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Process for handling submissions on Bills vulnerable

Process for handling submissions on Bills vulnerable to commercial influence

New research from the University of Otago shows that the process used by select committees for handling submissions on Bills can favour commercial interests over the public good.

This case study of written submissions to the Law and Order Select Committee examined arguments made for or against a proposal to increase the alcohol minimum purchasing age. Researchers independently coded submissions, identifying the types of argument employed according to who made them.

The research, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, showed that some submissions from government and non-government organisations (NGOs) were poorly argued. In contrast, the alcohol industry presented a united view.

The study examined 178 submissions made on the 2006 Sale of Liquor Amendment Bill. The most common supporters of increasing the minimum purchasing age were NGOs and members of the public and their arguments concerned evidence that the proposed change would improve public health, and reduce disorder and property damage.

The most common sources of opposition to the Bill were the alcohol industry and the public. These submissions claimed that the proposed law change would not reduce harm, that other strategies should be used instead, and that licensed premises are safe environments for young people, despite evidence to the contrary.

Lead author Professor Kypros Kypri says in New Zealand, which has only a single house of parliament, select committees are especially important because they perform some of the functions of legislative review performed by upper houses in other democracies.

“It is therefore critical that they are effective and especially in their consideration of Members’ Bills, which have historically led to some poor legislation.”

The study also examined how commercial interests were handled and the results are concerning, says Professor Kypri.

“The alcohol industry maximised its impact via multiple submissions appealing to individual rights while neglecting to report or accurately characterise the scientific evidence. The Hospitality Association, whose members stood to lose profits if 18-19 year-olds could no longer drink in licensed premises, made 12 similar submissions from its regional offices, while the big alcohol producers and distributors chimed in with supportive submissions. In contrast, the response of the public health community was fragmented, with some NGOs and government agencies opposing the law change, presenting confused logic and citing the scientific evidence selectively.”

The Select Committee’s advice to Parliament included a simple tally of submissions for and against the proposal, and provided no formal consideration of commercial interest.

“There are well developed procedures for systematically identifying and reviewing the scientific literature. These should be used to evaluate evidence bearing on legislative debate and there should be formal consideration of submissions in terms of the pecuniary interests of those making them. Without this we will continue to see commercial interests dominating public affairs in New Zealand,” says Professor Kypri.

Source: Kypri K, Wolfenden L, Hutchesson M, Langley J, Voas R. Public, official, and industry submissions on a Bill to increase the alcohol minimum purchasing age: A critical analysis. International Journal of Drug Policy 2014 doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.05.001.

Professor Kypri is funded with a National Health & Medical Research Council Senior Fellowship.


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