Government accepts select committee changes to alcohol bill

  • Simon Power

The Government welcomes the Justice and Electoral Committee’s report on the Alcohol Reform Bill, Justice Minister Simon Power said today.

“The Government always said the Alcohol Reform Bill was Parliament’s starting point for alcohol law reform and that we’d listen carefully to what people said during select committee consideration of the bill,” Mr Power said.

“As a result, we’ve agreed to accept all 130 substantive changes to clauses to help us build a strong and enduring legislative framework to reduce alcohol-related harm and support a safe and responsible drinking culture.

“This bill focuses on minimising alcohol-related harm, including crime, disorder, and public health problems, and zeros in on where harm is occurring – particularly around young people.

“However, the Government has been conscious to do this in a way which does not unfairly penalise responsible and moderate drinkers.”

The committee received 1,647 substantive submissions and 7,175 form submissions on the bill.

Key changes recommended by the committee include:

  • Restricting supermarkets and grocery stores to display alcohol and associated advertising in a single non-prominent area of their store. This is being done to reduce concern about the normalising effect of alcohol sales in supermarkets alongside other everyday household goods, and to reduce the exposure of young people to alcohol.
  • Adding a regulation-making power requiring those who sell alcohol to provide price and sales data to inform the Government’s consideration of a minimum alcohol price. This power will be used as a backstop measure should requests to retailers for this data be unsuccessful, or if further information is required in the future.
  • Explicitly prohibiting convenience stores from selling alcohol.
  • Changing the definition of grocery store to premises that sell a wide range of food products and other household items, where the principal business is the sale of food products, and setting out what products don’t qualify.
  • Requiring premises that are exempt from holding a licence (Police, Fire Service Canteens, and the Defence Force) to implement internal codes of practice that follow as closely as practical the rules and restrictions applying to clubs within the bill, such as not selling alcohol to intoxicated people, providing free drinking water, and restricting who they can sell alcohol to.
  • Allowing all on-licences where the principle business is the sale, supply, or consumption of alcohol to open from 6am to serve breakfast, on the condition that no alcohol may be served until their licensed trading hours start.
  • Allowing limited exceptions to the national maximum trading hours (8am - 4am) for genuine events (such as live northern hemisphere sporting fixtures and champagne breakfasts) through the special licence process.
  • Introducing a minimum age of 20 years to obtain a manager’s certificate.

“Navigating this bill through the select committee process has been a huge undertaking, given the level of public interest in alcohol law reform,” Mr Power said.

“I’d like to thank Justice and Electoral Committee chair Chester Borrows for his leadership and the members of the committee for their hard work.”

Mr Power intends to see the Alcohol Reform Bill through its second reading before the House rises on October 6. Further progress this parliamentary term is dependent on House time.

The committee’s report and the bill can be found here.

Previous Government releases on the Alcohol Reform Bill can be found here.


Other key features of the Government’s Alcohol Law Reform package include:

  • Introducing a graduated approach to purchasing alcohol – 18 years of age for on-licences and 20 years of age for off-licences.
  • Empowering local communities to decide on the concentration, location, and hours of alcohol outlets (including one-way-door policies) for both on-and-off-licences in their area through the adoption of local alcohol policies.
  • Setting national default maximum hours of 7am -11pm for off-licences and 8am - 4am for on-licences and club licences for local authorities who do not adopt a local alcohol policy.
  • Broadening the matters that must be considered in licensing decision-making to include such things as the object of the Act, the provisions of the local alcohol policy, and whether the amenity or good order of the area would be lessened if the licence is granted.
  • Making it an offence for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide alcohol to an under-18-year-old without a parent's or guardian's consent.
  • Where alcohol is provided to an under-18-year-old, the parent, guardian, or authorised person will need to ensure the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner.
  • Allowing the Minister of Justice, in consultation with the Minister of Health, to ban alcohol products which are particularly appealing to minors or particularly dangerous to health.
  • Working on proposals to restrict the alcohol content and container size of RTDs.
  • Increasing penalties for a range of licence breaches, including allowing an intoxicated person to be on licensed premises, allowing violent behaviour to take place on premises, and running an irresponsible promotion.
  • Widening the definition of ‘public place' in liquor bans to include car parks, school grounds and other private spaces to which the public has legitimate access.
  • Strengthening the existing offence of promotion of excessive consumption of alcohol by making it apply to any business selling or promoting alcohol and prohibiting a wider range of promotions, such as advertising free alcohol.
  • Making it an offence to promote alcohol in a way that has special appeal to people under the purchase age. These changes will apply to any promotion, including TV advertising and billboards.
  • Improving public education and treatment services for people with dependency issues.
  • Requiring Parliament to lead by example by removing its licensing exemption.


