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The House: Alcohol Debate Wraps Up

MPs have walked a middle road in liberalising alcohol sales this evening.

First up there was little debate about changing the status quo to allow more store types (such as dairies and video shops) to apply for off-licence permits and there was no change in that area.

MPs also decided that supermarkets need not to have separate check outs and dedicated areas for alcohol.

Following on from that the House considered what types of alcohol supermarkets could sell. Phil Goff said he had changed his mind over voting for further liberalisation because of the earlier decisions made about the minimum drinking age and dedicated areas.

Speaking to criticism from Mr Goff about a lack of funding about education and policing to follow up on the changes, The Education Minister, Nick Smith, said he and the Youths Affairs Minister had met after the vote and decided to begin work on policy coming out of the move to an 18 year old drinking age.

It became clear from speeches that those who may have supported the widening of alcohol types that could be sold in supermarkets had changed their minds due to the previous decisions. As result the push to permit supermarkets and grocery stores to sell all types of liquor was rejected 65 to 51.

However the House agreed by 58 to 53 to permit supermarkets and grocery stores to sell wine, beer and ‘alcopops’, but not ‘straight’ spirits.

At this stage an effort was made to recommit issue seven - regarding separate checkouts and dedicated areas in supermarkets - this was defeated.

The final heated debate came whether there should be restrictions over the age of the seller of liquor. Many concerns were raised about minors selling alcohol to fellow minors due to peer pressure, on the opposite side of the argument there were fears that restricting the selling age to the drinking age would end up with many younger people losing their jobs.

The option of no age restrictions was defeated on a voice vote, the status quo (no restrictions on age except in restricted areas, such as bars) was passed 76 to 39.

Members then rattled through the issues concerning club licences, charters and exemptions from the Act in record time with comments made that no member would vote to upset the hundreds of clubs and organisations in their electorate.

The Speaker, Doug Kidd, also spoke using the not often used right for the Speaker to address the House in Committee and he said to acclaim that there was general support for the status quo. As general good nature swept across the House in an unusual sign of unity the status quo concerning club licences, club charters and exemptions from the Act was preserved.

Thus ended a rather unique way of dealing with legislation in the House. Despite the occasional hiccup over proxies, it was not the shambles that some constitutional experts predicted. However it will be interesting to see whether the Justice Minister’s opinion that matters decided cannot be relitigated in the clause by clause examination stands up when the Bill returns.

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