31 Jul 2009

Courtenay Place at night an eye opener - Sir Geoffrey

6:07 am on 31 July 2009

With the release of a major report recommending a complete rewrite of the Sale of Liquor Act, New Zealanders now get the chance to have their say about the country's liquor law.

The public have three months to make submissions on the report, which has been produced by the Law Commission.

The commission, which began looking at the act in August last year, says the legislation needs a total rewrite because it has been amended too often and is too confusing.

The report suggests keeping the age at which people can buy alcohol at licensed premises - where there's greater supervision - atc18, but raising the age to 20 if they're buying from an off-licence.

Ever since the drinking age was lowered to 18 a decade ago, lobby groups have argued that it should be returned to 20.

Binge drinking trend too big to ignore

Other proposals in the commission's report include making licences to sell alcohol harder to get, increasing taxes on liquor so it costs more to buy and reducing the hours during which it can be sold.

Commission chairperson Sir Geoffrey Palmer says it's not advocating a return to wowserism but the harm done by the growing trend of binge drinking is too big to ignore.

Visiting Wellington's Courtenay Place with officers at night was, he says, an eye opener.

He says the police are often forced to become nursemaids, delivering 20,000 intoxicated people home or to police cells every year.

The report drew some early criticism, when lobby group Alcohol Healthwatch said that having one age for off-licence purchase and another for drinking on licenced premises, would be confusing.

And a councillor who represents the South Auckland community of Randwick Park, where liquor-store owner Navtej Singh was killed in a robbery a year ago, says leaving the age for drinking in bars at 18 is a missed opportunity.

The Law Commission's other suggestions include making liquor licenses harder to get, increasing excise taxes and reducing the hours during which alcohol can be sold.