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Lianne Dalziel Address To Licensing Inspectors

4 September 2008 Speech Notes

NZ Institute of Liquor Licensing Inspectors

Lianne Dalziel Address To Licensing Inspectors

Ministerial address by Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel to the New Zealand Institute of Liquor Licensing Inspectors Annual Conference 2008
InterContinental Hotel
Grey Street, Wellington

I am delighted to have the opportunity to be here today and thank you, particularly to the NSW Commissioner and Director, Michael Foggo and Albert Gardiner, for accommodating my need to switch our presentation times. A late scheduling of the Privileges Committee this morning meant that I couldn't guarantee my departure time from Parliament.

Speaking to you today, less than 6 months since speaking at the ALAC conference in Rotorua earlier this year, it is hard to believe that so much has happened in such a short space of time. That speech in April was the first opportunity in my Associate Justice role with responsibility for liquor issues to sound out stakeholders in terms of my own view that there was a need for a first principles review of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989.

There were many reasons why I felt such a review was timely, not the least of which was the enormity of the task of ensuring the legislation was capable of achieving its objectives, in the light of the out-dated conscience vote in Parliament coupled with a looming general election.

I am therefore extremely pleased that this has come to fruition with the Law Commission starting what Sir Geoffrey Palmer has called a 'root and branch' review of liquor legislation; a review which will be the most significant review since the Laking Working Party of the 1980s.

I have also just introduced the Sale and Supply of Liquor and Liquor Enforcement Bill into Parliament and this should get its first reading next week. This Bill implements specific proposals arising from three reviews carried out over the past few years and addresses issues that are of immediate concern to the public and which in my view cannot wait for the outcome of the Law Commission review in two and a half years time.

The Bill does three very important things: it allows liquor licensing authorities to take social impact into account when make licensing decisions; it gives communities greater say in liquor licensing decisions by requiring licensing authorities to give effect to local alcohol plans; and it provides the closest this country has come to having a drinking age, making it an offence for adults to supply alcohol to minors without their parents consent.

These are very important steps in putting the power for controlling the availability of liquor where it belongs - in the hands of local communities and parents.

In addition, the National Alcohol Action Plan has been released for public consultation so we can collectively determine our priorities for the next five years.

Of course, these initiatives are not being carried out in isolation. They compliment each other and represent a mix of short- and longer-term solutions to the concerns we all share about alcohol and the harm it manifests in our communities.

As liquor licensing inspectors, you play a vital role in working to ensure that our licensing process contributes to that key objective of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 namely, establishing 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. You are involved at all stages of the process and the licensing bodies depend on your input to make robust decisions.

I am also aware that your role in contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse extends further than that specified by law. You operate at the interface between licensees and the enforcement and supervisory agencies.

Some of you would have been involved in establishing the New Zealand Institute of Liquor Licensing Inspectors in 2004. I was not aware of the Institute until I became the Associate Minister, but was pleased to find the degree of professionalism that is evidenced by such a body as this and the role you play.

I thought I would find out more about you by Googling Liquor Licensing Inspectors there were over 5000 search results most of which I discovered were generated by the fact that 73 district councils have their own web pages, their own licensing information and their own inspectors. I will say no more than that at this stage, but I suspect that this is a matter that the Law Commission will look at and I think it would be useful if you as a profession could give some thought about how we could achieve a result that would increase certainty for compliant businesses on the one hand and cater to quite different communities on the other. Feel free to think outside the square and remember that the old saying "this is the way it has always been done" is not a good starting point for doing so.

I hope that this year's conference will prove an excellent forum for discussing topical issues and sharing expertise, as well as raising the profile of effective liquor licensing inspection.

I would like to kick-start this process (if I haven't already) by discussing some of the reforms we currently have on the agenda. It is clear from the way many New Zealanders consume alcohol and the harm that results, that we need to make real and enduring changes.

As you will be well aware, there are a number of basic principles surrounding the sale and supply of liquor in New Zealand that require reconsideration and analysis. This can only be done by a broad and comprehensive review that deals with all aspects of the issues.
Indeed, the present Act shows the signs of the constant amendments that have been made to it and these have undermined its overall coherence. I could stand accused of doing the same again with the latest Bill but I reject that because there are changes that can be made that enable Parliament to signal its intentions at the early stage of the review and it will be the Parliament that passes this Bill that the Law Commission reports to.

