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Alcohol reform plan outlines only 'minor' changes

Published: 5:12AM Wednesday May 02, 2012 Source: ONE News/Fairfax

Proposed alcohol reforms fail to address the availability of cheap booze and "unrelentless marketing", an addiction expert says.

Parliament is currently considering an Alcohol Reform Bill that would see the alcohol purchase age in off-licences raised to 20 and a ban from selling alcohol from 4am to 7am, along with other changes to New Zealand's alcohol laws.
However, National Addiction Centre Doug Sellman has labelled the proposed changes "minor" and as a failure of the National Government's leadership to address one of the most important social issues in society. 

Sellman is advocating a minimum price point order to deter young people and heavy drinkers who were generally price sensitive alcohol users.

"We've had a minister yesterday saying in rather hopeful tones that somehow we are all going to become more personally responsible around alcohol but there are no measures that promote personal responsibility," said Sellman.

"What's missing is things that decrease the massive commercialisation of alcohol starting with the unrelentless marketing of alcohol we have at the moment."

Text and phone message plan

Under the proposed alcohol reform bill teenagers aged under 18 will need the express consent of their parents through a text message or a phone call to have a drink at a party.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said yesterday that the Alcohol Reform Bill would be back in Parliament to pass its final stages next month.

MPs are already lining up to back an amendment to the bill which would raise the purchase age to 20, and Collins said she would also introduce a Government amendment in the final stages.

The bill, which passed its second reading last year, would have required adults giving liquor to minors to understand "on reasonable grounds" that there was parental consent.

Collins said the Government now wanted to "tighten that up" so that "express consent" was required.

"That's a text or a phone call or a discussion with a parent," she said.

"Before someone supplies your 16-year-old or your 14-year-old with alcohol, they [will have to] tell you."

Parents of teenagers were "crying out" for some tools in the law to protect their children attending parties where liquor was being drunk, she said.

Adults who "knowingly served" liquor would be captured by the law change but not those who failed to stop teenagers getting hold of a drink surreptitiously.

"No-one is expecting there to be mass prosecutions around the place. This is a tool for parents," Collins said.

Reforms target RTDs

Another new measure being planned is to ban the sale from off-licences of "ready to drink" mixes with an alcohol content of more than 6%.

The Government has previously suggested a 5% limit, but concerns were raised that might not be possible because of international trade rules.

Collins said RTDs were a legitimate alternative to badly mixed drinks, but there was growing concern about drinks with high alcohol content that were also very sweet.

The proposed "split age" would restrict alcohol sales at off-licences such as supermarkets to 20-year-olds while leaving it at 18 for licensed premises such as bars and restaurants.

National MP Tim Macindoe has put up an amendment calling for the purchase age in all cases to go up to 20, while his National colleague Nikki Kaye has put up an amendment for it to stay at 18.

The purchase age will be decided by a conscience vote, with the split age expected to win the most support.

However, a move back up to 20 is likely to have support from some Cabinet ministers and senior Opposition MPs, including Tony Ryall, Christopher Finlayson, Phil Heatley, Annette King and Winston Peters.