Questions and Answers:


What changes are you making to advertising and marketing of alcohol?

We are proposing to strengthen the current offence relating to the irresponsible promotion of alcohol. The current offence relates to “promotion of excessive consumption”, but isn’t specific about what that means in any way. It is also limited to on-licence promotions.

Under our proposals, the law will be a lot clearer about the type of promotions that are considered irresponsible, and therefore not allowed.

The new offence will apply to promotions at all types of licensed premises, including off-licences, and to any other place in the course of running a business.

The law will specify types of promotions that are prohibited, including:

  • Promoting or advertising alcohol in a way that indicates there is 25% or more off the normal price of alcohol, except in-store or on premises. This means 2-for-1 type specials will still be allowed, but won’t be able to be advertised outside the premises. Off-licences will also be able to run discounts of 25% or more, but won’t be able to advertise these outside the store – so, not in mailers, on websites, or on television.
  • Promoting free alcohol.
  • Offering any goods or services on the condition that alcohol is purchased.
  • Promoting alcohol in a way that has special appeal to people under the relevant purchase age. Special appeal might relate to the name of the product, the packaging, or the images used in the promotion. It is currently only a voluntary requirement for advertisements and promotions to not hold special appeal to minors.

Further restrictions on advertising and sponsorship will be considered by the expert forum.


How much more input will the bill give local communities over licensing decisions in their area?

The current situation:

  • Under the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 there is limited scope for community input.
  • The only substantive method is by objecting to an application.
  • Objectors must have "a greater interest in the application than the public generally". That usually requires objectors to live within one kilometre of the premises (although this can be considered on a case-by-case basis).
  • Objections can by made only on specific criteria, the primary one being the "suitability" of the applicant. Others include the proposed trading days and hours.
  • No objection can be made on grounds of density of outlets or general alcohol-related harm in the area.

The Government's changes

Local alcohol plans (LAPs) will be able to specify the following:

  • Where licensed premises may be located – this would be done through broad area restrictions or restrictions on proximity to types of community premises specified in the LAP.
  • Outlet density – a rebuttable presumption that further licences will not be granted in areas identified as being close to, or as having already reached, saturation point for licensed premises.
  • Trading hours – an LAP will be able to override the default national maximum trading hours by either extending or restricting those hours. They will also be able to specify one-way door policies.
  • Licensing conditions – a LAP will be able to include recommended licensing conditions for different types of premises.

The following matters will need to be considered in all decisions on new applications for any type of licence:

  • The object of the Act.
  • The suitability of the applicant.
  • The provisions of any applicable local alcohol policy.
  • The design and layout of the proposed premises.
  • Whether granting the licence would lessen the amenity or good order of the locality.
  • Whether the applicant has appropriate systems, staff and training to comply with the law.
  • Any matters dealt with in any report made by a member of the Police, licensing inspector, or medical officer of health as provided by the legislation.

It is intended that an LAP would be departed from only on rare occasions.

What limits are there on an LAP deciding to give premises in a town such as Queenstown a 24/7 licence?

It will be up to communities to decide the trading hours for their area. However, LAPs will need to be consistent with the intent of the legislation. 24-hour trading could be deemed to be inconsistent with the intent of the legislation, which will be to establish a reasonable system of control over the sale and supply of alcohol with the aim of reducing alcohol harm.

Once an LAP has been consulted on and agreed to by the local authority, it can be appealed to the national licensing tribunal by those who submitted on the LAP. An appeal process will ensure a degree of national consistency and quality control for LAPs.

Will local alcohol policies be able to have different parts for different areas in the district, eg: for the Auckland Supercity?



What public education activities is the Government undertaking?

