Then maybe Armstrong was wrong and Powers is being honest after all.

      capcha – suits (how apt)

  6. Lats 6

    Could we have a clear and concise response from someone from Labour about what their policy moves would be on this issue please? And I’m not talking hollow rhetoric, but actual policy intentions.

    • bbfloyd 6.1

      seeing as how you’re too bone idle to find out for yourself. we’ll try to organize for them to come around to your house and explain it to you personally.

      • Lats 6.1.1

        Thanks for the really helpful input Floyd. I happen to be a Labour voter myself, and have been scanning the manifesto on the Labour website, but so far haven’t found any concrete measures, just a fluffy wishlist of ideas with no indication of how they are going to be achieved. Luckily some of us are more interested in substance than abuse 😉

        • Lats

          So far all I’ve found is:

          * Making it an offence for alcohol to be supplied to minors by anyone other than parent or guardian – Nats are proposing this too
          * Zero blood alcohol for under 20’s driving
          * Referring minors who drink to a treatment programme instead of a fine
          * Illegal to use fake ID’s

          Seems that much like the Nats, Labour are demonising young drinkers without actually tackling the real issues surrounding our “drinking culture”

          I do applaud plans to spend more on treating addicts, and there are suggestions about allowing local authorities to have more input into alcohol outlets. I don’t see much policy different to the Nats, so not sure what all the outrage is against Jonkey’s proposals.

          • Herodotus

            These links will give you Lats an idea of where current Lab pollys thinking is based on. They in 05 appeared to support the status quo with a similar ratio as the Nats 2:1 in favour of 18yrs purchasing age. But that was before the public at large is moving against this and ther eis limited political damage for pushing a harder line on the subject.
            To hit the alcohol sellers, easy tough line policy you sell to under age loss of licence for 3 – months and longer penalties for repeat offenders. Imagine Countdown or Pak n Save have the loss of the ability to sell, hits their profit. The only negative would be some of us 25+ being asked for ID and having a chuckle that we could pass for under 20 !!!
            I was also for 80 blood level but from reading on have come to the point that 50 should be the new level, with resourching of police, courts and support services to offenders, none of the headlines repeat offender, offends again , runs from police etc. My concern is that we cannot police 80mg how will we go about the added increase regarding 50?

            • Lats

              Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out soon. I’m at work, so can’t spend too long slacking off on the internet 🙂

              I have to say I’m less inclined to target alcohol retailers, and would prefer we targeted minors who seek to gain alcohol illegally. I also don’t necessarily see the need for lowering blood/breath alcohol for drivers. I assume that drivers who cause accidents will already be exceeding the current limits, so I’m not convinced that lowering the limit will have an impact. If 0.08 didn’t discourage drinkers from driving at levels >0.08, then 0.05 will most likely be similarly ineffective. However, I hope I’m proven wrong on this one.

              • Ari

                Lats: You have any suggestion to target sale of alcohol to minors, or is that just aspirational?

                Personally, I think even that’s the wrong approach. You can’t cut a tree off at its roots without first digging down to them. We have to attack the culture that says the point of drinking is to get off your face- and that culture isn’t generated by youth, it’s generated by older binge drinkers who serve as examples all the way back down the line, not to mention all the glorification of alcohol through advertising and sponsorship.

                On blood alcohol limits: Actually, estimates were that this policy would have been extraordinarily effective, even though people would still flout the limit, because it would encourage sensible drinkers to avoid drinking altogether if they’re going to drive. The benefit:cost ratio on it was something like 190:1, which is amazing- you’ll probably never see a policy with that sort of benefit again in your lifetime. Also, when sensible drinkers have to be even more careful, it exerts social pressure on their friends or family who drink with them to be more responsible, so it might have a small knock-on effect to people who otherwise would flout the law.

                Personally, I think the best thing they could do about the problem is to crack down on serving intoxicated patrons- perhaps even to the point of breathalyzing people before their second drink. 😛

                • Pascal's bookie

                  I think the best thing they could do about the problem is to crack down on serving intoxicated patrons

                  Except in casino’s obviously. What we should do is tell all the other places that sell booze to close earlier than casinos so that punters wanting another bevvy will be encouraged to blow all their money on slot machines and P.

                  Or is that stupid, but what we are doing anyway?

                • Lats

                  To be honest Ari, it’s is aspirational. I simply think it is unfair to continually blame the retailers when it is the underage customer who is attempting to break the law. I have no really bright ideas about how to get around this though.

