Here are two examples of how Councillors can either face up to a controversial issue, or avoid taking a public stand.

Example #1 is from a recent radio commentary by Regional Councillor Kevin Rose. He was talking about confronting NZ’s drinking problem, and there was no particular obligation on his part to tackle this hot topic. But he chose to do so, and I quote in part:

“In an attempt to cure the multimillion dollar ills caused by alcohol abuse
Geoffrey Palmer, the President of the Law Commission, indicated the commission would recommend restricting the opening hours for liquor outlets, regulating advertising and raising the drinking age. He was quoted as saying ‘he could not see why bars needed to be open to 6am on a Sunday morning’.

Amen I say to that.

The politicians messed it up back in the late nineties and it is now abundantly clear that we over liberalised the age for legal consumption of liquor and the availability of outlets. The booze genie is well and truly out of its box and it will be a tough job getting it back in.”

For that stand (here is his full commentary), Councillor Rose will win no friends among many in the booze biz, nor among those parents (and others) who just think the government should butt out when it comes to matters like dictating when their kids can drink.

Example #2 comes from the Hastings District Council. Councillors were recently discussing liquor sales regulation in the context of updating the District’s by-laws on the matter, and also with reference to a submission HDC staff proposed to make to Parliament on pending bills dealing with the drinking issues Councillor Rose was addressing.

A number of Councillors emphasized and bemoaned the specific problem of youth drinking. Awful problem, they said.

But the sticking point became whether or not the Council should go on record and include in its submission any advice to Parliament on the issue of the drinking age. As these procedures go, Councillors were to vote first on whether to give any guidance at all on the drinking age issue; then, if the majority said “Yes”, the debate would move on to the sticky matter of precisely what position to take.

Mayor Yule advised from the Chair that no one in Wellington would pay attention to the HDC anyway, signaling that Councillors might take into the account the probable futility of going out on a dangerous limb. [Gee, when the local councils rallied to oppose the firing of our elected Health Board, I seem to recall that the Bay’s National MPs took note!]

When the voice vote on “whether to advise” was taken, to my ears the result was too close to call. But the Mayor ruled that opponents of taking a position had prevailed. And then — by now I shouldn’t be surprised — no one asked for a show of hands!

Sadly, one must conclude that not a single Hastings Councillor wanted to go on record on the drinking age issue. No Councillor was willing to force the issue, the first step being to make those opposed to giving age limit advice take public responsibility for their position. Instead, the issue was swept under the carpet and avoided.

What courage! What leadership!

Which approach do you prefer … Councillor Rose’s or the Hastings Councillors’?

Tom Belford

P.S. BTW, the HDC staff briefing memo recommended that the Council should give guidance on the drinking age it considered appropriate.

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  1. Having worked for 10 years in Special Education I have seen the sad on going consequences of alcohol (and drug) abuse. Probably a third of the IHC and physically disadvantaged children I have worked with were victims of alcohol – their condition being fetal alcohol syndrome. These children usually have facial deformities, learning difficulties and behavioural disorder. They also have further disadvantages of homes where they are subjected to violence, lack of hygiene, poor diet, inadequate clothing, no warmth, no stimulation and so it goes on. A more recent experience was the shock of meeting one of my former Fetal Alcohol syndrome students working on a PD team – after 20 years of being supported in a protective and stimulating education environment he has been tossed into the community environment with no support and fallen victim to negative influences.

    Looking at the big picture, most of our social problems especially teenage violence and anti social behaviour is alcohol related. Our roads are killing fields with many accidents being alcolhol related and family relationships are torn asunder. New Zealand and Australia seem to have a poor record in responsible drinking and like many other issues we just simply bury our heads in the sand. No one actually needs to drink to have fun. It is nice to have a glass of something with a meal and to sit down with friends after work and nothing better than a cold beer after a hot hard day, but. our social attitude is "it is smart to be able to hold your drink?" How pathetic is that?

  2. Me thinks if you can vote at 18, go and fight for your country,get married, enter into legal and binding contracts, then your telling me I can not drink at 18, I do not think so.

    Better to have more stringent legislation and inforce it.

    Go and have a look at the Havelock North CBD early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning and you will see behavior that would have landed you in the cells a few decades ago, the disgusting mess that is left in the wake of such behaviour is cleaned up by HDC staff around 5.30am in the morning.

    The letter box, fence and tree damage caused by the minority takes a little longer to put right. by all means go out and have a good time but if you srew up, and lets face it we were all teenagers once(purchased my first half dozen at a country pub at the age of fifteen and that was when the drinking age was 21) you get pinged and pay the price. Yeah Right.

  3. I'm with Diane on this one. I'd like to add more fron the recent speech by Sir Geoffrey Palmer that Kevin Rose referred to:

    "One of the most demanding issues in analysing the consequences of harmful drug use in New Zealand is to estimate its social cost. Recently, a study jointly funded by the Ministry of Health and the Accident Compensation Corporation (the BERL Report) made some dramatic findings. [BERL Economics Report to Ministry of Health/ACC – Costs of Harmful Alcohol and Other Drug Use, March 2009… These were:

    • The total social cost of harmful alcohol and drug misuse for the 2005/06 year was calculated at $6.881 billion.

    • Harmful alcohol use in 2005/06 cost New Zealand an estimated $5.296 billion. The types of costs included in this figure are the total crime costs due to harmful alcohol and drug use, estimated at $1.1 billion including costs to the victims of crime, the use of Police resources, court related costs and prison.

    • Harmful other drug use was estimated to cost $1.585 billion.

    • Using estimates from international research, the report suggests that up to 50 percent of social costs can be avoided.

    • It is estimated that half of all alcohol is consumed in a harmful manner (as defined in the report).

    • The research indicates that 28.4% (or $1,951 million) of the social costs of harmful alcohol and drug use result from injury."

    Pretty compelling figures to me. And yes, just look around some of the hotspots in our respective towns late Saturday night to see what it does to people.

    And let's not blame our youth: where do they learn their behaviour from? Monkey see, monkey do….

    As a friend of mine said recently, "We should be saying, welcome to Hawkes Bay, Wino country"

    I think it's about time we faced up to the social, medical and economic costs of alcohol. They're very sobering.

  4. Geoff Harman and others who think, quote – Better to have more stringent legislation and inforce it. – unquote, miss the point. What needs to happen is to have children move into their teens already knowing right from wrong, knowing respect for other peoples property, knowing how to have a responsible taste of alcohol if they want to.

    Waiting until they are in their teens and threatening retribution of some sort for anti-soccial behaviour, is "parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff."

    How do we teach young parents to give children the outlook to move into being sensible responsible teens, and a lot of parents do just that, Well now that is THE question. Lets mend the fence at the top of cliff first.

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