ALAC had an award-winning education campaign with the message “it’s not the drinking, it’s how we’re drinking” and its recent TV advertisements with the message to “ease up on the drink” appear to have increased the number of people contacting the free Alcohol Drug Helpline.

ALAC will continue to develop and deliver similar campaigns to support the legislative changes we are proposing. The Government has also committed to encouraging schools to organise drug and alcohol education programmes that meet community needs.


What is the Government doing about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

The Government is concerned about the need to prevent alcohol-related harm during pregnancy and to effectively diagnose and support children with FASD and their families.

Within the Drivers of Crime work programme, projects related to FASD are currently placed across the Maternity and Early Parenting Support and Alcohol priority areas. This work is currently being lead by the Ministry of Health, in association with the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) and other agencies. The present focus is:

  1. Inclusion of alcohol and FASD training for Lead Maternity Carers and WellChild nurses as part of new needs assessment and care planning pilot within the WellChild/Tamariki Ora programme, and
  2. Introduction and expansion of Brief Interventions for front line workers in health and social service environments, to get early support for at risk drinking behaviour.

To help raise awareness about FASD, the Ministry of Health funds Alcohol Healthwatch to coordinate Foetal Alcohol Network New Zealand activities. These activities include providing information, and organising seminars, awareness raising events and training for health professionals.


What food products won’t qualify under the new definition of a grocery store?

Confectionary, snack foods such as potato chips, biscuits, and crackers, beverages of 1 litre volume or less, but not milk, and ready-to-eat takeaway foods.


Where is the Government up to with alcohol labelling?

Alcohol labelling falls within the scope of the Agreement Between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand Concerning a Joint Food Standards System (the Food Treaty). Any changes to alcohol labelling must be developed through the joint food standard system that New Zealand shares with Australia, as agreed under the Food Treaty.

In 2009 the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council, which oversees the joint food standards system, commissioned an Independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy. The Food Labelling Review released its Final Report in January 2011, which includes four recommendations for the labelling of alcoholic drinks.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand will respond to the Food Labelling Review by December 2011. This response will include consideration of the recommendations for alcohol labelling.


How many of the Law Commission’s 153 recommendations does the Alcohol Reform Bill adopt?

As reported back, the Alcohol Reform Bill implements 135 of the Law Commission’s 153 recommendations (84 in full and 43 in part). The Government also accepted in principle 8 of the Commission’s operational recommendations.


Why is the Government not implementing a minimum price scheme now?

The Government does not have the data it needs to set a minimum price. This is why we are asking the industry to provide the relevant price information. If it is not forthcoming, we will use the regulation-making power in the bill to obtain the necessary information. At present, a number of Canadian provinces have minimum alcohol prices in place but the regulatory environment is quite different to that of New Zealand, for example many bottle stores are state owned. No other comparable jurisdiction has a minimum price scheme in operation, although steps are under way in Scotland to implement one. We will be monitoring any international developments in this area.

What progress has been made on exploring a minimum pricing regime?

Some alcohol retail market data has been obtained and officials are working with retailers to collect more detailed price and sales data to inform the analysis of a minimum price regime. An update on this work is expected to be published on the Ministry of Justice website next month. It is expected that the Government will make decisions on whether a minimum price will be implemented next year.


How many submissions were received on the Alcohol Reform Bill?

The Justice and Electoral Committee received 1,647 substantive submissions and 7,175 form submissions on the bill. 382 submitters presented orally to the committee and forums were also held in Wellington, Dunedin, and Auckland. Copies of submissions are available at

What were the key issues raised by submissions?

Submitters raised a large number of policy concerns and technical points. The main concerns raised were around supermarket off-licence eligibility, advertising and sponsorship, price, the purchase age, and the legal blood alcohol content for adult drivers (which falls outside the scope of the bill and is addressed by the Land Transport (Road Safety and other Matters) Amendment Bill administered by Transport Minister Steven Joyce).

How will Parliament vote on the Alcohol Reform Bill?

The National caucus has agreed to vote for the Alcohol Reform Bill, except for the purchase age, along party lines to ensure the bill provides a consistent, coherent, and enduring regulatory framework for alcohol laws. However, National MPs will be able to exercise a conscience vote on the alcohol purchase age during the committee stage of the bill. It is up to each party's caucus to decide how they will vote on the bill.

