Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Removing Temptation: New Zealand's Alcohol Restrictions, 1881-2005

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posted on 2021-11-05, 01:35 authored by Christoffel, Paul John

This thesis provides an historical overview of the legal restrictions placed on access to alcohol in New Zealand and details some consequences of these restrictions. It questions whether the historical evidence from New Zealand supports the availability theory of alcohol. The availability theory contends that for most societies the per capita consumption of alcohol can be reduced by restricting its availability, thereby reducing alcohol-related harm. The theory was propounded in detail by the international alcohol research community from the 1970s but was also implicit in 'restrictionist' approaches increasingly adopted in a variety of countries, including New Zealand, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The thesis focuses primarily on the period from 1881 onwards, when a new Licensing Act formalised the restrictionist principles that were to dominate liquor policy for much of the next century. Until the passing of 1989 Sale of Liquor Act New Zealand's liquor laws were characterised by strict controls on licence numbers, uniform hours of sale, regular polls on liquor issues and legal obligations to provide accommodation for travellers. The availability theory was tested by assessing the effect of the rapid changes in alcohol availability that resulted from tax and policy changes that increased or decreased restrictions on access. Large liquor tax increases in 1921 and 1958 were followed by significant and sustained reductions in per capita alcohol consumption. The lowering of the minimum legal age of purchase in 1969 and 1999 was followed by increased alcohol consumption. Both these findings are consistent with the availability theory. However, neither the banning of liquor sales after six pm from December 1917 ('six o'clock closing') nor the resumption of ten o'clock closing from October 1967 had any apparent effect on liquor consumption. Rapid changes in the number of liquor outlets from 1894 to 1910 and from 1990 to 1995 were inversely correlated with changes in per capita alcohol consumption, a finding that is strongly at odds the availability theory. The findings have relevance for contemporary debates on access to alcohol in Australia (outlet numbers) Great Britain (drinking hours and liquor taxes) and New Zealand (the drinking age). This thesis also attempts to explain why strict controls remained in place for so long given that restrictions on outlet numbers and. hours of sale had no apparent impact on liquor consumption. Six o'clock closing lasted for 50 years. A freeze on public house numbers instituted in 1894 remained largely in place for almost 70 years. It is argued that liquor restrictions were maintained primarily because of political inertia engendered by three main factors. Firstly, political parties avoided addressing liquor issues as they tended to threaten party unity. Secondly, repeated referendums provided politicians with a regular reminder of the strength of the temperance lobby, making them wary of reform. Thirdly, there was little lobbying for reform because the restrictions advantaged vested interests within the liquor industry, the controls were commonly believed to reduce alcohol consumption, and the isolation of New Zealand contributed to a lack of exposure to alternatives.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Nolan, Melanie; Macdonald, Charlotte