Monday, August 23, 2010

The rest of the proposal

The government released its liquor policy today. I've already commented on the discriminatory and pedophobic split drinking age and authoritarian national closing time. So what do I think of the rest of the proposal?

Mostly posturing, I'm afraid. The requirement for parental consent and restrictions on RTDs are prime examples of this, continuing the trend of demonising the young while ignoring the real problem of middle-aged drunks. Though they're unlikely to have much practical effect - the parental consent law will probably be widely ignored (in that the sorts of adults who will give someone else's kids alcohol aren't going to ask for a note first), while the RTD restrictions will simply restrict serving sizes (which is fine; the joy of RTDs is their taste, not their alcohol content). Meanwhile, other aspects, such as restrictions on small outlets and local alcohol plans are troubling. The first favours large industry players while also promoting the idea that alcohol is a taboo (the wrong approach), while the second is a licence for local wowserism. As for the ability to ban products, it sounds like a good idea, if it weren't for the likelihood of it being subject to enormous amounts of anti-competitive lobbying, plus I don't trust the National Party not to ban absinthe (which some of them have grumbled about in the past). About the only good move in the entire package is the focus on enforcement and the greater ability to strip liquor licences from repeat offenders.

Overall, this is a poor package, which focuses on the wrong problems. Don't get me wrong - alcohol causes harm - but the fact that we live in a liberal society sets very strong constraints on how we deal with that harm. This package has too many policies which grossly violate those constraints. Meanwhile, measures which might actually reduce harm, such as a lower drink-drive limit, have been ignored. What we're left with is authoritarian posturing which rather than producing a sensible drinking culture, will simply promote contempt for the law.