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In July, as your resident political-orientated alcohol-enthusiasts, we sat down with MP for Wellington Central, Labour’s Grant Robertson, for a chat about power, politics, and piss. Over some Wellington craft beer, we got the goss on the politics of booze and the booze in politics.
Lydia and Mitch: Is craft beer all it’s cracked up to be?
Grant: Probably over-hyped but still better. Craft beer’s fun. I don’t think people should get too serious about it. Here we are with a mass-produced beer and a craft beer and there is an obvious difference. The smaller batches that they make taste much better.
Do you have any tips for when you are hungover but need to appear professional?
Sausage rolls—forget everything other than the sausage roll. When I worked at MFAT, I was severely hungover once or twice. The Colonial Café used to do a mighty fine sausage roll. It’s all about the grease. It used to be a sausage roll and a blue Powerade, not that I behave like this anymore.
Mitch is a big fan of buying them the night before which is a smart move.
There’s also the “Home Burger” which is when you buy two hamburgers on the way home and you eat one, but have one which is your home burger. Either you eat it then or you wake up the next morning think “Oh God I’m so hungover” and there’s a burger there! Needing to stress again that I don’t do this.
Have you ever been a bit drunk while you’re in the House?
Never? Not even answering questions down the hallway? Not even during urgency?
Never, I’ve made it a thing. I’ve watched people be absolutely trollied in the House. Not pretty.
In the past you’ve been a fan of unit pricing for alcohol, what’s your current view on that?
I do think that we need to look at the pricing of alcohol, unit pricing was just the mechanism in front of us at the time. I don’t want to price alcohol out of students’ market. But I talked to the guy that runs the detox unit at Wellington Hospital, and asked him what were the biggest changes he’d seen in his 30 years running the unit. He said it was the number of women coming into the detox unit and when he asks people where they got the alcohol, they all say the supermarket. Supermarkets use alcohol as a loss-leading mechanism, I do think we need to do something about that. Whether unit pricing is the way to do it or not is a good question.
There’s been renewed calls to increase the drinking age as a way to reduce harm from youth drinking. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t think the age needs to change. I think it’s a joke and everyone in New Zealand knows it’s a joke. Teenagers have been able to purchase alcohol forever. You’re much better off having it so it can be sold in a restrained environment. The problem now is that it’s so expensive to drink in bars is that people preload and all that and there’s less control over it.
Do you have any positions on broader harm reduction policies?
I tell you what I would do, which is controversial and raises another set of issues, but I would put calorie counts more prominently on alcohol. People would move away from the most sugary ones. I do have a view that eventually we need move on sponsorship, that had a big effect on smoking. It’s not easy because every rugby club in New Zealand is sponsored by a brewery. It will be a really challenging task. There’s more to do on availability issues. I’d hoped that the local alcohol plans would give communities a chance to manage things the way they like.
Do you see that more as a way of controlling alcohol purchasing or as a democratic mechanism?
Well both. I’ll give you an example. In Wellington Central I’ve surveyed constituents about their views on alcohol. I know that the results of that are very different from my colleagues in South Auckland. You know, I’ve got deputations of septuagenarians who are worried that they won’t be able to buy wine at the dairy anymore. I think having a community have the ability to have some control over that is really useful.
Karaoke is a tortured thing for me. The song I used to have as my go-to was “Delta Dawn”. Also “American Pie” because I know all the words to it but it is almost 10 minutes long. Once at a bar in Dunedin the 1990s I was singing “American Pie” and a member of the Mongrel Mob pulled the plug out of the wall.
Any more fun Scarfie stories?
After my final exam one year I got a little inebriated and a band I really liked called the Abel Tasmans were playing. When I arrived at the event I had a stuffed parrot on my hand which I could make do talking motions. I remember being slumped over the speakers at the front with my hand in the air making the parrot do the talking motions and the lead singer said that I was “an advert for the Alcohol Liquor Advisory Council.” The last thing I remember was the leaving the event, I’d just been elected OUSA President, and a woman came up to me and said “I can’t believe I voted for you”. Stay in school, kids.
As for the beer, we sampled ParrotDog’s Bitter Bitch and Garage Project’s Beer. At four stars the former was the stand-out for our panel, two wine drinkers and a Scarfie Member of Parliament, while the latter was slightly behind on three stars.