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Robson: Liqour Amendment Bill Speech

8 June 2005

Hon Matt Robson MP, Progressive Deputy Leader

Progressive MP urges Parliament to address youth alcohol harm Speech notes (right of reply) for Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill first reading and vote

I would like to thank all of my colleagues who have contributed to this Parliamentary debate on the First Reading of the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill. Many of the varied opinions honestly expressed, from sometimes very different points-of-view, are of course also being articulated at dinner tables, in sporting clubs and at social gatherings up and down New Zealand.

I believe that the Bill is facilitating an honest and robust public discussion on recent trends in alcohol consumption, alcohol harm and what steps we can reasonably take, through our representative Parliament, to help turn the tide against some of the heart-break that too often accompanies youth binge-drinking.

In 1999, Parliament voted by a small margin to lower the minimum purchasing age of alcohol to eighteen from twenty. Our party, for philosophic reasons, reckoned then that eighteen year-olds should have the right to purchase alcohol at licensed liquor outlets, although my party in 1999 voted against the final Reading of the Sale of Liquor Amendment Act for other reasons – principally that the liberalization of supermarket alcohol sales was too permissive.

But regardless of how we as individuals or parties voted in 1999, we have now had six years to access the evidence of the impact of the law change.

I believe a majority here will today vote for this Bill to proceed to select committee where we politicians can have a breather from speech-making and where we can do some active listening instead.

At Select Committee, we can listen to the evidence that will be put before us. Listen to the experience of those at the frontline in public health. Listen to the parents. Listen to the principals and teachers and sports coaches.

Maybe listen to some of the liquor licensing control front-line workers, the people at Alcohol Health Watch, the Public Health Association and family doctors who say our 1999 decision was, and I quote, "a disaster". We can at select committee listen to family planning health professionals and those working to combat the transmission of sexual disease among the young.

And as we listen and take notes these are just some of the basic questions we need to keep in our minds:

(1) Did the decision to lower the alcohol purchasing age by two years in 1999 in turn lower the effective age at which minors in our country easily access alcohol by two years. In other words, if 17 year-olds easily accessed alcohol via their 20 year old friends before 1999, did the law change make it easier for 15-year olds to access alcohol from their eighteen year old mates?

(2) Did the law change exacerbate under-18 year old youth binge drinking and associated problems such as road accidents, unplanned pregnancies and so forth?

(3) Did the law change exacerbate hospital admissions for heavily intoxicated 13 to 17 year olds?

(4) What is the evidence from North America where societies tried a lower alcohol purchasing age but then reverted to a higher age?

(5) Would it likely make any material difference to youth binge drinking habits if broadcast advertising rules were altered?

(6) Would it likely make any material difference to youth binge drinking habits if we used more of a stick in terms of high penalties for those caught supplying liquor to those under the minimum alcohol purchasing age, whether that age is 18 or 20?

A number of Members have asked me to move an instruction to the Select Committee to allow it to consider matters beyond the scope of the bill. It may well be that the public submissions identity changes that the select committee believes to be desirable. If and when that happens I will seek to deal with issues of the scope at that time, and I will be happy to have amendments made to the bill to address the problem that is the harm done to youth by alcohol.

Let me finish by thanking the Prime Minister for her support for this Bill to proceed to select committee.

Of course that are no silver bullets to improving the alcohol drinking culture. This Bill proposes just three measures – on broadcast advertising, supply to minor regulations and the minimum purchasing age – which have necessarily been drafted to try and secure as broad-based support in this eight-party Parliament as possible.

I commend you to let the public of New Zealand, the parents, the caregivers, the voluntary workers in public health, to be able to have their say on how this legislation can be improved. I commend you all therefore to support this Bill proceeding to Select Committee.


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