                  I agree that the issue with alcohol is systemic, it goes way beyond a few pissed teenagers causing trouble. They learn this behaviour from their elders and peers. It was nice to see Jacinda Adern approach the issue more holistically as well (see the first link in Herodotus’ post above.) I guess the problem is that it isn’t easy to deal with a broad societal issue likie this with legislation, so successive govts have instead chosen to try to grab votes by targetting what many see as the problem (young drinkers) when in fact they are more a symptom of a more widespread malaise.

                  I do think we need to tread a careful line though, as many many people are able to enjoy a few drinks without causing problems. I don’t want alcohol restrictions to be so draconian that they spoil the fun for those of us who can drink responsibly.

          • mcflock

            I thought is was already illegal to use a fake ID – DL/ passports/ 18+ are all official documents, so you’re either altering it to mislead or impersonating (e.g. older brother).

            Again, it’s down to enforcing current law.

            on the zero alcohol tolerance, some people are under the impression that “one or two” over “an hour or so” is fine – and their math gets a wee bit dodgy…

            • Lats

              …some people are under the impression that “one or two’ over “an hour or so’ is fine

              If the spot on Campbell Live was anything to go by one or two over an hour is very much on the conservative end. One of the guys on the show managed to down a dozen beers before his breath alcohol exceeded the legal limit. I don’t recall the parameters of the experiment, but it certainly suggests that we can drink more than the current expectation and still be “legally” able to drive.

        • bbfloyd

          lats… i put my hand up for sarcasm, not abuse. as you know, the best way to wreck a good plan is to let incompetents carry it out. this can only happen if you give them a basic framework to start from. they can take it from there.
          more to the point, how much more reactive debate do we need? it seems to me that if we were serious about solving our drug abuse culture in NZ, then stopping corporate brainwashing, (liquor advertising), drafting laws that acknowledge drug abuse to be a community/medical issue rather than a justice issue would be a good start.
          i would be keen to see ideas on that aspect of the issue thrown out for perusal.

  7. Big Dog 7

    The “libertarianism’ of people like Dave Farrarlike Sarah ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ Palin and her Tea Party is intellectually bankrupt. It’s a selfish elite who think they have the absolute right to do whatever they want, and stuff everyone else. As their spiritual high-priestess Thatcher said, there’s no such thing as society. To make thing worse, Dave doesn’t believe in rights for working class people who are ill and struggling with modern life, and commit offences. He think the state/justice/corrections should treat them as harshly/vindinctively as possible, as if they’re all Graham Burton.

    • clandestino 7.1

      You really are living up to the stereotype. Do you not think the massively punitive anti alcohol measures creeping up on us will affect first and foremost the ‘working class people’?!?
      I’d love to see stats on fines (of all types, not just drinking related), on the poorer segments of society and young people. It’s a relatively new phenomenon and must be affecting consumer spending and debt levels. I do know it’s demoralising having copped a few.

  8. randal 8

    yeah well its obvious that the pinheads rule at the moment.
    the dictionary of psychoanlysis defines alchoholism as a defense against passive unconscious homosexuality and that this is in itself a defense against paranoia so it is obvious that alcholism is a serious complaint.
    however as people can still go to work when they are HOOKED then it is ok for the alcohol mavens to carry on their business whatever the social cost in the long run.

  9. Bill 9

    Why not simply have really good information on all drugs and how to use them, including dosage, compiled and made available by some body that is not either a) the prohibition salvation army or b) any government department?

    When alcohol is seen in the same light as the other drugs that we call ‘drugs’, instead of as somehow separate as in alcohol and drugs, then we might get a wee shift in attitude and consumption patterns. You can almost hear the alcohol industry scream already.

    Point is. Drug experimentation tends to be hit and miss and take place in a poorly informed environment. Hence the terrible experience of ceaseless vomiting because you drank far too much of a particular spirit that you still can’t face the smell of to this day.

    Would there be a difference in those initial and possibly habit forming behaviours if there was qualitative information emanating from organisations that were well resourced with no strings attached funding and run by fellow users and abusers?

    Or do we stick with the nonsense of having prohibitionists in the shape of the Salvation Army seeking to impose abstinence on addicts and having government agencies, who nobody has any respect for, attempting to alter behaviours by playing their laughable fear cards or their ridiculously out of touch ‘social responsibility’ campaigns?

