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Dalziel: ALAC Partnership Conference

Hon Lianne Dalziel
Minister of Commerce, Minister for Food Safety,
Associate Minister of Justice, MP for Christchurch East

3 April 2008 Speech Notes

Sustainable Partnerships – Opportunities and Challenges

Keynote address by Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel to the ALAC Partnership Conference
Millennium Hotel
Cnr Eruera & Hinemaru Sts

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

I would like to acknowledge the organisers of this event, the keynote speakers and everyone who has taken time out of their busy schedules to attend this important event.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge:
- His Worship the Mayor of Rotorua, Kevin Winters
- Judge Unwin, Chair of the Liquor Licensing Authority (and other members of the authority)
- Gerard Vaughan, Chief Executive, ALAC (and other council members)
- Grant Nicholls, Assistant Commissioner of Police

Can I especially acknowledge all the practitioners who work so hard at implementing the law.

The original invitation to this conference began by asserting that ‘the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 is a complex and technical piece of legislation to enforce’. As the Minister, who has had responsibility for this Act for just over two months now, I couldn’t agree more. The invitation went on to comment about limits on resources and concluded that working together in partnership is a prerequisite for effective enforcement, compliance activities and projects. Again I could not agree more.

There is no one that argues that there ought not to be a regulatory framework for the sale of liquor, however the question that remains is have we got it right? As I said, I agree that the legislation is technical and complex; the question is, therefore, is it unnecessarily so?

In answering these questions however, I keep coming back to an even more vexed question and that is this: If we agree we haven’t got it right and if we agree it is unnecessarily technical and complex, how do we remedy the situation, when the regulation of the sale of liquor is subject to what is called a conscience vote in Parliament? I am going to come back to this point shortly, because I want to talk about the partnerships that may enable us to overcome this “hangover” from our past.

In drawing people together for this conference, ALAC specifically called upon all Police, public health representatives, district licensing inspectors, researchers, injury prevention people and safer community coordinators. When I looked at this list I felt there was a glaring omission – the industry itself – the brewers, the distillers, the winemakers, the on licence retailers collectively described as the hospitality industry and the various off licence retailers. Everyone agrees the industry is part of the problem; but in my view, they must be part of the solution.

When we talk about constraints on resources in terms of enforcement, then surely if we have a system that rewards those who are committed to compliance with the regulatory framework, enforcement resources could be better targeted to those who are not so committed. So developing sustainable partnerships with the industry makes sense to me. Let us, in that context, consider the object of the Act:

Object of Act

(1) The object of this Act is to establish a reasonable system of control over the sale and supply of liquor to the public with the aim of contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse, so far as that can be achieved by legislative means.
(2) The Licensing Authority, every District Licensing Agency, and any Court hearing any appeal against any decision of the Licensing Authority, shall exercise its jurisdiction, powers, and discretions under this Act in the manner that is most likely to promote the object of this Act.

The parts of the object that I would highlight are: “a reasonable system of control” “with the aim of contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse”. But apart from this statement I cannot find reference to this aim anywhere else in the Act. The criteria for objecting to an on-licence application for example restricts the objector to matters relating to matters such as the
(a) The suitability of the applicant:
(b) The days on which and the hours during which the applicant proposes to sell liquor:
(c) The areas of the premises … designated as restricted … or supervised areas:
(d) The steps proposed to be taken … to ensure that the requirements … in relation to the sale of liquor to prohibited persons are observed:
(e) The applicant's proposals relating to—
(i) The sale and supply of non-alcoholic refreshments and food; and
(ii) The sale and supply of low-alcohol beverages; and
(iii) The provision of assistance with … transport from the licensed premises:
(f) Whether the applicant is engaged, or proposes to engage, in—
- (i) The sale or supply of any other goods besides liquor and food; or
- (ii) The provision of any services other than those directly related to the sale or supply of liquor and food,—
and, if so, the nature of those goods or services:

and any matters raised by the police report or medical officer of health report.

Excuse me if I have missed anything in the relevant sections that give anyone considering an application the opportunity to promote the object of the Act – namely the reduction of liquor abuse. In fact there is almost an assumption signalled in the phrase, so far as that can be achieved by legislative means, that liquor abuse reduction cannot be achieved by legislative means.

I reject that. And I don’t believe that the architects of the legislative reform that gave us the 1989 Act expected that this worthy objective would be rendered meaningless by the very framework it established.
The principal architect was of course Sir George Laking, who passed away in January this year. He led the Working Party on Liquor, which gave us the essence of the framework that we have today.

Do I think that the framework is fundamentally flawed? No. Do I think it requires a first principles review? Yes I do. That Working Party was established over 20 years ago. The changes it implemented in 1989 and the subsequent changes introduced in 1999, together with a new generation of drinkers, who did not grow up with the constraints imposed by the previous framework, and who have the ‘in your face' advertising of alcohol we never had in the broadcast media when we were growing up, together with the impact of loss leading wine sales in supermarkets, the advent of the youth oriented RTDs and the explosion of what is described as binge drinking – we have a problem; we need to face up to it and we need to implement the objective of the original act – we need to make it work to reduce the abuse of liquor. I believe legislative action can contribute, however, I know, as you do, it is not the only answer.

