Justice Minister Andrew Little warns alcohol industry a law review is on the cards

Justice Minister Andrew Little says he's concerned about the alcohol industry using its "deep pockets" to "overpower" local communities - and warns a review of the current law is on the cards.

Medical officers of health from our three biggest cities have called for urgent, meaningful action by the Government to address our shameful drinking culture.

Laws were introduced in 2012 to reduce harm, but doctors say the legislation has largely been a failure.

They say the liquor industry is blocking attempts by councils to limit the number of places where alcohol is sold, and the times it can be sold.

And Little is taking on the issue, telling Newshub he wants a review of our alcohol laws within "one to two years".

"We are close to a time where it will be appropriate to look at whether the Act is achieving the objectives originally set for it," Little says.

Newshub's Investigations Reporter Michael Morrah has been on the road with police - documenting the damage.

In a three-hour period, there were calls to assaults, gross intoxication, liquor ban breaches, attempted suicides and drunk drivers.

There are now almost 12,000 places around the country, including bottle stores, pubs and clubs, where you can get a drink - almost double the number in 1990.

The 2012 Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act aimed to reduce harm and give local councils the ability to do things like limit bottle store numbers and restrict trading hours.

But multiple doctors say the process has become farcical as supermarkets and liquor companies spend big in court to stop moves to control them.

"The ability of interested parties, by which I mean the alcohol industry, to constantly appeal the process has really rendered it meaningless," Dr William Rainger, Auckland Medical Officer of Health, told Newshub.

"The biggest problem is that local people have to take on national or international companies," agrees Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health. "The way the Act is set up in many ways increases the vulnerability of local people."

"Every time you are trying to put forward a public health argument, the lawyers are looking at the detail and trying to shoot that down," says Dr Stephen Palmer, Wellington Medical Officer of Health.

Hamilton, the Far North and Christchurch councils have given up trying to implement local alcohol policies, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fighting supermarket giants and liquor retailers.

In fact, the alcohol industry admits spending millions defending its business.

"In the millions if not the tens of millions of dollars," says Robert Brewer from the NZ Alcohol Beverage Council.

But Brewer says it's not just the alcohol industry tying things up in court, it's also doctors and police.

"Quite ironic that they should say that considering that they have blocked just about every single new licence application or licence renewal," he says.

But is it actually true that just about every licence application is blocked?


Auckland Regional Public Health says this statement is "highly inaccurate".

"Our Medical Officer of Health receives around 4000 applications annually, of which we oppose around 20 to 30 applications. Around 85 percent of licences around Auckland are granted," Dr Rainger told Newshub.

The uneven battle has the Justice Minister worried.

"The reality is that the deep pockets of the supermarket industry and alcohol industry means that often the district licensing committees and local authorities that are trying to get policies in place are being overpowered," Little says.

And doctors say it's ordinary Kiwis who suffer - forking out billions of dollars every year to fix up the damage caused by alcohol.

"The taxpayer pays that - you and I pay that money," Dr Humphrey told Newshub.

They say the 2012 law change has not reduced harm and they want change.

"There's a strong argument to relook at the Government's approach to alcohol," Dr Palmer says.

"I think there's enough evidence about the areas where it's failing to meet its objectives that would warrant some review and refinement," Dr Rainger says.

Little told Newshub he wants a review of our alcohol laws within "one to two years".

"The most recent version [of the Act] was intended to reduce harm. Harm is still being caused," he told Newshub.

As part of that review, he says he'll look at the Law Commission Report produced in 2010.

That recommended things like increasing the price of alcohol and the drinking age - ideas not implemented by the previous Government.

On Tuesday, Newshub will look at district licensing committees - the people who decide who gets a licence to sell alcohol and reveal serious concerns about conflicts of interest.

If you have more information please contact Michael Morrah .