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Gordon Campbell: despicable alcohol limit decision

Gordon Campbell on the despicable decision on blood alcohol driving limits


Yesterday’s non-decision on the alcohol limit has underlined once again that the Key government is not interested in governing for the benefit of New Zealand – that process seems to scare it silly. Alcohol seems to bring out the worst in this tendency. A few months ago it ruled out of hand any form of deterrence of alcohol consumption that was based on taxing alcohol. Yesterday, it ran away and hid from doing anything substantive about drink driving.

The upshot is that the permissible drink driving alcohol level will stay at 0.08 % of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The only crackdown will be on easy targets like young drivers, and repeat offenders. Health groups have been understandably enraged.

….Transport Minister Steven Joyce said he needed more public support and research into whether drivers with a level between 0.05g and 0.08g were involved in many crashes. Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams called the Government "gutless" as there was already ample evidence and public support for lowering the limit."This is a regrettable failure that leaves our Government with blood on its hands." Professor Doug Sellman, from the National Addiction Centre, said the Government lacked leadership, and the Alcohol Advisory Council said the decision was disappointing.

This rationale for kicking for touch could hardly be more contemptible. More research into what – whether alcohol at these levels really does impair driver judgment? That’s a no-brainer. Our current blood alcohol levels are already at world highs – four times what they are in Russia, for God’s sake – and are also far in excess of similar developed countries.

The limit in many countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, is 50mg. Countries such as Poland (30mg) and Norway, Russia and Sweden (all 20mg) have lower limits.
Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand could eventually move to a reduced limit. "For that to apply, we need New Zealanders to buy into that process."

Really, Mr Key? The one certainty about yesterday’s decision is that more lives will be lost needlessly while John Key and his colleagues wait for New Zealanders to “buy into” the process of reduction. One wonders what focus group polling threw up this little nugget. Leadership usually means making decisions in the public good, and is about having the courage to try and convince people that you were right to do so. In this case public opinion is not dragging its feet on this issue – it wants to support meaningful action on drink driving and the carnage it causes. At the very least, it would like to see that New Zealand coming into line with international best practice on blood alcohol limits.

This government however, seems petrified at showing any form of leadership that might cost it votes. We appear to have an absentee government, one that only drops by every now and then to pick up the rent for its friends in business.

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Gillard and Abbott, hypocrites

As one commenter said yesterday about the Australian election…Isn’t it great to the campaign being fought over which prospective leader is willing to be the toughest on immigration? Especially when the would-be toughies are Tony Abbott from London, England, and Julia Gillard from Glamorgan, Wales. Yep, something has to be done about immigration, alright.

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