Kona, Hawaii - October 19, 2018: Beer, water, and Liquor for sale Inside ABC Store.Photo: 123RF


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the government will tackle alcohol law reform, to curb alcohol marketing and sponsorship, but will take time to do it right and won’t be rushed.

It has signalled plans to tackle the issue in March.

On the other hand, swifter changes are on the cards for communities to have more control over the sale of alcohol in their areas, with a new amendment expected to the law to remove liquor companies’ and supermarkets’ avenues for appealing local alcohol policies.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report that current levels of alcohol marketing in New Zealand do not sit well with her, and many other politicians felt the same way.

Communities had faced difficulties battling issues such as electronic billboards outside schools, marketing and advertising aimed at young people, and online advertising.

But Ardern said compared to the quick and “straight-forward” action that could be taken to amend the local alcohol laws, a slower approach was needed for more significant changes to legislation on alcohol advertising and marketing sponsorship.

“Alcohol advertising and sponsorship … spans across a wide range of areas – this is an area where we felt that: yes, there is an issue here … but it’s something that’s relatively embedded, and often you’ll find examples of where it’s closely connected to other things we really value in our community – community-based sport for instance, so it’s not something you can change quickly,” Ardern said.

“So we just want to make sure that when we look at this area we do it in a really considered and thoughtful way, we’re clear about the impacts it will likely have – where there has been a reliance on those forms of sponsorship and advertising … and we have a plan.”

But Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick told Morning Report the government was not doing enough to reduce alcohol harm, despite multiple reports advising action.

Swarbrick has a Member’s Bill in play that would put in place restrictions to alcohol marketing and sponsorship, and she said she would not be withdrawing her bill to match Labour’s approach.

A report on alcohol by former prime minister and law commission head Geoffrey Palmer more than ten years ago said alcohol had significant social costs on the nation, especially in crime and health. It recommended measures to curb access such as increasing the price.

And in 2014 a Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship was set up, that recommended changes to rules for ads and sponsorship.

But Ardern said changes in this area take time – and alcohol advertising and marketing signalled in 2012 by the National Party were still unrealised.

“We are here 10 years later, still trying to bring effect to them because they have been so heavily contested, and so the local alcohol plan changes we’re making are actually to give proper effect to something parliament tried to do ten years ago.

“I have no doubt that every change that we try to make in the space of sponsorship and advertising will equally be equally heavily contested, by the alcohol industry and lobby – so we’ve got to get it right. We have said we are going to look at this area … we’ve also got to be aware of the consequences – that’s actually good policy-making. But we’ve made the commitment.”

She argued Labour was not passing the buck on alcohol law reform by leaving it so late in their term to look at the issue.

“If we were kicking it down the road we wouldn’t deal with it at all,” she said.

Drinking age issue – ‘separate’

The party has offered mixed messages on whether changes to the drinking age would be considered.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan told RNZ changes to age limit restrictions for drinking were on the table and she could consider raising the age for buying alcohol as part of alcohol reforms.

“We’ll have more to say on the broader reforms in due course. It’s one of the issues that is within the broader mix, but whether or not that’s something I’ll proceed with it is yet to be determined.”

However, Ardern said the drinking age will remain separate to tackling other alcohol law reform.

“We haven’t signalled that’s something we’d be looking at, because [drinking age restrictions] are a conscience vote.”

Ardern said her own personal view was that the drinking age should be kept unchanged.

Labour Party conference, and leadership

The Labour Party’s annual conference is scheduled for this weekend. Ardern said she was unconcerned about speculation on whether she would remain leader of the Labour Party.

“I’m the Labour leader and have no intention of changing that. … if I had a dollar for every rumour that’s swirled around me… I can clarify that I’m also not moving to New Plymouth.”

If Labour were successful in the next general elections and formed a government for another term, she plans to remain the leader through the next term. “When you run for elections you run to win and you run to stay.”

Ardern would not be drawn on what the party would do to address their fall in the polls, what they would discuss at the conference or whether unpopular policies such as Three Waters reform would be rethought.

“Things being harder for us as a party started about a year ago – and that was a tough, tough time as we were battling with Covid at that point, and it just points to the experience we’ve had as a government,” Ardern said.

“We’ve had some really big challenges, but at the same time … we’ve still made progress on some of the biggest issues we face.

“We’ve made progress on increasing our housing stock, we’ve reduced our gap between supply and demand in housing, we’ve reduced our poverty by 60,000 children, we’ve now had half a million of cases where in mental health we’ve had people been able to access services and sessions that did not exist before. It’s been tough, but we’ve made progress and we’ve got to keep making that case.”