    Oh. And the law. Always the law as an enforcer for when the government and it’s agencies refuse to tackle any root problems and when they, along with the Salvation Army, fail to apply their respective moulds and shape behaviour accordingly.

    • Puddleglum 9.1

      Quality information (whatever that is) would work if we were born as impeccable information processors. But we aren’t, so it won’t. Your point about organisations “run by fellow users and abusers” is more likely to be the crucial factor in any successful ‘education’ programme and those running it won’t be successful because of what they say but through how they say it (i.e., clearly from experience) and by their manner.

      I don’t accuse you of this Bill, but I think that the call for ‘rational behaviour’ – often partnered with a call for an emphasis on ‘more education’ – is just the educated person’s version of the call for ‘common sense’. Both are difficult to define or agree on and tend to simply be trojan horses for someone’s preferred goal or outcome.

      People are socially embedded, evolved and adaptive biological beings who go through a developmental process that is, in this world at least, very precarious. It would be a miracle if those origins reliably produced the kind of individual who could read something or be told something and then change their behaviour.

      We just don’t work like that. We’re animals. If only we’d rationally incorporate that into our policies our world would be a very different place,

      If you don’t believe me check out this link, especially the last sentence of section 9 and all of sections 11 and 12. Until about the age of 20, our social world is just another type of womb – at least for significant parts of our brain and its development. As others have said, it’s our culture that needs addressing because ‘culture’ is just shorthand for how we treat each other and, hence, how we literally form each other – right from the start.

      • clandestino 9.1.1

        Fully agree, which is why the anti smoking campaign results have been so underwhelming. Been around 20-25% for many years now hasn’t it? The one thing I don’t get is that if we’re all suckers for advertising, why aren’t the public service ads more effective? In fact, I would’ve thought that because of the mass of negative media surrounding alcohol, we would give a sh*t. My guess is most do a simple cost/benefit and figure there is a greater chance of fun than of mayhem, thus what feels good, they do.

  10. I’d be looking to enact laws that would see stickers of homeless winos sleeping under bridges, drunken slappers lying in pools of their own vomit, boy racers in smashed up cars with blood everywhere, premature deformed babies in incubation chambers and old people with diseased livers on life support, plastered in prominent places over the labels of all alcohol containers.

    Accompanied by not so subtle phrases like ‘Alcohol kills’, ‘ Alcohol harms unborn babies’, ‘Alcohol is poisonous to your health’…

    I’d also ban all advertising on TV, billboards and restrict all sponsorship.

    • clandestino 10.1

      God you must be fun to have a drink with

      • pollywog 10.1.1

        Truth be known, I’d much rather have the odd toke and flag the piss…

        …don’t really do much of either these days

        • clandestino

          In that case….pass the dutchie ‘pon the left hand side!

          On a more serious note, it exposes us as we really are: huge, flaming, hypocrites.

          • pollywog

            yeah…as i always say

            “There’s only two types of people in the world, liars and hypocrites”

            • felix

              There’s only two types of people in the world: Those who believe that people can be categorised into two discrete groups, and those who don’t. 😉

  11. Zaphod Beeblebrox 11

    So predictable that they would do this. happens all the time.

    1.totally ignore the root cause of a social problem (ie alcohols image, glorification though advertising, association with sporting and sexual success, association with risk taking).
    2. Dump the problem onto anybody but themeslves ie councils anfd the police who don’t ahve the resources to enforce it).
    3, Pick on those who have no votes or power (youth), paint them and not the adults who set up the expectation as the problem and turn them into criminals.
    4. Then challenge Labour to do something about the problem so that you can paint yourselves as the champion of the common person if they do. Then say.. labour won’t do anything so there….
    5. Set no tangible measurable indicators of success, that would be too risky.
    6. then act as the moral authority using your conservative christian wowserism when discussing poor people and their alcohol problem, when really its a societal problem (John Banks loves doing that one).

    • clandestino 11.1

      That’s funny I thought the root cause might be alcohol makes us feel good and we are just piss-poor judges of how much we really need to maintain that feeling, I honestly don’t remember (as a relevantly recent teenager) giving the ads a moments notice…it’s price price price people

  12. M 12

    All excellent suggestions Pollywog re the ‘in your face’ advertising of alcohol’s downside.

    I believe that a great many people in their forties and fifties are alcoholics and cannot survive an evening without at least four or five wines and then end up influencing their kids for the worse.

