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Sharples: Sale of Liquor Amendment Bill

Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction: Purchase Age): Amendment Bill

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Wednesday 8 November 2006

The Health Research Council in its 1999 study, Te Iwi Maori me te Inu Waipiro, said everything we need to know about our rationale for supporting this Bill. The first two sentences of that resource are definitive; and I quote:

“Prior to contact with Pakeha, Maori lived in one of the few parts of the world that had never developed alcohol beverages. The Inuit people of Canada, the Trukese of Micronesia, and a number of Native American Indian tribes share with Maori the attribution of being indigenous peoples who did not develop alcoholic drinks”.

Mr Speaker, last night this House witnessed an unusual attack on the Maori Party. The speech was the most intoxicating I have heard in my short time in this House. Indeed, we did wonder from which spirit bottle did this genie escape?

The nature of the delivery was such I also queried how one could savour the taste of this beverage of bile that was spewed in the direction of my Maori Party colleagues along with the lessons that we should learn from the orators on the marae.

What I experienced last night, masquerading as a speech in a debate, was really the type of personal attack I have never heard from orators on the marae. But then of course my marae experiences may not be as extensive as the Honourable member’s.

The central thrust of the attack, was that one should not need to prepare or develop a position on any issue, before rising in this House, but instead members should simply rise, as the spirit moves them so to speak, to speak off the cuff.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party believes that looking to history is a valid tool for understanding an issue; that planning and preparing to respond to significant issues of State should be the solemn responsibility that all members of this House take seriously. It is a responsibility that we will continue to take up, in our commitment to defending the rights of Maori, in advancing the interests of Maori, for the benefit of this entire nation.

It is precisely because of the state of an alcohol-free Aotearoa, that we in the Maori Party, know that alcohol use – and more particularly alcohol abuse – is something that was foreign to Maori. Indeed, the botanist James Banks wrote in 1769, that ‘water is their universal drink’ and that Maori showed great repugnance for wine and especially strong liquors.

Perhaps that is why liquor is frequently referred to in te reo Maori, as waipiro, or stinking water.

Set against that context, fast-forward 237 years later, to 2006, to know the grim reality that Maori report a higher incidence of alcohol related problems, one inevitably has to ask, where did it all go so wrong?

A national Maori alcohol survey undertaken in 2000, ‘Te Ao Waipiro 2000, helps us to work it all out. That study took in some 2000 people who identified as Maori.

Out of all men surveyed, one in five indicated that alcohol is causing problems to their health.

The most frequent drinkers were 18 to 19 year olds, particularly men, who drank every one to two days.

And again, out of all age groups, it was 18 to 19 year old Maori men who consumed the most alcohol on typical drinking occasions – 12-13 drinks for men on this age, and 8-9 drinks for women.

This is the exact target group affected by this Bill.

It’s figures like these which give proof to the ALAC theme song, “it’s not the drinking; it’s HOW we’re drinking”.

These figures are sobering in all senses of the word. But what is even more disturbing is the alcohol related problems that emerge from such patterns.

21% of 18-19 year old Maori surveyed, said that they drink and drive.

And out of all age groups, it was young people aged 16-24 who were most likely to have reported experiencing problems from other people’s drinking, - including sexual harassment, car crashes, physical assault and other accidents.

It was for all these reasons – and more – that when the membership of the Maori Party started developing our policy programme in mid 2005, a specific commitment was included to promote changing legislation to restrict the sale of alcohol from 18 years to 20 years or older by the entire Maori Party of 21000 members.

The research reveals that youth binge drinking has increased, and it is this binge drinking that is especially harmful.

I know that the argument that has been put that most eighteen year olds are mature enough to consume alcohol responsibly.

But that same National Maori alcohol survey I quoted earlier, reported that:

- 62% of 18-19 year old men were consuming over twenty litres of alcohol per year.

- Frequently feeling drunk was highest amongst young men aged 16-24 and women aged 18-19. And when the survey actually asked young people whether it was a problem for them or not, the answers are in themselves revealing:

- 22% of 14-17 year olds; and 23% of 18-29 year olds were concerned about their alcohol consumption.

So when nearly a quarter of our rangatahi are saying they are drinking more than they were happy with, shouldn’t we be listening to them?

Or do we know better?

Should we ignore the New Zealand Drug Foundation, the Ministry of Health, ALAC and other public health organizations who advised Parliament that when Canada and the United States raised their drinking ages, alcohol related harm decreased?

Or when we turn to the justice sector, and observe the dramatic increase in numbers of drunk and disorderly teenagers since the drinking age was lowered in 1999, should we just turn a blind eye?

When the Injury Prevention Research Unit advises us that hazardous alcohol consumption is the leading modifiable cause of injury, which accounts for 78% of all deaths among 15-19 year olds in New Zealand; isn’t anyone else in this House shocked by that?

And when we open up the pages of the American Journal of Public Health earlier this year, and see an article featuring the New Zealand law change which reports that the rate of alcohol-involved crash rates after the law change was 12% larger for 18 to 19 year olds; and 14% larger for 15-17 olds; do we just close the book, and pretend we never saw it?

Is ignorance really bliss, when those white crosses on the roadside are increasing?

I work amongst the problems of youth drinking virtually every week.

The Maori Party agrees with all those parties who have stood in this debate and said raising the purchase age on its own will amount to nought, unless it is combined with education and with other targeted strategies. We are also of the view that all we are doing today is restricting the purchase age as one aspect of a strategy. We are not saying - and indeed would not say - that 18 and 19 year olds can not drink - the emphasis is specifically on the purchase of such drink.

The issue that we must all turn our minds to, is a broader strategy to reduce youth hazardous drinking, and indeed New Zealand’s culture of hazardous drinking.

For example, we have to address things such as the availability of liquor, the way in which we drink, adult binge drinking and the whole culture of liquor abuse in this country. We must be open to every possibility, search for effective strategies, to find ways that work.

Maybe Dr Mapp’s amendment could be part of the solution.

One such strategy has to be the active and willing participation of whanau – family involved in becoming responsible mentors; the activists; cause champions; and role models; the leaders in this whole initiative, instead of, as in too many cases, actual perpetuators of the binge culture. The Maori Party supports this Bill. Thank you.


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