It’s likely that MPs will table SOPs during the committee stage of the bill for the purchase age to remain at 18 or be raised to 20. Parliament would therefore be voting on a range of options for the purchase age.

When will the changes come into force?

Once the bill is passed, some changes will be able to come into force relatively quickly, while others will require some time for businesses and government agencies to prepare for. It’s anticipated that most changes will be in force within twelve months of the legislation being passed.


Why start with a split age?

A split purchase age provides a graduated approach to being permitted to purchase alcohol. A split age, variations of which are already used in some countries such as Sweden would help reduce harm associated with pre-loading, which is the practice of consuming large amounts of alcohol purchased from an off-licence before heading to licensed premises such as a bar or club. It would also prevent 18-and 19-year-olds from buying alcohol for their younger peers.

Why did the committee recommend introducing a minimum age of 20 years to obtain a manager’s certificate?

This is in line with the minimum age to be a licensee, and reflects the responsibility of managers under the new Act. To ensure this change will not impact on current employment arrangements, anyone under 20 with active manager’s certificates will be able to continue to work as a manager when the change comes into force.


What is happening with the proposal to restrict the alcohol content and container size of RTDs?

Officials are continuing to work on how to best implement this policy. Final decisions on this matter will be made in 2012.


How will the bill ensure that supermarkets and grocery stores do not display alcohol in a prominent area?

The bill has been drafted in such a way to ensure that alcohol is not displayed in a prominent area, which could include parts of a store that customers have to pass through in order to access other products in the course of their normal shopping trip.


Why is the Government legislating for parental consent and responsible supply?

There is currently very little control over the private supply of alcohol to minors. While it is illegal to purchase alcohol with the intention of supplying it to a minor, that does not apply if it was purchased with the intention of supplying it to a minor who is attending a private social gathering.

How will this law work?

Under the bill it will be an offence for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide alcohol to an under-18 year old without a parent’s or guardian’s consent.

Where alcohol is provided to an under 18 year old the parent, guardian or authorised person will need to ensure the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner.

Police will exercise their discretion about whether prosecution is in the public interest on a case-by-case basis. They are likely to make use of warnings where that is more appropriate. Over time case law will develop, giving further guidance on the operation of this law.

If someone breaches the requirements of parental consent and responsible supply, they will be liable for a fine of up to $2000 and any conviction will be entered on their criminal record.

A parent would also not be liable in circumstances where their child had acted without parental knowledge or against parental instructions.

What would be considered responsible supply?

The test for responsible supply will include such things as the adequacy of adult supervision, age of the minors, quantity of alcohol supplied, the duration of supply and the availability of food. Much of this as simply common sense and basic host responsibility. The bill gives an indicative list of factors that the Court may use to decide whether the alcohol was supplied in a responsible manner (clause 224(4)).

What would be the test for consent?

The test for consent – that the supplier believes on reasonable grounds that they have the consent of the parent or guardian – has been deliberately written to balance a high threshold (which must be met by the defendant) with the need to avoid criminalising those who were genuinely deceived into thinking they had consent to supply alcohol.

How long have the requirements relating to private supply to minors been in place in Australia and how effective have they been?

The requirements have been put in place in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania over the last few years. The effectiveness of the laws has yet to be evaluated, but they demonstrate a trend towards setting tighter controls around young people's access to alcohol.


What is the rationale behind the Government’s national default trading hours?

Currently there are no restrictions on the hours that alcohol can be sold, with up to 24-hour licensing permitted.

The bill introduces default national maximum trading hours of 7am-11pm for off-licences and 8am-4am for on-licences and club licences for local authorities who do not adopt a local alcohol policy.

These hours reduce the negative effects of 24-hour trading and strike a balance between reducing alcohol-related harm with the impacts on responsible licensees and drinkers. The off-licence hours accommodate both early-morning shoppers and late-night shoppers, while reducing opportunities for “pre-loading” or “post-loading”. Reduced off-licence hours may also encourage people to move into regulated and supervised drinking environments.

Individual districts will be able to vary these hours through a local alcohol policy to meet their local needs, as long as the variation is consistent with the intent of the legislation to reduce alcohol-related harm and support safe and responsible sale, supply and consumption.