Hospitality industry wary of sweeping liquor law changes

A reduction in tax on low alcohol products and a cutback in the hours liquor can be sold are some of the options the Law Commission has released for public discussion today as part of its review of the liquor laws, but the hospitality industry is warning that changes that target the entire population are unlikely to work.

In the second report released by the commission as part of its review of New Zealand’s liquor laws, the public discussion paper looks at the issues raised by alcohol use in New Zealand and offers some “tentative solutions”.

These include a new Sale of Liquor Act, reducing excise tax on low alcohol products, reducing the hours within which alcohol can be purchased, toughening up the liquor license process and a split purchase age allowing 18-year-olds to drink at licensed premises at 18, but forcing them to wait until they are 20 before they can purchase from an off-license.

The commission is also looking at options designed to reduce the availability of the cheap alcohol products favoured by price-sensitive young and heavy drinkers.

Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer said the recommendations were not “a return to wowserism”.

“But the preliminary evidence suggests the time has come to review the policy setting to reduce the excesses and curb the harm. Not everyone drink in a manner that is harmful, but the consequences of harmful drinking affect us all.”

Liquor retailers around the country will be wary of lost hours and increased taxes that could hit their margins under some of the measures being considered and Hospitality Association chief executive Bruce Robertson told NBR that it would be supporting the options that would make a targeted difference, rather than any population-wide approach

“Any increase in excise tax is unfairly targeting those who drink responsibly, while having little effect on people who are just looking to get horribly drunk. You would have to increase the taxes to the extent that people find it cheaper to distil their own alcohol before it really made any difference.”

He said the association was still in favour of instant fines handed out to those who were drunk in a public place, and would also seek to see the drinking age raised to the purchasing age of 18, making it illegal for teenagers to taste any alcohol.

Mr Robertson added that the association had been heavily engaged in the review process and would be following the feedback generated by the discussion paper closely.

“We are looking for the Law Commission to make robust decisions that actually make a difference, rather than bring hardship on retailers and responsible drinkers.”

The Law Commission’s review of the alcohol laws has already drawn fire from some economists who say the report used as the basis of the review was flawed and lacked several key details.

The public now have until the end of October to make submissions on the commission’s recommendations, with an online consultation website designed to generate public discussion set up at www.talklaw.co.nz.

Sir Geoffrey said the commission would use all comments and submissions to help frame it final recommendations to the government, which are due in March. 

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