Q+A: PAUL HOLMES INTERVIEWS CHESTER BORROWS
PAUL HOLMES We’d hoped to have Labour and National debating the issue, but, as I say, this government doesn’t debate other parties, apparently. I would have thought that was a part of full democratic process full stop. Which means I have to explain this to you while Lianne Dalziel leaves her chair, which she has done so effectively and carefully without injury, and the Associate Justice Minister, Chester Borrows, sneaks in. National says the bill is the first serious attempt by a government to constrain drinking. But the critics say it does nothing on price and advertising. It is useless, Minister, effectively is what she [Lianne Dalziel] is saying.
CHESTER BORROWS, Associate Justice Minister Well, it doesn’t do nothing on price and advertising, for a start. But what we have to remember is that 85% of New Zealanders-
PAUL Nothing effective, I think is what they mean.
CHESTER Yeah, but it does. 85% of New Zealanders drink largely without harm-
PAUL Where does she get that figure? Where does Judith Collins get that figure of 85% of New Zealanders drink sensibly?
CHESTER Well, we obviously get it from surveys and polls. The same sort of thing that media relies on all the time to present facts, Paul.
PAUL But in terms of what the Law Commission was saying back in 2010, and the Law Commission, I mean, they were appalled when they looked at the problem, weren’t they? I mean, the low cost of alcohol is not addressed. They were appalled by that. Extreme drunkenness is not addressed. Unbridled promotion of alcohol is not addressed in your bill. You’ve watered it right down.
CHESTER Let’s face facts. They made 158 recommendations. We’ve picked up on about 127 of them. They don’t like the ones that we didn’t pick up. We are constraining the law for the first time in about 80 years, and this is a fairly big first bite. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, or anyone else who’s working in the sector or has been dealing with people who have been involved with booze, alcohol and violence like I have for nearly 40 years-
PAUL Yes, ex-policeman.
CHESTER …that we will move further down the track in time to come.
PAUL All right, a couple of quickies, and we’ll get over some more territory. Why didn’t you lift the price? All the research says, I understand, people will buy less if it’s dearer.
CHESTER Um, I think probably people will buy less if it’s dearer. If you look where minimum pricing has been introduced in other countries, they are not comparable with us. For instance, if you look at the States and Canada where they have a minimum-pricing regime, actually the State Government owns all the booze shops. If you look at the Scandinavian countries, it’s the same. Uh, Scotland talked about it and has just pulled back after court action. So-
PAUL Well, that’s nothing to do with New Zealand. I mean, if you just simply introduce the excise tax, you can effectively raise the price of booze.
CHESTER Ok, so what happened then in other places where they have done it, it hasn’t quite worked the way that they thought because they’d tried to target that, and it hasn’t worked in the way they’d anticipated it. Similarly, for instance, to the way when we increased a tax on cherries, we hit the wrong part of the market. In the States-
PAUL No, that’s true. And I know you’re fond of telling the alcopop story of where they reduced the alcohol level in Australia. Kids simply started to buy their own bottle of bourbon, their own bottle of Coke-
CHESTER Just like we do.
PAUL Yes, exactly. Exactly.
CHESTER And they pour stronger drinks, and they drink more pure alcohol and get deeper into the poo. The fact-
PAUL Let me ask you this, do you think things are worse than they were 30 years ago?
CHESTER Yeah, they are worse because young people have far more freedoms, and it’s much easier to get out there and play up afterwards. For instance, when we had 6 o’clock closing, that introduced a whole different set of problems. People were home afterwards.
PAUL Yeah, yeah. Beating up Mum.
CHESTER Yeah, which wasn’t good either, so we tried to deal with that in another way.
PAUL Look at these statistics, though. These come from, I think, Alcohol Research New Zealand, Professor Doug Sellman’s research outfit. Look at these stats: 25% of New Zealanders drink heavily, he found. 30% of all police apprehensions involve alcohol. 50% of violent crimes are related to booze. 60% of medical conditions are caused by heavy drinking. 300 alcohol-related offences happen every day. How can you deny that it’s not time for more drastic action than you’re taking?
CHESTER I’m not trying to deny that it isn’t time for drastic action. I think you minimise what we are doing in this bill, and I don’t think that those stats have changed much over time because, actually, if you go back, you know, 30% of violent crimes will always be fuelled by alcohol. So that’s just the way it is. But the fact is that we are moving down that track and we are being incrementally more constrained with alcohol. And then out there, as I said, 85% of our population drink largely without hurting other people. We need to be very precise with what we’re going. So doing things like extending liquor-ban areas, taking them on to private property like car parks where we couldn’t go before, down alleyways where we couldn’t go before, is significant. Reducing the ability to advertise below certain discount levels and outside premises is significant. Maintaining alcohol within supermarkets in a single area is significant.
PAUL All right. But, I mean, the bill is so much weaker than what the Law Commission was recommending, so much weaker than where you started. Were you frightened the alcohol industry would turn on the National Party?
CHESTER No, I wasn’t-
PAUL Oh, come on. Look, for a while, Judith Collins was talking about 5% max on the alcopops alcohol, and then I think Simon Power was talking about 6%, or the other way round. But then we all abandon completely the idea of restricting by regulation the amount of alcohol allowed in the RTDs.
CHESTER Yep, ok, so we had some things we needed to deal with that and the regulations-
PAUL Yeah, the alcohol industry.
CHESTER No, hang on. The regulation ability to be able to constrain those is still within the legislation, and we can do it. But the problem we do have with the CER Agreement with Australia is the threat of court action. What we could do is restrict where we sell them in New Zealand. That’s quite right. But the other thing we have to recognise is this - with alcopops, we know what we’re dealing with. And what we have found before is whenever you squeeze one part of the sausage in relation to booze, it bursts out somewhere else-
PAUL Come out the other end. Good place to leave it.
CHESTER Well, good place to leave it except this: that we don’t have a real big cider drinking population in New Zealand. In the UK they did because they did what you’re suggesting we did. And that is flavoured stuff. It’s not the old apple-tasting crap that we used to drink when we were young. This is stuff that tastes all the flavours that are in RTDs-
PAUL Make your point, Chester, please. I’ve got to wrap it.
CHESTER Ok. We know what we’re dealing with alcopops. We’ve got the regulations to be able to deal within it, smile and carry a big stick if they don’t listen.
PAUL I thank you very much for your appearance.