Just back from the Alcohol Law Reform Stakeholders’ lockup where I found myself coincidentally sitting next to fellow stakeholder Doug Sellman. Doug would have found a lot less to be pleased about in the government’s response to Geoffrey Palmer’s Liquor Review than I did. Staying well away from the sledge-hammer, wowserish measures advocated by Doug and his colleagues that would penalise responsible drinkers and do nothing to curb abuse, the government’s decisions instead largely reflect a sensible, pragmatic response to the issues. It’s pleasing to see many of the arguments set out in our submission were listened to. For a good rundown on the package see David Farrar’s summary here.
There are a few strange quirks – for example the drinking hours proposed would put paid to a champagne breakfast – and some anti-consumer proposals for further study, such as introducing a minimum price system for alcohol. And some, like the latter idea, are unlikely to pass the sniff test in any proper regulatory impact analysis.
But the serious omission, in my view, is anything much in the way of strategies to deal with abuse (see page 16 of our submission), emphasising individual and parental responsibility, disincentives and penalties for abusive behaviour, making abusers face the consequences of their actions (eg denying ACC benefits for self-inflicted harm), better enforcement of existing laws, and social sanctions.
There are, of course, deeper causes that lie behind many of the problems of alcohol abuse, such as dysfunctional families, poor parenting and welfare dependency, and these urgently require attention. But in the meantime, measures of the sort outlined above, that sheet home the costs and shame of alcohol abuse to those who abuse it, would go a long way to curbing our problem drinkers