That is why the government has strongly supported ALAC’s latest initiative on advertising the reality of binge drinking. The advertising must be hard hitting, because we need the attitudinal change we saw with drink driving being applied to binge drinking. The attitudes over drink driving didn’t change over night and they didn’t happen because ads said ‘if you drink and drive, you’re a bloody idiot’. They worked because there was a campaign that ensured that both the risks and consequences of getting caught were raised exponentially at the same time. Not only were you an idiot, you were arrested, you were charged and you paid a very high price indeed. ‘I was drunk’ was not an excuse anymore – it became an aggravating factor in what was criminal behaviour.

In terms of targeting this message to young people, we need them to see what risks they face when they binge drink. Having spoken to the Police in my city of Christchurch, I know that it is not just about perpetrating crime, it is also about the risk of becoming the victims of crime.

The picture they described of a young woman virtually comatose in a central city street gutter at 5am spelt out for me the nature of that risk.

I know that there are many people who think the law can resolve all of this. I have on many occasions used an expression my husband uses and I will use it again in this context because I believe it highlights the reality of what we must seek to achieve from our law. The expression is ‘red lights don’t stop trains’. Laws don’t stop people from doing things; they state what is unlawful and provide for sanctions to be applied upon conviction.

If we want real attitudinal change in this country we must all take responsibility for that. We must be role models for our youth and we must understand the nature of the environment they are growing up in, because it isn’t the same as ours was.

In an address I gave last year, I said:

It is my view that society as a whole has to take some responsibility for countering [the] destructive messages that bombard our young people, diminishing their self-image and limiting their ambitions. The phrase that 'it takes a village to raise a child' takes on a new challenge in a globalising world where technology has removed many of the boundaries that protected us from competing images and messages.

The point I was making is that we cannot ignore the fact that no matter how hard parents seek to instil in children the values they were brought up with, it is not possible to protect their children from having those messages challenged by everything they see, hear and feel around them.

This is why we need to see this as a collective problem and one that will only be resolved by sustainable partnerships. And it is why I see the industry as part of the solution. We are not proposing to ban liquor sales and therefore who sells what to whom is an issue.

ALAC’s own vision statement stakes itself not in the era of the prohibitionist, but rather in a modern context, which promotes and I quote:

“A New Zealand drinking culture that supports the moderate use of alcohol so that whänau and communities enjoy life, free from alcohol harms.”

If we are to reduce alcohol-related harm, we need to work together. This requires the involvement of all liquor stakeholders: including the government, ALAC, the community, NGOs, the industry and those responsible for working within the operation of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989. Your commitment is important.

Sustainable partnerships start with conversations. Together we are able to contribute in our own areas of expertise to identify the gaps and problem areas and to move forward with initiatives that are practical, targeted and effective.

But as I said at the start, even if we all agreed on the way forward, legislative change could be stymied by what is described as the conscience vote. I know that many groups have suggested that it is time for the parties to reconsider this approach to dealing with what is both a major social and economic issue. However, it is not for me as Associate Minister of Justice to promote that change. But I will acknowledge that part of the problem surrounding the Act is that it has been subject to ad hoc changes over the past 20 years without the substantive input that the 1989 Act had from the Laking Report. It has occurred to me that the approach adopted in establishing the Working Group back in 1986, might be one that is worthy of exploration today, in order to provide an evidence based approach to addressing societal concerns, while ensuring that the regulatory framework is proportionate in its response to the nature of the risk the particular activities pose.

I would be very keen to hear from stakeholders on this matter, because I do not feel that progressing legislation in the current environment in election year is necessarily in the interests of good law.
As Minister of Commerce I am anxious about the unnecessary regulatory burdens and compliance costs that are placed on those businesses that are contributing in a responsible way to our hospitality sector, one of the most important strands of our tourism industry.

Enforcement activities are not required when a licence holder complies with the spirit and intent of the legislation. That is why the industry must be part of the sustainable partnership network. Compliant licence holders free up resources to target those who do not comply.

I have made no secret of the fact that I want to see the compliance burden reduced for those who comply, but the quid pro quo is that I want to see those who don’t comply out of the industry. Let us raise the bar for entry – let us lower the bar for exit. I see first hand in my electorate the damage that is done by those who meet the technical requirements of the law to pass the test, but who in reality do harm to the community that did not want their insidious presence in their neighbourhood in the first place. Those communities are denied a voice by the very legislation that has as its object the reduction of liquor abuse. Holding a liquor licence or manager’s certificate is a privilege not a right and that is something that should never be forgotten.

So that is enough from me.

I am sorry that I haven’t come with all the answers you may be seeking, but I hope that I have raised the questions that we all need to be applying our minds to. I would be more than happy to host an opportunity for all the major stakeholders to sit around the table at Parliament and propose a way forward that would enable us to respond to what is a pressing need in an objective and realistic way that enables us to have a regulatory framework for the Sale of Liquor that supports our shared objectives.

I wish you the best for your conference and look forward to working with you in my new role.


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