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ALAC Partnerships Conference, Planning for Alcohol

Speech to ALAC Partnerships Conference 2006, Planning for Alcohol in the Community, 6 April 2006

Research has revealed the true link between alcohol and crime. Internationally, alcohol is associated with around 50 to 70 percent of all police work - be it the crimes that land people in our prisons, dealing with street fights, criminal damage, family violence, drink-driving or simply having to take drunk people home or into custody for their own protection.

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Good morning. Kia ora koutou.

Thank you Andrew for that introduction. I would like to echo his welcome to everyone here today. And a special welcome to our overseas guests: Sergeant Jan Brown from the Greater Manchester police, John Wiggers, Director of the Hunter Institute New South Wales, and Inspector John Green from the New South Wales Police.

I am always pleased to be here in Queenstown and I thank Clive Geddes for hosting us here in one of the jewels in our tourist industry. As always, it's great to be closer to the West Coast!

Well, there's no question, alcohol abuse and misuse permeates so many areas of our lives. Indeed it has a huge affect on my life . well, in three of my portfolios - tourism, corrections and health.

Research has revealed the true link between alcohol and crime. Internationally, alcohol is associated with around 50 to 70 percent of all police work - be it the crimes that land people in our prisons, dealing with street fights, criminal damage, family violence, drink-driving or simply having to take drunk people home or into custody for their own protection.

A recent survey of Wellington city police charge sheets indicated that 90 percent of violent offenders were affected by alcohol.

The most staggering figure I recently heard was that Police in New Zealand are called out to alcohol-related incidents every eight minutes. I think, and I'm sure you all agree, that is unacceptable and a very sobering statistic we should all keep in mind.

The Police Alcohol Action Plan, released at the ALAC Positive Partnerships Conference in Napier last week sets out the Police's vision to reduce alcohol-related crime and crashes. This plan was presented by the new Police Commissioner Howard Broad, and I'm sure he'll be pushing it from the top.

In my Corrections portfolio, the connection is obvious. Reducing drunkenness and related crime will help keep people out of our prisons in the first place. For those people in prison who have alcohol problems, we've got to make sure they're supported in tackling their drinking problem - and we must support them on their release into a culture where drunkenness is less acceptable and less able to exist.

Tourism may be more affected by our drinking culture than you'd think at a glance. What does our drinking culture say about our country? How do we want to be seen? Does 100 percent pure mean 100 percent pure vomit and broken glass on our streets? Do we want tourists being victims of alcohol-fuelled crime? Noise and disruption all night in our beautiful destinations? Are these the experiences, memories and the brand we want for our country? No, I don't think so.

Drunkenness impacts on pretty much all my work, and I know my Ministerial colleagues' work is broadly affected too - health, education, transport, welfare . you name it, and they'll be delighted when we start to get some behavioural shifts down the track.

A Ministerial Committee on Injury Prevention has recently been established that has as one of its six priority areas a plan to reduce community violence. Part of this work is to develop a toolbox that will include information on measures to prevent and reduce alcohol related violence. As a member of the committee, I will be pushing progress in this area.

The ugly truth in New Zealand is that drunkenness and the harms that result, affects many facets of our lives. And you're all here because you know this, and you want to share ideas and solutions.

But before we discuss your role, I'd like to update you on what this government is doing to help reduce alcohol related harm.

Two years ago the government backed ALAC's programme to change New Zealand's drinking culture and a levy on industry was increased to fund it.

We did this because current approaches weren't working. Like many similar countries, New Zealand has, over the years, employed a range of policy interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm, focusing on both reducing total consumption and on specific alcohol related problems.

However, despite declining consumption over twenty years, harm has increased not reduced.

And then a few years ago, like elsewhere in the world, New Zealanders' concerns about alcohol went beyond the old worries about dependency and drink driving, and youth drinking emerged as an issue, with young people getting very drunk, very publicly. We had out of control North Shore parties and witnessed teenagers lying comatose in shopping malls and parks.

With approaches to drink driving and dependency already in place, it was youth drinking that landed squarely on the public agenda. New Zealand adults pointed the finger at youth, drink drivers, and dependent drinkers, and on that basis, generally exempted themselves from the problem. By 2002, New Zealand was expressing increasing concern - youth drinking and abuse had to be stopped.

With that, ALAC researched the youth drinking issue in depth to find out how best to tackle it. This included extensive international reviews as well as in depth research into our own young people's drinking.

The message from young people emerged clearly - "this is all hypocritical - there's no harm in what we're doing - it's a rite of passage - adults are doing it anyway - and it's what we do in New Zealand!"

A new hypothesis was shaped and tested: "That adults were drinking the same way as young people". And so the research was extended to adults - looking at their attitudes and behaviours and what motivated them to drink and conversely what stopped them drinking.

Hardly surprising, the hypothesis proved correct, and indeed young people were learning their drinking ways from their best role models - their parents and other adults in their lives. What's more, youth are drinking in environments and under rules (or lack of) that adults created.

