New Zealand’s largest local body, the Auckland Council, is putting heavy pressure on central city liquor retailers to “voluntarily” stop the sales of single cans of beer, single bottles of beer or individual Ready to Drink (RTD) pre-mixed spirits. So far, 59 out of 80 have agreed. The council’s stated aim is to “stop preloading either in our streets or in our car parks in close proximity to our on-licenses." While the intended target is clearly cheap mainstream beer and RTDs, craft beer – which is often sold in single bottles – is caught up by the ban.
Craft beer plays little or no part in the problems around heavy drinking, particularly among younger people. The streets on a Saturday morning are not awash with bottles of Emerson’s Pilsner ($6.10) nor the car park studded with empty magnums of Liberty C!tra IIPA ($22.10). The Council has simply made a series of assumptions and come up with a one-size-fits-all “solution” so it can say it is “doing something.” I doubt any thought was given to the sales of craft beer or the people who want to purchase them responsibly in central Auckland.
Auckland Council, which has just hiked rates again, likes being seen “doing something.” Last week, in one document alone, it was planning to advocate for compulsory Te Reo Maori in Auckland schools, create career pathways for Maori artists, develop an education strategy for Maori in the region, lift the financial literacy of Maori and support home insulation scheme for Maori houses.
These, as the pundits were quick to point out, are all roles for central government. These also sit on top of proposals for a multi-billion rail loop and number of other expensive projects which may require additional regional taxes, as well as further rates increases.
It is somewhat ironic that the Auckland Council’s actions come at the exact same time Parliament is considering laws to push local government back to its core functions and to focus on efficiencies and reducing rates increases.
However, at this stage the Government is looking to avoid the single container issue saying people with problems should contact the Council as it is their policy. It seems yet another drift net policy with unintended consequences, something we will probably see a lot more of as Parliament considers the key provisions of the new Alcohol Reform legislation. Virtually all parties are signalling a crackdown on liquor with several already competing to see who can be the “toughest.”
Beware of politicians anxious to be seen doing something about a complex issue. It rarely ends well.