Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Three really enthusiastic people offered impressive testimony at the Select Committee Hearing on the Alcohol Reform Bill I attended recently. They spoke with passion about a high-morale new company they are responsible for. It employs 200 keen workers in South Auckland – may of them Maori or Pasifika – and is marketing a whole range of new products that are commending themselves in the market. It all sounded like great news.
But, ah! These people are turning out the new RTDs (Ready to Drink) products which are designed to make alcoholic products more palatable (“No, they don’t have more sugar than other drinks” – Yeah, right!) and sold in all kinds of brightly coloured packaging. From “alco-pops” such as Cola mixed with quite substantial amounts of alcohol to sophisticated ready-mixed cocktails, these drinks are designed to make alcohol more interesting, more varied and more “more”. Indeed, the cynical among their critics are convinced that these products are deliberately targeted at people too young to be permitted to purchase them.
The proud manufacturers noted that many critics felt that such drinks should be banned, or at least more clearly marked, or sold in less persuasive packaging, or more heavily taxed to raise funds for the damage they caused. But, “Don’t pick on our niche in the market,” they protested, “Apply the same limitations to all alcohol products.”
Well, I hope that the government does that much at least. And I’m sad that such a live-wire group of executives are finding new ways of promoting sales of what, if it were just invented, would be a Class B drug.

Time for Lunch in the Select Committee Hearing

Over recent years I have attended a number of local sessions of the Environment Court or the Liquor Licensing Authority. These events usually convened at about 10am and sometimes adjourned for a half hour tea break and later took lunch around the middle of the day, even if a late schedule meant that some of us had to wait around during the lunch hour which once or twice extended to more than two hours.
The Hearing on the Alcohol Reform Bill worked in a different style. It convened at 9am and worked through without a stop until well into the afternoon. Every fifteen minutes or so a different individual or group had the full attention of the five Members of Parliament.
Continuous tea and coffee were provided and people helped themselves. But the schedule ran over an hour late and after my contribution the lunch break was taken around 2pm. I wondered if they were finished for the day. It seemed late to be taking a major lunch break.
But lunch break it was, though not like anything I’d experienced before. “Can everyone be back here in fifteen minutes?” asked the Chair. Some opened packed lunches on the desks where they sat.
I have heard about our “hard-working” Members of Parliament. It was instructive to see the level of discipline which people from various parties put themselves under yesterday so that people like myself could have our say.
They may not accept my earnest suggestions but I am grateful that the “System” put in so much effort to listen.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The "Paihia Migration"

In the middle of our national tragedy, life goes on. For me, tomorrow, it’s a rushed trip to Auckland to speak to my submission on the government's proposed Alcohol Reform Bill. From memory I think I ended my lengthy document with the comment that what needed to be reformed was the Bill itself. I think it is woefully inadequate to meet its own declared objectives.

My spoken submission will be just about the Paihia Migration of four years ago. At one end of town we have over 1000 visitor beds in one block, 450 of them in just one short street of backpacker accommodation. In that street there are no less than six licensed drinking establishments, presumably targeting the backpacker community. Not a bad idea, you might think, to keep them all together in one place.

However, in the CBD, some 750 metres away was a large party bar in which over 200 were known to have crowded at once. It enjoyed extended hours to 3am. But the Kings Rd bars all had to close at 1am. So about 12.45am in the high season we might see as many as 350 people, straggling along the beachfront road to another two hours of licensed alcoholic enjoyment. And then after 3am most of them stumbled back again to their beds. More slowly. That’s what I dubbed the Paihia Migration.

The noise, the fights, the accidents, a death or two, the rubbish – including human wastes of three different kinds – eventually so sickened the locals that 55 of them turned up unexpectedly at the Hearing to renew the 3am extension for the party bar. They didn’t say a thing; they just sat and watched – after the Hearing was shifted to another venue to make room for the extended public gallery. Months later, the extension was withdrawn.

The point of my submission tomorrow is that local neighbourhoods should have more say in the numbers and kinds of licences that are issued for their communities. No two communities are exactly alike and some have very special, almost unique, circumstances which require special provisions. Also, thought it may surprise some of the lawmakers, quite a few local people have some ideas about how to manage their local situations. Let’s give them more room to contribute.