September 5, 2008

Cut Back the Booze



Under the proposed Sale of Supply of Liquor and Liquor Enforcement Bill: Grocery stores smaller than 150sq m would lose the right to sell beer and wine. Councils would get more say over how alcohol is sold in their areas. The bill is yet to be read in Parliament and may not be debated before the election as it sits at number 19 on Parliament's order paper - outside the top 18 bills being considered in the House. The bill is part of a two-stage revamp, with the Law Commission also looking at a review of liquor laws, that could result in even greater changes in response to community concern about alcohol use.


Nearly three-quarters of Hamilton residents support government plans to limit or reduce the number of liquor outlets in the suburbs.

A Waikato Times Versus poll shows 74 per cent support for the Government's initiative in introducing the Sale of Supply of Liquor and Liquor Enforcement Bill.

Under the bill, grocery stores smaller than 150sq m would lose the right to sell wine and beer and local authorities would get more power to decide how alcohol is sold in their areas.

In the poll, taken last week, 833 voters were asked:

"Do you support or oppose Government plans to limit or reduce the number of liquor outlets in the suburbs?"

Some 42 per cent supported the move and 32 per cent strongly supported it.

By contrast, 10 per cent opposed the liquor initiative, and three per cent were strongly opposed.

Some 12 per cent neither supported nor opposed the move, while two per cent didn't know.

Age-wise, 38 per cent of those aged 50-plus strongly supported the move, compared to 24 per cent of those under 30.

The Government's bill has been criticised in some quarters as a kneejerk reaction to a mini- crime wave in South Auckland, which, should it become law, will unfairly penalise the owners of businesses, who bought them in good faith thinking they could sell alcohol.

But the poll results came as no surprise to Hamilton West Labour MP Martin Gallagher - who has lobbied for a host of liquor law reforms - or to Hamilton mayor (and former National MP) Bob Simcock.

Mr Gallagher said the results - and the Government's initiative - reflected public concern and police advice.

"It totally reinforces concerns I picked up over quite some time about the chaotic state of our liquor laws," Mr Gallagher said.

"It very clearly underscores that the community want to have their say in terms of liquor outlets in their area.

"It is a call from parents and neighbourhoods to get some sanity back into our liquor legislation."

Mr Simcock said Hamilton City Council had been frustrated by the fact existing regulations have made it impossible to respond to community expectations.

"We have been directly criticised for decisions we have had no ability to alter, and this is a move in the right direction, a response to nationwide concern," he said.

"Until now we have had no ability to talk about the number of licences, and we would welcome licensing authorities being able to consider the social effects of granting licences."

Waikato police refused to comment on the poll result, citing the nearness of the general election.

About 15,000 liquor licences are on issue nationally, with more than 4500 for off-licence bottle shops, grocery stores and supermarkets. Hamilton has 97 off-licences, and the Waikato district 32.

A spokesman for Cheep Liquor, in Claudelands, said the new bill would pose few long- term problems.

"We would find a bigger store."

Mr Gallagher said it was clear 1999 law changes, which had reduced the drinking age, had not worked, with binge drinking rife.

"People thought we would have a Mediterranean-style civilised drinking atmosphere with the law changes, but it was a false hope. It was never the intention to allow every corner dairy to sell liquor."

Mr Gallagher acknowledged the work of the Hamilton Alcohol Accord - a collaborative project between the city's liquor licensees, police, Health Waikato and Hamilton City Council - in seeking a consistent industry approach to responsible practices with the sale of liquor.


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