Let's start though with the first principles review of liquor legislation to be led by the Law Commission. The Law Commission is often charged with projects that cross the boundaries of several portfolios and involve a significant degree of public consultation. As such, the Commission is well-situated to carry out this review. It is important to remember that the Commission will arrive at its conclusions independently of any government department or minister, although there will be an interdepartmental officials committee to provide resources and information about a number of difficult issues that arise under the present law.

In addition the Commission will assemble reference groups of community, industry and other key sectors to assist with the development of options for reform. The Law Commission has been charged with the following five tasks:

1. To examine and evaluate the current laws and policies relating to the sale, supply and consumption of liquor in New Zealand.

2. To formulate a revised policy framework covering the principles that should regulate the sale, supply and consumption of liquor having regard to present and future social conditions and needs.

3. To deal explicitly with a number of issues I will not list them all now, but they include issues that I know the Institute has expressed concern about on previous occasions. For example:
the responsibility of parents for supervising teenagers who drink;
the influence of excise tax on alcohol and how pricing policies can minimise harm from alcohol consumption; and
the advertising of liquor and whether there should be restrictions on discounting alcohol or advertising discounts.

4. The Commission will prepare and publish an issues paper and engage in extensive public consultation.

5. At the end of this process, the Commission will prepare a final report, including a proposed new policy framework and draft legislation, so that people can judge accurately the precise effects of what is proposed.

The most significant aspect of this review is that it will provide Parliament with an evidence base against which to judge the appropriate course to follow. I am confident that this will enable a coherent framework to emerge that balances the interests of the community along with commercial interests in a way that recognises first the significance of the harm caused through alcohol in our society and second that well-run, responsible hospitality premises are an important component of our social life and tourism industry. It is a balancing act and I believe we have not yet got that balance quite right.

I have a view as Minister of Commerce that we do not reward good behaviour sufficiently in this regard and I also believe that compliance costs are way too high for those who present a very low risk of harm or whose contribution to overall harm is minimal.

That being said since I spoke at ALAC I went out on the streets of Christchurch with the District Licensing Inspector, Martin Ferguson and the Police Licensing Sergeant, Al Lawn. What an eye opener that was. I am so glad I did it, because I don't believe I would have been able to fully appreciate what people were talking about without actually seeing it for myself. I guess I do what others do I remember what it used to be like. I forget that 30 years has gone by since I first could legally purchase wine and beer from a licensed restaurant and 28 years since I could be in a tavern or hotel or bottle store and I haven't seen the effect on a city where the trading hours are no longer restricted to 11pm closing for bars and 3am for the few nightclubs that were around in those days and I haven't seen a proliferation of dairies masquerading as convenience stores selling wine and beer at all hours. I haven't seen a place where one crowd is completely replaced by another cr
owd at around midnight when my age group goes home and the younger set comes in after tanking up at home first.

What a change that has made. I described the pre and post midnight scene on the Strip as being like a flash-over in a fire, where a convivial atmosphere is replaced by something that doesn't feel safe at all.

And SOL Square where the local Council has been so impressed with the fancy bars and the nightlife it has attracted, without taking into account the blatant breaches of their own liquor ban policy as people walk from venue to venue with bottles in their hands and where there is a lower level of supervision around age than the very tight regimes we saw at other venues. Maybe the councillors haven't seen it after the midnight I hadn't until then.

I mention this because one of the most significant measures included in the Bill is the proposal which will require licensing agencies to give effect to a council's local alcohol plan. And this is why local councils need to know what's going on.

Local authorities have had the power to introduce by-laws for liquor bans for many years but in other respects they have had to rely on voluntary agreements, which do not always meet the community's expectation of what is reasonable. Giving effect to local alcohol plans where they exist will mean that provisions such as closing hours or 'one-way door' policies will be able to become conditions of the licences in that area and will be fully enforceable. In Christchurch the one way door policy operates from 4am, which is surprising to those of us who cannot imagine why people need to be out so late, or so early, depending on your perspective.

I know that you are all very much involved in the development of your local liquor policies so I want to encourage you all to continue this involvement. Local plans will become of increasing importance as they are given clear legal standing by the enactment of the new Bill, which I am hopeful will gain the support of individual MPs across the board.

If we are to develop both robust local alcohol plans and central government legislation which supports these plans, we need to draw on and learn from your frontline experience. I know I already have and I'm grateful for that.

I have said before that to address issues around alcohol in our communities the full range of stakeholders need to work together. I know that the Institute can make a positive contribution to both the Bill and Law Commission's review during the consultation processes, however I think it is to the latter that we should look for the step change that will bring about the changes we all know we need.

I wish you the best for your conference and look forward to working with you.


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