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Why Govt Acted Against Youth Binge Drinking

Robson outlines why government took action against youth binge drinking

MISUSE OF DRUGS AMENDMENT BILL (NO 3) Referral of S.O.P. 298 to Health Committee

Hon MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader—Progressive): It is good to take part in a debate where there is almost a unanimity in the House with regard to this most important issue that faces our nation — the abuse of drugs and of alcohol, which has come in to the debate.

I was a bit bemused at the backhanded support from the National Party, which will begrudgingly vote for it.

It recognised the public concern about this particular issue.

I also commend the speech made by Nandor Tanczos, because it is important to draw attention, when taking these measures, to some areas that the Health Committee will have to pay close attention to, particularly in the area of procedural unfairness.

When new powers are produced for the right reasons — to tackle the issue of the misuse of drugs — we also have to look at whether unfairness will be introduced through powers that the police or other agencies may have that may be abused.

I think it was an important point to make, and I commend the member for doing that.

I am also concerned that the National Party’s spokesperson on health, Lynda Scott, may be wandering around the building under a misapprehension.

She clearly showed that by the comments she made, which were fairly ignorant, on the reasons for the excise tax that was introduced last year.

It is absolute nonsense to say that

It is absolute nonsense to say that alcopops were targeted.

It was not that; they have a small alcohol content.

The excise charge was introduced to close the tax loophole that provided a financial incentive for young people to consume high alcoholic content beverages, inappropriately termed light spirits.

Survey data had shown that the proportion of young women aged 14 to 17 “who drank four drinks or more in one sitting at least once a week”, increased from 15 percent in 1998 to 28 percent in 2001.

That survey data is available from the Associate Minister of Health’s office.

In addition to an increase in heavy drinking by young women, survey data also shows there has been an increase in the proportion of young men who have been drinking excessively.

We know that, which is why we talk about teenage binge-drinking and abuse of alcohol among young people.

Before the Government took action to start to curb that problem, it considered not only the advice of local health and youth professionals but also the objective evidence from attempts overseas to address that sort of problem.

That is what the National Party should consider.

This issue is not for political partisan use.

People can use it like that, but it does not serve our population well.

Members should actually consider listening to health professionals, rather than trying cheap attacks to suggest this is an exercise for raising revenue.

Otherwise, their so-called concerns for our young people do not sound very real.

I am sure that members of Parliament are concerned about harm to our youth population, but to put up an argument to suggest that the actions taken by the Minister and Government on the excise tax were simply to raise revenue, suggests that there is no serious proposition underneath that argument — that is, how do we tackle abuse in terms of the consumption of alcohol by our young people?

The evidence has been that increasing the price of liquor is a key way of influencing the amount of alcohol consumed by young people.

Until Parliament increased the teen alcohol tax, some light spirits in the 14 to 23 percent of alcohol by volume range — most of which had 23 percent of alcohol by volume — sold for under $8 for a 1,125 millilitre bottle.

Eight dollars is easily within the purchasing range of many young people.

That means that before the tax change, those light spirits were not charged for their actual alcoholic content but by an arbitrarily low rate that allowed consumers, many of them young, to get hold of beverages with as much as 23 percent alcohol by volume at ridiculously low prices.

That was the mischief that was attacked by the measure brought in by the Associate Minister of Health, the Hon Jim Anderton.

The law change increased the excise duty the Government charges on beverages that contain more than 14 percent but not more than 23 percent of alcohol by volume, to reflect their real alcoholic content, which, as we all know, has now pushed the retail price higher.

The Business Round Table condemned the excise penalty on youth alcohol abuse as bad tax policy, and said that it favours the abolition of excise taxes altogether on the grounds that they are regressive.

Three Opposition parties: ACT, New Zealand First, and National, also strongly opposed the tax rise, and fought the measure all the way.

But what they were opposing was a rise in the retail price of light spirit products that mainly fall into the category that professionals say is the biggest cause of grief for young people.

Thanks to the law change, the price difference between so-called alcopops, which typically have a 5 percent alcohol content, and light spirits has widened considerably to reflect the actual alcohol content of those beverages of choice for young New Zealanders.

The result for vulnerable young people turning to much lower content liquor instead of the high-alcohol light spirits, has already been demonstrated.

What was done here was to get at a mischief that was particularly harming our young people.

I believe that that is what parties should concentrate on, rather than trying to have cheap politics and suggesting that there was a taxation revenue motive behind it.

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