A very interesting meeting

October 7th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

On Monday night, we had a rare meeting of Presidents and leading representatives from , , and .

It was to discuss some of the options canvassed in the ’s review of law, and on top of 15 or so youth reps, we also had executives from the , , and the (to observe and provide info).

The four youth sections came together three years ago to (successfully) fight against Parliament’s move to raise the purchase age of alcohol to 20. The idea of the meeting was not just to focus on the purchase age, but consider many of the wider issues and see if there was a consensus on what options they agreed with, and what options they did not think would be effective.

I was involved with the original Keep It 18 campaign, so facilitated the meeting and to a certain degree played Devil’s Advocate on some of the issues. Issues discussed included the purchase age, should there be a drinking age, a split purchase age for on and off licenses, supply of alcohol to minors, restricted hours for off and on licenses, other access issues, excise tax levels, price issues, advertising restrictions, loss leading, blood alcohol limits for driving, open alcohol in cars, should cars have mandatory alcohol ignition locking devices, fake IDs, should drinking or being drunk in public be an offence etc.

I thought the meeting was really good, Not that I agreed with them on all issues, and not that they agreed with each other all the time. But it was a very practical discussion from a group of young people with first hand experience of youth drinking. It was around 50/50 guys and gals, but I didn’t pick up any huge difference in perspectives between the genders. There were some issues where there were differences between “left” and “right” but a surprisingly large number of issues where there was widespread agreement. The result is the four youth sections are going to do a joint submission (which may be a first) on the stuff they agree on, and individual submissions (or minority reports to the main submission) on the issues they have different perspectives on.

Not going to get into details of all the discussion, but there were three parts that stood out to me. They were:

  1. When the current code of practice for alcohol advertising was summarised as banning ads that imply drinking can lead to sexual, sporting or social sucess, there was fairly widespread laughter as an automatic reaction. That was a very instinctive judgement that the current code is not working, or not being rigorously applied by all players. In fact many in the room cited ads that seem to quite specifically imply sexual, sporting or social sucess from drinking.
  2. The discussion on the excise tax and price levels was very economically literate. There was a reasonable consensus that if alcohol use generates external costs (which it does), then there should be an excise tax set to cover the cost of that externality. However they rejected the notion that the tax be increased beyond covering the externality as a way to decrease demand, pointing out that would probably just send people into buying cheaper alcohol per volume (such as spirits). There was of course also reference to the considerable divergence in economists views of what the external costs of alcohol are, and the point was made that any figure used as justification for an increase should be very robust or bulletproof.
  3. Very amusing in the discussion on price and excise tax was the points made by AoC that the real problem is people don’t pay for their own health care and a no faults ACC scheme which caused much merriment. Now to be fair to AoC their points are absolutely valid, but I did have to say I think we can assume that the Government is unlikely to privatise the health system and abolish ACC, so if we taken these as a given, then what is the best way to cover the externalities.

As I said, despite differences on a fair number of issues, it was a very mature and constructive discussion. I was really impressed with those who took part.

Also thanks are due to Labour’s (and his secretary) and for providing a meeting room at Parliament, and attending (with useful contributions). When it became clear Parliament would be the best place to hold the meeting I considered the easiest way to get an MP to sponsor the meeting. I figured if I approached a National MP they might get worried about any perception of doing me a favour so I e-mailed Trevor on the rationale that no one could ever criticise him for helping me secure a room :-)

As I said, was a really good meeting, and who knows there might be other issues in future they come together on.

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11 Responses to “A very interesting meeting”

  1. Pete George (23,682 comments) says:

    Another sign that maybe we are maturing politically – different parties, common purpose. I think NZ is small enough and still personal enough to be able to do this successfully (I can’t see it happening much in the US, particularly in the current political climate).

    One problem with this approach is it doesn’t fit the divisive sensationalist media model (also prevalent with some blogging), but if the positive politics message gets out enough it can help build some momentum on it. Kudos here for DPF, and for Trevor Mallard, he cops a bit of flack but he seems to be one Labour MP who has adapted to being in opposition and is still trying to help make progress.

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  2. Mike Collins (166 comments) says:

    This isn’t the first time the youth wings have joined together however it may be the first time they have worked together towards forming a solution – as opposed lobby together.