    Sure in my early twenties I drank more than was good for me but at the age of 26 gave it all away thinking to myself: what’s the point in working out five days a week just to ruin all the good work over the weekend?

    I’m not against anyone having a few now and again, as I do myself, but for a lot of people it’s a steady diet and from what I’ve read the benefits of alcohol for women in particular do not accrue until after menopause. If the overuse of Listerine can give you oral cancer, what do people imagine an uninterrupted diet of beer etc does to them?

    The 0.5 limit cannot come fast enough and a zero limit would be even better. Also if people drive for their living and have a DUI they should not be granted special licences hard cheese if they want to play roulette with their income stream.

    If the number crunchers compared the damage that alcohol causes with all other drugs I’m sure the illicit drugs figure would be dwarfed.

    Johnny and his Keystone cops do anything? Nah, that would take real men with real cojones. National’s only interest is assuming the role of catamite to the booze barons.

  13. Chur M…

    If i were proactively inclined, i’d run up a few stickers myself and covertly plaster them on some high priced bottles of plonk at the supermarket and liquor stores. Video and youtube myself doing it, ala Banksy and his Tate museum exploits, and if i got arrested, make a big brouhaha about it highlighting the hypocrisy between alcohol and tobacco….Unfortunately, i’m personally trying to fly under the radar.

    Hmmmm…maybe i could form some sort of ‘Army of the 12 Monkeys’ type of outfit with me being like ‘eyes only’ from ‘Dark Angel’ and get my minions to do the damage…heh

    I reckon sooner or later it’s gonna take some shock and awe type guerilla advertising/awareness campaign, way beyond the scope of Ansell’s beach billboards, to wake the people up to how intrinsically dishonest and hypocritical this gov’t is…

    …like maybe a terminal alcoholic could pour ‘opal nero’ over themself on parliament grounds and set themself alight…nah, Ok that’s a bit extreme, but a burning effigy of John Key wearing a Tui beer T-shirt might look good on the telly 🙂

  14. B 14

    I think National have done well. The alcohol limit of RTDs will be limited to 5%. Surely this is a good move from the govt and should have been put in place years ago. Actually lowering the alcohol content of drinks aimed at young people is going to have a greater effect that simply regulating advertising. And it makes sense to raise the age to 20 for bottle shops but not bars-it makes it harder for underage kids to get hold of spirits cheaply. And in effect they have raised the price of alcohol for 18-20 yr olds.

    • pollywog 14.1

      Choice…so now the kiddies are getting steered away from RTD’s towards higher alcohol content drinks or maybe the message is to drink more alcopops ?

      and you could raise the age to 40 but it wouldn’t make any difference to young peoples attitudes to drinking or limit their access to it…IMO

    • Lats 14.2

      Except that kids are a lot smarter than politicians. They will switch to something other than alcopops. My guess is that we’ll see a rise in sale of cask wine (readily available from supermarkets) which provides a better bang for your buck than 5% limited rtd’s. That was always our “cheap booze to get pissed on” when we were teenagers in the 80’s/90’s; back then the only thing available vaguely like rtd’s was wine cooler.

      • mcflock 14.2.1

        One thing I never understood is how NZ school math scores are allegedly poor – looking back on the advanced mathematics my peers and I performed in order to find the cheapest drink by mL of ethanol…

        and then there was the guy who swore by cough syrup. No idea how he could drink so much of it, but he had a lovely voice 😉

      • B 14.2.2

        I disagree – its still a good move. Kids will still buy rtds – they taste like fizzy drink! But they will get less of an effect. If they drink more it will cost more- and teens have limited funds. Maybe some will go for cask wine etc but I doubt most will. Just because National’s policies are crap overall doesnt mean they cant do anything right…Of course this one policy isnt going to solve the whole problem – for one thing because adult drinking is a massive problem as well. But it could be the difference between some kids getting so of their face they do things they regret and calling it a night. I think it works as part of the whole package. (Giving communities a say on liquor outlets was another good move)

  15. Outofbed 15

    look if you were working for minimum wage at some scungy supermarket and you know “that a queue stretches around the block waiting for you to drop” and you know that you are probably going to have to rent a damp shithole for 40% of your take home pay for the foreseeable future
    Then is it any wonder you get shitfaced at the weekend???

    • B 15.1

      But dealing with the root causes of teen substance abuse: poverty, inequality and institutional discrimination will never be on this govts agenda. The blame lies with the parents according to them. Individual responsibility!

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