It’s always salutary to see ourselves as others see us.
Recently German-born Centre for Independent Studies researcher Oliver Hartwich wrote this piece on alcohol.
The first sentence is arresting: “Coming from a country where even petrol stations are allowed to sell alcoholic drinks as ‘essential traveller needs’, I have always found Australian alcohol practices rather bizarre”.
Imagine the outcry over any proposal to allow petrol stations to sell alcohol in New Zealand. Anti-alcohol crusaders like Doug Sellman would have apoplexy.
I have no view on such a proposal, but shouldn’t we be willing to examine evidence from Germany? After all, New Zealanders routinely observe that European drinking habits are better than ours.
Dr Hartwich commends competition among supermarkets in the interests of driving down prices for consumers. The idea of imposing minimum prices on alcohol products as a means of reducing alcohol abuse makes no sense.
Recently MP Paul Quinn exposed the hypocrisy of doctors appearing before the select committee considering liquor law issues. They wanted to ban supermarket sales yet bought their own supplies from supermarkets.
As Dr Hartwich observes, restricting the places that sell alcohol is ineffective in preventing excessive alcohol consumption. “Licensing laws in Victoria and the ACT are more liberal than in NSW. However, binge drinking or alcoholism appears no worse in Melbourne or Canberra than in Sydney.”
Parliament is debating a proposal to increase the purchase age to 20. This would align New Zealand with only 11 other countries. Eighty-one (including Australia) have a minimum age of 18, 12 (including Belgium, Germany, Norway and Spain) set the age at 16, and 17 have no drinking age at all.
As one expatriate New Zealander said to me, the proposed move would do nothing to attract young expatriates back: it would be a signal that New Zealand is ‘no country for young men’ (or women).
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are serious problems. But as this submission by the Business Roundtable argued, heavy-handed regulation as proposed by the Law Commission is not the way to deal with them.