    What might be nice to see is this becoming a regular thing, with agreed topics relating to young people (and students I guess), being debated. There are a raft of issues that could benefit from joint discussion in this manner. Simply discussing them doesn’t cede individual groups rights to take their own position, but may mean previously undiscovered common ground is found. That can only be good.

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  3. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Interesting point on the externalities. Treasury and Crampton have independently found that current excise taxes roughly covers measurable externalities. So there is no justification for an excise increase on that basis for now.

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  4. Nigel Kearney (1,047 comments) says:

    It isn’t true that there should necessarily be a tax when an activity generates negative externalities. Many other activities that generate health costs or ACC claims could be taxed and are not.

    In any case, the relevant activity is excessive drinking, not drinking per se. The current system makes responsible drinkers pay for the costs of irresponsible drinkers. If we won’t make people pay their own costs, I don’t see how it is fairer to make responsible drinkers pay instead of all taxpayers paying.

    About two thirds of the externalities are crime-related and one third are hospitals/ACC. So we can target those responsible for that two thirds by simply disqualifying people from drinking when they commit an offence while intoxicated. This might have some issues that need to be worked through but is worth investigating IMO.

    There is also the problem of the double taxation rate on spirits compared to beer and wine. Apart from being inherently unfair and probably motivated more by protectionism than anything else, why should we incentivise people to consume more calories in order to get the same volume of alchohol?

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  5. Lindsay (149 comments) says:

    “….by simply disqualifying people from drinking …”

    Nigel, I am all for making those who create negative consequences carry the can. But how do you envisage this working? Apart from locking them up and banishing their hand sanitiser.

    [DPF: As it happens one of the concepts talked about was the idea of a drinking license, like you have a drivers license. So if you commit crime, spew in public, drive drunk etc, you get the license suspended for a while. Some people liked the idea of the license being a social contract (as with driving) and may change the culture. Others thought it impractical]

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  6. Jeff83 (745 comments) says:

    “……Nigel, I am all for making those who create negative consequences carry the can. But how do you envisage this working? Apart from locking them up and banishing their hand sanitiser.”

    Tempted to do the unwritable and write a three letter abrievation that starts and ends in l.

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  7. Jack5 (5,150 comments) says:

    DPF: Did the question of alcopop duty arise? In Australia, and I think Canada, this has been an issue, and I suspect they have raised duty on these mixed drinks to full spirit level. There is quite a bit of lobbying against this in the liquor industry.
    Rightly or wrongly, allegations are often made that this type of alcohol is a special problem for teenage drinkers.

    Also in the point you mention of duty meeting social harm: was there discussion on whether any such compensation should attempt to cover future harm, eg physical and mental ill health in a decade or two? I’m sure any damage from alcohol will be cumulative over decades.

    [DPF: No not really get into either of those. We had to triage the issues we could cover]

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  8. Jack5 (5,150 comments) says:

    Re Pete George at 9.21: You’re not one of these huggy, consensus seeking, local-meeting-loving, “thank you for sharing that with us” do gooders are you Pete?

    Consensus can lead to group think. What’s wrong with vigorous debate and strongly held opposing views?

    John Milton was on target in Areopagitica.

    “Let her (Truth) and Falsehood grapple: who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

    You don’t get that too often from huggy, huggy meetings.

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  9. RRM (10,009 comments) says:

    All of which serves to highlight the futility of rabid ultra-partisanship where people just try to score points by covering the other guys in shit, a la “The Torys this… the Socialists that…” et cetera :-)

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  10. John Ansell (874 comments) says:

    Why is it laughable that a party founded to oppose socialism might oppose socialist healthcare?

    I think it’s laughable that they don’t.

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  11. Pete George (23,682 comments) says:

    “Consensus can lead to group think. What’s wrong with vigorous debate and strongly held opposing views?”

    I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like vigorous debate, and I don’t go to huggy huggy blogs. But if you want to make progress after vigorous debate it helps if you can arrive at a consensus view or at least agree to go with a majority view – that is how caucuses work isn’t it? That’s sort of how our MMP parliament works. It’s how relationships that work work. Better than the winner/loser approach.

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