We concluded from our research and our analysis that New Zealand has a seriously worrying drinking culture on its hands, where everyone generally accepts drunkenness as a social norm. It's hardly any wonder we're having trouble with some of our kids.

It's drunkenness that's the problem - because this is where those acute harms occur. It's our acceptance of drunkenness. We set out to get drunk. We tolerate getting drunk. We laugh at getting drunk. We celebrate getting drunk. That is the problem.

You've heard this in the media over the last two years. We've got healthy debate on the subject and people in New Zealand have genuine and valid concerns. You know it yourselves or you wouldn't be here. But it's important you know how we can move on this issue because we all need to be aiming for the same goal and providing more than rhetoric.

So we are now looking to change our whole drinking culture in New Zealand. The approach differs from traditional approaches in that it accepts drinking is part of our culture. And it is internationally unique in that it focuses on per occasion consumption not total consumption and it addresses the cause of harm not the symptoms. That is, getting drunk, off you face, out of it, wrecked . . Whatever you want to call it. It's bad for you and bad for all of us.

The programme focuses on achieving social and cultural change by aligning a balance of programmes. It is innovative, not only in its single-minded goal, but also in that it relies 100 percent on commitment to a wide range of reinforcing activities.

We are no longer relying on just one or two approaches such as policy or treatment. It has several strands of activity that I believe Mike MacAvoy has explained to you in more detail. This approach is attracting international interest and there does not appear to be a similar programme anywhere else in the world.

An essential feature of this programme is collaboration. It is indeed vital to its success. Champions of change are needed across government, local government and non-government.

Local government needs to put alcohol squarely on the radar during planning sessions and actively manage the issue on an ongoing basis.

Not only do you have a statutory responsibility to include alcohol in your planning, but you also have a social responsibility and a responsibility to your business community and your local economy.

Indeed under the Local Government Act 2002, you have a significant role in promoting the 'social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being' of your communities. You are, in effect, lead agencies on local social issues.

The Local Government Act 2002 together with the Resource Management Act 1991 place local authorities in an excellent position to influence the culture of drinking and to reduce alcohol-related harm in their communities.

Not only are local authorities responsible for decisions on: where licensed premises are located, hours of opening, and the issuing of liquor licences; but you are also in a unique position to plan for and respond proactively to alcohol-related issues in your community.

Brave and sensible decision making in these areas will also send a strong signal to your communities that you're serious.

"Vibrant and dynamic" are two words often used when talking about building town areas that are attractive to visitors and local community members. Increasing the number and type of hospitality venues and hours of opening is often viewed as a way to boost the local economy, but what about the cost it actually incurs back on the community, businesses included?

Social and economic responsibility might seem to be at odds sometimes and you might feel the pressure from local businesses that want longer opening hours or more licensed premises in more places.

But I suggest there need not be this tension. Councils need to help businesses think smarter about alcohol issues. Bars and restaurants need to think more creatively about how they generate profit, not just relying on vast quantities of alcohol to pass over the counter. They need to see the cost of a binge drinking culture on the environments they operate in and take the same level of responsibility that you must as local government leaders.

ALAC and their partner organisations have done, and continue to do, a great deal of work in this area to develop and disseminate the tools that local government needs to be able to address the issues you will be discussing at this conference.

Central and local government is committed to working together at many levels to achieve better outcomes for all communities in New Zealand based on a vision informed by the preferences of communities. You need to ask yourselves what are the aspirations of your community when it comes to dealing with alcohol and New Zealand's drinking culture?

Some of you may be surprised at the degree of public support for taking a strong stand on alcohol matters. It is my perception and experience, and some of the ALAC research would support it, that the tides are beginning to turn amongst the public.

Three years ago when I took on this portfolio, the public were aghast and affronted by the suggestion that we were a nation of binge drinkers. Now it is accepted, widely debated and an appropriate level of concern has been voiced.

Your influence can't be underestimated. You are the ones picking up the tab for the alcohol-related harm in your towns and cities. The costs speak for themselves.

They include the tangible and intangible - from cleaning up the streets to coping with violence and disorder in the community, the impact on local businesses and taking steps to reassure the community that they are safe in their own cities and towns.

Each and every council represented here today - whether big or small - has opportunities to make decisions that will reduce alcohol-related harm.

We have made progress, and your presence at this conference is testament to that. We've still got a way to go though, before society admits it is all sectors actually getting drunk and causing problems.

There's still too much finger-pointing and "it's not me". There's too much "I'm a safe drunk" and "I drink in nice places". There's too much exempting ourselves.

Attitudes are one thing. We have even further to go before people change their behaviour - but we will get there.

As some of the most influential people available in this country to get this programme really rising up off its foundations, I urge you to continue to work on it hard, both at this conference, and when you return to your communities. Even if it means rethinking our own attitudes, behaviour and business practises.

The trick is to find the benefit in it. Look for the benefit of changing the way we drink and convince others of this.

I wish you well for your conference.

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