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Q + A: Transcript of panel response to Judith Collins interview

Published: 2:27PM Tuesday June 05, 2012


In response to JUDITH COLLINS interview
The panel this week is Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University. Welcome along. Former National Party President Michelle Boag. Welcome back to you. And Mike Williams, former Labour President. First of all, we'll start with you, Mike. A missed opportunity, or has the government got it right with the alcohol reform?

MIKE WILLIAMS - Former Labour President
Actually, the most interesting bit was why is this a conscience vote? I was just trying to think. I think probably the split age is the best compromise available at the moment, but I do think the minister left open the possibility of raising the excise tax, which, internationally, is the only thing that works.

GREG  Why not now, then? Why not raise the tax now?

RAYMOND MILLER - Political scientist
Well, this is an interesting question. If I could just say I think a majority of the public will support raising the age for alcohol consumption. I think the minister is right, that there will probably be a split vote in Parliament on this issue. But what they've done is they've taken age as a kind of cure-all for a variety of things, and I don't think it's that important whether it be 18 or 20. The Law Commission came out with they called an integrated package of recommendations, including increasing the price of alcohol, and they addressed the commercialisation of alcohol. Now, this is a big issue. We know how powerful the alcohol lobby is, and of course politicians are rather loathed to get into a fight on this, but when you think about small children as they are growing up in New Zealand and they see a culture where alcohol is associated with masculinity, it's associated with adulthood, and I think the problems start much, much earlier. So I think sponsorship, marketing, advertising - these are all important issues which have not been addressed.

GREG Michelle, she kept comparing it to the cigarettes, and said, 'Cigarettes do endless harm. Alcohol is only harmful to a small portion of people, 15% of people.'

MICHELLE BOAG - Former National President
 Which is true.

GREG Having said that, alcohol and the marketing of alcohol has changed dramatically in the last few years. Things like RTDs and the availability in things like supermarkets and so forth. Cigarettes really haven't changed that much since Adam was a cowboy.

MICHELLE No, except the price keeps going up. I think the issue here is that our problems with alcohol are behavioural, and the observation's often been made that in other countries like in Italy and France where they grow up with a much more mature attitude to alcohol in a family setting, they simply don't have these binge drinking issues. Now, I'm now living in the city. I go for walks in the early morning. 6 o'clock in the morning, I see lots of adults, and they are young adults, but they're not kids - these are people generally in their 20s - pouring out of bars, 6 o'clock in the morning, heading into McDonald's for a food fix. They are the ones that are noisy, that are loud, that are disruptive, that cause problems for the police. Most of those people are well over 20. They have been drinking all night, which means they can afford it. God knows what else they've been doing in there, but I bet it isn't only alcohol they've been taking. But it doesn't matter what you do legislatively, you're not going to change that. Sponsorship and advertising isn't going to change that.

GREG Having said that, cigarettes, they're going to whack them up to $20 a packet within the next couple of years. The Law Commission is dead clear about this. They say whack it up by 50%, the price of booze, and it's going to absolutely help the problem.

MICHELLE But the problem, you see, is that might be a disincentive to that small group that abuse alcohol. It means they won't be able to have as much of it. But the vast majority of people, as Judith Collins said, it's simply penalising them for the sake of the few that abuse.

GREG But, Mike, is this going to be any disincentive to anybody, this split age?

MIKE No, I don't think that's going to make a lot of difference. There's one thing that Michelle said. I mean, I was president of the Labour Party for nine years, and people talked about the powerful booze industry. I was never lobbied by the alcohol industry.

MICHELLE Nor given money.

MIKE Nor given money.

GREG Crates of booze, though, I hear, Mike. (ALL CHUCKLE)

MIKE Never a crate of booze. I would have remembered that. But I do think that we will eventually be driven down a route of a higher price on alcohol.

GREG Are we being a little bit naïve with the split age thing here? Because basically the stick here is if you're 18, you can't buy it. You can go to a bar and have a drink. Plenty of 18-year-olds are going to know 20-year-olds, slip them some money, say, 'Go buy me some booze.' What have we solved?

RAYMOND I think this is what's going to happen. Someone goes to a supermarket as a 20-year-old, gets the booze and passes it on to others. I'm sure that's going to happen. I mean, there's a lot of ingenuity when it comes to getting hold of alcohol, and I just think this is a rather unnecessary law reform, and I do think there are other things that have been missed, such as pricing and availability.

GREG The availability side of it, you talk about powerful groups, and then you're taking on supermarkets.

MICHELLE No, I think the issue around availability is the corner dairies where you can get this stuff at all hours of the day and night.

MIKE Yeah, South Auckland. Yeah, it's dreadful. But I do think there should be some limits on marketing. Where I come from in West Auckland, there's no alcohol in supermarkets, and I went into a supermarket in Grey Lynn a couple of weeks ago, and I was staggered to find out you could not enter the supermarket without going past great arrays of bottles of wine. And I think that's pushing it a bit hard. I think there should be some control on displays, as they're doing with cigarettes and on marketing.

GREG Split age - it looks pretty tight, politically. What are you hearing as to which way this is likely to go?

MICHELLE I think that most people will go for the compromise because it is regarded as middle of the road. You can go into a bar and drink if you're 18, but you can only purchase when you're 20. And, as Ray says, it's probably not going to make an awful lot of difference, but it is a statement they're making.

MIKE That's right. And it looks as though they're doing something. In fact, they're not. As Raymond pointed out, they're really not doing anything, but it looks as though you're doing something.



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