'Wake up': Police say alcohol laws aren't working

Police say laws to prevent harm from alcohol have not worked and Kiwis need to wake up and address our shameful drinking culture.

In 2012, the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act came into force with "harm minimisation" and "safe, responsible consumption" listed as key objectives.

The Ministry of Health says harm from alcohol is now costing New Zealand more than $7 billion every year. In fact, every Kiwi pays $1635 a year fixing up the problems from alcohol.

Investigations Reporter Michael Morrah visited the frontlines with Auckland Police in the first part of his 'Because it Matters' series.

It's Auckland City, just after midnight on a Friday - and there's no shortage of work.

There's gross intoxication, assaults, attempted suicides, blatant breaches of liquor bans and public vomiting.

Then there's a call about a disturbance at a hotel off K Road. It's claimed one member of a group pushed the hotel manager when he asked them to leave. It was clear some had been drinking heavily and police were called to remove them.

Alcohol is involved in pretty much every call-out.

"On a Friday, Saturday night, I would say between 90 and 95 percent," says Sergeant Anne McMillan, from the Auckland alcohol harm prevention unit.

"[We see] violence, family harm - just people that are so intoxicated they can't look after themselves."

The 2012 Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act attempted to improve that by giving communities a voice in deciding how many bars and liquor outlets they had and what hours they were open.

The law change aimed to reduce harm from alcohol, but has it actually made a difference on the streets? Constable Natalie Stringer, a police officer for 13 years, says no. She says the Kiwi attitude to drinking is well-entrenched and destructive.

"The alcohol harm hasn't changed. It's creeping back up and getting worse," she says. "The attitude of 'we go out to get plastered'."

Police say the end of 24-hour licences has helped - fights no longer erupt on the streets at 7am when bars used to close.

"That has definitely had an impact. Wider than that - in my role I have not seen a significant reduction in harm," says Senior Sergeant Lisa Woodward, from the Auckland alcohol harm prevention unit.

The alcohol industry says hazardous drinking among younger Kiwis is going down.

"Young people, in particular, are drinking less today than they ever have. In fact, more young people are choosing not to drink," says Robert Brewer, of the NZ Alcohol Beverages Council.

The Ministry of Health says that's correct if you compare rates of 43 percent in 2006 to 33 percent last year.

However, in the six years after the Act was enforced, "there was no significant change".

Even bar managers spoke of problems, especially due to pre-loading.

"[People] come out into town, drink even more, get real drunk and end up getting in fights and stuff," says bar manager Aryan Soin.

Even he got assaulted recently.

"Yeah, I was helping someone out in an ambulance and some dude came up behind me he knocked me out and ran away," he says.

"We certainly need to wake up and I think there needs to be a massive mind-shift around the harm alcohol is actually causing," Snr Sgt Woodward says.

Change is needed so police and the public can avoid wasting time and resources on disturbing public scenes.



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