A flood of responses to a Law Commission report recommending sweeping changes to liquor laws appears to confirm a commission comment about the issue being a social battleground.
The 500-page report, Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, compiled at the government's request by a team headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has been labelled everything from a "tour de force" to "nanny state thinking."
It says the growing prevalence of alcohol through its low cost and unbridled promotion has seen a culture of excessive drinking get out of hand over the past couple of decades.
The report recommends a thorough overhaul of the current laws, including lifting the drinking age to 20, tightening restrictions on advertising and promotion, reducing trading hours, and increasing alcohol excise tax by 50%.
That involved repealing the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 and changing it to new legislation called the Alcohol Harm Reduction Act.
Speaking to reporters today, Sir Geoffrey said the report included 153 recommendations.
He said some of those would be pointless to adopt without being complemented by others and suggested that, if used as the basis for new legislation, it would not serve its purpose if the government simply cherry picked parts of it.
But the report's ability to reduce alcohol-related harm and New Zealand's excessive drinking culture already appears to have been compromised, with Prime Minister John Key and Justice Minister Simon Power, who is responsible for considering it, saying an increase in excise tax has all but been ruled out.
"I'm sure there'll be some recommendations that we will adopt, but one thing that there is literally no appetite for is to increase excise tax," Mr Key told reporters today.
Mr Power welcomed the report and has acknowledged the need to address problems caused by alcohol, including huge social costs in the areas of health and crime. He said the government would outline its position on the report in the next few weeks, but that raising excise tax was "extremely unlikely."
Labour's justice spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said the report presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address a big social problem.
"It's important the government doesn't pick and choose among the recommendations," she said.
The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) and Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) strongly backed the recommendations.
Alac chief executive Gerard Vaughan said it set out a clear objective of reducing alcohol-related harm which stretched to structure and role changes for the district licensing agencies responsible for managing liquor licensing in their own communities.
Communities up and down the country were sick of the violence and vandalism that came with drinking and that proposed changes to licencing regimes would help address the problem, Mr Vaughan said.
Nearly 3000 submissions were received by the commission, many of which supported the tightening of laws around alcohol sales, purchasing and consumption.
But NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the report reflected "classic nanny state thinking."
It failed to target those causing the problems and punished everyone, she said. The industry was already one of the most regulated, and more sensible ways to approach existing problems included better enforcement of current rules and better use of legal powers, along with industry-led initiatives.
Hospitality Association chief executive Bruce Robertson said the recommendations were "patronising and moralistic" and would be ineffective in reducing harm.
He said a drinking age of 18 with an offence being made of being drunk in public would be a good start.
Police have, however, made it clear they have not got the resources to police drunken behaviour effectively and have lobbied for closing hours in bars to be pared back.
Act Party deputy leader Heather Roy also took a swipe at the report, saying extra tax hit everyone, and that further restricting trading hours and the drinking age amounted to "nanny state regulation."
The government has 120 working days to present its response to Parliament.