Alcohol rules to be considered after Swarbrick's bill is pulled

Source: 1News

The time has come to further regulate alcohol, one of the country's most harmful drugs, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick says.

It comes as Swarbrick's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill was pulled from the members' bill ballot on Thursday. That means it will be introduced in Parliament for debate.

The proposed legislation would see a ban on alcohol sponsorship and advertising in live or broadcast sports and sports venues. It would also remove the special appeals process for local alcohol policies.

Prior to the bill being plucked from the ballot, the Auckland Central MP had gathered support from councillors from Auckland Council, Hamilton City Council, Whanganui District Council and Christchurch City Council.

Swarbrick, the Green Party's drug reform spokesperson, said on Thursday MPs "dawdled to act" while councils representing more than half of the country's population "have shown necessary leadership and endorsed the bill".

She said she had tried to get other parties interested in the bill in the past year and sent "several letters" only for it to "fall on deaf ears".

"Now, by the pure luck of the biscuit tin, Parliament is out of excuses and the bill will be read a first time."

The bill will have to pass three readings in Parliament to become law.

"I'm really confident that we will have the numbers to get this through first reading," Swarbrick said.

The Government was already reviewing the rules around alcohol sales under former Justice Minister Kris Faafoi.

But Swarbrick told 1News in April her bill was necessary because "reviews don't guarantee action". She repeated the comment on Thursday.

She said in April that removing the special appeals process was about putting in place "sensible regulations that give power back to communities across Aotearoa to govern where liquor outlets are popping up". Councils around the country that have been trying to introduce the policies have, at times, found themselves in expensive legal battles against liquor stores and supermarkets who argue it's unreasonable.

Swarbrick added that while some sports teams had decided by themselves to reject money from alcohol companies, blanket legislation was needed to bring change across the board.

To help sports teams transition away from alcohol sponsorship, which was valued in New Zealand in 2015 at $21.3 million, she suggested that the Government could front up with cash for the teams or introduce a small levy on alcoholic drinks.

It follows recommendations made by a Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship in 2014 and further research around children's high exposure to alcohol marketing, including through sports sponsorship. Researchers noted the findings were concerning as there is evidence it is associated with youth alcohol consumption.

Industry group NZ Alcohol Beverages Council said in April the bill's removal of the right for alcohol companies to appeal "should be viewed with extreme caution".

Executive director Bridget MacDonald said the industry was already "heavily regulated" when it came to the sponsorship and advertising of alcohol.

"Instead of restricting the right of legitimate businesses to promote their product in lawful and socially responsible ways, we would be better served by accelerating the changes we are already seeing toward moderate and responsible consumption."

Swarbrick told Q+A in May 2021 that the bill wouldn't stop judicial appeals processes - only the built-in special appeals process that came whenever there was an attempt to enact local alcohol policies.

She also said at the time the bill wouldn't automatically prohibit or introduce barriers to accessing alcohol.

"When we're talking about ending sponsorship and advertising, it's not changing people's access to the substance - which we know is also massively harmful - what we're talking about is ending its normalisation and glamorisation."

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill had been sitting in the members' bill ballot since July last year.

Members' bills can be proposed by any MP who isn't a minister. To be considered by Parliament, it needs to be pulled from a biscuit tin or get the support of 61 non-executive MPs.