Parliament was preoccupied by two major pieces of law last week, alcohol law reform and climate change.
We can no longer debate whether Climate change is real or man-made, the science is unchallengeable and the signs increasingly visible.
Pacific countries know this, because they are at the front line of Climate change. Some countries are already planning for evacuation, there is evidence of climate related migration, many are suffering from the increased extreme weather events, and from a loss of drinkable water.
Because New Zealand families are already and will be increasingly called on to help pick up the pieces, because Pacific nations are also still home to many New Zealanders, and because New Zealand has traditionally supported and advocated for Pacific concerns at the UN, our response to climate change is of particular significance to the Pacific.
The Green Party believes climate change is the defining issue of our lives and the need to act is urgent.
So it was with a certain degree of horror and shame that I observed the debate in the House last week on a bill that pretty much guts our only Government legislative response to climate change. The Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill will allow New Zealand polluters to carry on polluting without penalty.
The Government tell us New Zealanders can’t afford to pay the increased costs that would come from polluters having to pay for their pollution. We argue:
- The polluters won’t stop polluting until they’re either no longer allowed or it’s no longer financially viable. The long term economic and environmental sustainability of our country is at stake
- New Zealanders will be paying about $400m pa for these subsidies, through tax, and this money could have been put into energy saving initiatives/ or Green job creation that would have balanced the cost to low income New Zealanders and sent a further price signal to other New Zealanders.
The Greens also asked a question in the House about our international commitments to reducing carbon emissions, only to find New Zealand hasn’t made any decisions, ten weeks out from the deadline.
It is our belief that our Government has a moral duty to take leadership for ourselves and the Pacific. We are all going to be paying the price for a long time, if they don’t.
Alcohol law reform
Alcohol is a major health and wellbeing problem in New Zealand and this includes Pacific communities. As is consistent with almost every marginalised population in the world, the impacts of alcohol are worse for Pacific people compared to the general population, despite only 57% of Pacific people identifying as drinkers compared to 85% of the general population.
Sadly many pacific people’s are living in low income communities and these communities are typically have more per capita fast food, pokie and liquor stores than higher income communities. Its exploitation and the social cost is high.
The Bill before the House at the moment is an opportunity to use the law to help our communities change drinking habits. Research is very clear that availability, price and advertising make a difference to drinking patterns – it’s not enough to just tell people to drink less.
The debate in the House on this Bill has only just started and it’s pretty heated because while everyone agrees the Bill is an improvement, the Greens, Labour and Mana are really frustrated that the opportunity to make a real difference to such a large social problem is being wasted by not addressing the major issues. There are over 24 changes being suggested by the opposition parties and the debate may take weeks.
The Greens are frustrated and disappointed in the Government’s failure to seriously address the important factors of availability, price, and advertising that would actually make a difference to drinking-related harm.
- We are calling on the Government stop paying lip service to harm reduction and instead adopt the constructive amendments that the opposition parties have put up which would allow for genuine reform of alcohol culture in New Zealand.
- It’s disappointing that the current Bill does nothing to stop stores from engaging in the predatory practice of selling alcohol at extraordinarily cheap prices but there is a minimum price amendment that would achieve that.
- The Bill also fails to deal with saturation advertising and sponsorship of alcohol. There are a number of good amendment on this issue that would strengthen the Bill.
Our amendments address:
- Penalties for selling alcohol to minors increased (from $10,000 to $20,000) to be in line with those to supply alcohol out of hours. This aligns with our position on having the drinking age as 18 but a hard 18.
- Make the local alcohol polices that are in the current Bill compulsory for all councils instead of voluntary is they currently stand in the Bill.
- Raising the excise tax on alcohol by 50%, which equates to a few cents extra per drink.
To make this a bit more real I’ll give you an example about availability and price and the problems with the existing laws. I live in Cannons Creek in Porirua, a predominantly Pacific community, and there’s been a major battle between our community and a local bottle store, because Thirsty Liquor is selling cut price alcohol about 50 steps away from one of our primary schools and this has meant drunk people walking through the school during the day, graffiti and broken glass. The school and community spent weeks fighting to limit the advertising and hours of the store to try to make it safer for children getting to school.
This is not an isolated example, so much community energy and time is being wasted on fighting for a law change that could make it much easier for the community to challenge the hours and location of liquor stores, as well as the sale of cut price alcohol targeting young people.
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