“Drunkenness was commonplace, as contemporary newspapers testify in reports of accidents, deaths, and domestic tragedies. It is scarcely surprising that the extreme demand for total prohibition overwhelmed the gentler, but more reasonable arguments of the temperance reformers.”

That was from the 1880s.  In the twenty-tens, New Zealand is still grappling with alcohol reform and trying to find solutions to problems that arise from ‘the demon drink’.

The Government is currently considering a rather weighty report from the Law Commission.  It has been 24 years since the last full review of New Zealand’s alcohol laws.

Alcohol is a factor in nearly a third of all recorded crime. A thousand deaths a year are contributed to alcohol. About half are alcohol related illnesses (cancer etc) and the other half are injuries.  Alcohol costs us more than $5 billion a year in health and social costs.

This is a very important public debate and it’s an issue that many New Zealanders have strong views on.  Legislation alone will not turn around our binge drinking culture but it will help to create a more responsible drinking culture.

The Government wants to reduce harm, crime and victimisation caused by drinking, but does not want to unduly inconvenience responsible drinkers.

Therein lies the nub of one of the problems the Government faces.  As it was 130 years ago, there is a quasi-temperance movement (drink responsibly, but don’t unduly penalise those who are responsible with alcohol) and another movement to enact tougher laws and penalties, such as increasing excise tax and the drinking age.

Reducing alcohol-related harm has been identified as one of the four priority areas for addressing the drivers of crime, which is a whole-of-government approach.  There is bound to be some regulatory approaches identified by the Government when we respond to the Law Commission’s suggestions in late August or early September.

The other side of the coin is personal responsibility.  A number of the tragic alcohol-related cases we read about often come down to personal and community responsibility.  Government can enact all the laws, but in the end individuals and communities also need to take charge and target those who cause problems as a result of drinking.

There will no doubt be some element of that responsibility identified in the Government’s response.

All public feedback – be it from prominent people or otherwise – is of interest to the Government and we’re listening very closely to the debate.