“Three causes of community problems: alcohol, alcohol and alcohol”

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Whanganui District Council has delegated the town’s mayor to lobby for a Green Party member’s bill to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Wanganui District Council Halls
Photo: LDR / Moana Ellis

In a majority vote on Wednesday, the council decided to back Auckland MP Chloe Swarbrick’s proposal to change the Alcohol Sale and Supply Act.

Swarbrick called on the council in a video link on Tuesday to support the introduction of his Alcohol Sale and Supply (Hams Minimization) Amendment Bill. The bill aims to improve local control over alcohol regulation by removing appeals on local alcohol policies (LAPs) set by councils.

The other half of the bill seeks to sever the link between advertising and sponsorship of sports and alcohol.

The MP calls on the country’s councils to help push the bill through debate by lobbying for the support of 61 non-executive members of parliament (non-executive members of parliament are MPs who are neither ministers nor under -secretaries).

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It would bypass the voting process lottery that pulls MPs’ bills out of Parliament’s famous cookie jar once a fortnight.

Swarbrick asked Whanganui Council – “as a local authority with substantial experience of the shortcomings of the current law” – to help push the bill forward without leaving it to chance.

“As advisers, you know the problem intimately because you have seen it in your communities, but you also know… the cost and the loss of time for the advice, as well as the totally unsatisfactory results for your communities.”

Whanganui introduced an LAP in 2019, six years after community consultation began and two years after defending Foodstuffs and Liquorland’s calls for its interim LAP. The appeals led the council to extend off-licence hours from 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. to end the legal costs and risk of continuing the appeals process.

The council’s community welfare officer, Lauren Tamehana, said the council had called for the review of the Alcohol Sale and Supply Act 2012 on several occasions over the past year with letters to ministers and a mandate to zone three from the association of local government councils, Local Government of New Zealand.

“I recognize that the amendment does not have everything on our wish list, but it is a start, and once the process has gone through the ballot, we will have the opportunity to submit and raise our concerns, particularly the concerns we have with District Licenses (DLCs) and their ability to only “consider” and not be required to “give effect to” our LAP,” Tamehana said.

Last year, the DLC granted a 15th off-licence, overriding the board’s LAP which set a cap of 14.

Swarbrick said removing special appeal processes would allow communities to set their own rules about where and how alcohol is available.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s grassroots democracy. Too often local government is the recipient of central government legislation that is totally unenforceable. On the issue of alcohol harm, the bill of my member seeks to restore the power to solve this problem.”

Councilor Rob Vinsen was one of four councilors who voted against supporting the private bill, saying the sponsorship of liquor companies has contributed significantly to the Whanganui community, including donating a $200,000 brewery to the development of one of the city’s sports facilities, Cooks Garden.

“That’s the kind of income that comes from these so-called society ogres. They’re not society ogres.

“90% of people manage their alcohol very well and it’s a really nice part of our lifestyle. It’s not all bad and don’t let people tell you that you need to be controlled on how you can manage the alcohol.”

But Deputy Mayor Jenny Duncan said a presentation by a Whanganui medical chief during her tenure on the district health board opened her eyes to the harms of alcohol.

“The problems we were facing in our community had three causes: alcohol, alcohol and alcohol. And it was a surprise and an eye-opener for many of us. We didn’t know it was so far ahead of us of any other problem.

“Yes, there are a lot of people who enjoy their drink and drink responsibly, but there are a lot of people who destroy their own lives and the lives of others around them, because they don’t not drink responsibly.

“It’s not about spoiling the party, it’s about reducing the supply of alcohol later in the evening in inappropriate and often more poverty-stricken conditions. [parts] of our community.”

Duncan said a council seeking to introduce an LAP would run into “pretty heavy-handed” funded entities that could block the restrictions and that was not appropriate.

The council’s PAL was drafted after consultation with the community and was “our community speaking”, she said.

“I don’t think any liquor supplier or chain should have a louder or louder voice than our community, and that is the current situation,” Duncan said.

A motion from Councilor Kate Joblin and Councilor Duncan to support the Amendment Bill and to delegate the Mayor to advocate the Bill to MPs on behalf of Council passed, with Councilors Vinsen, Brent Crossan , Charlie Anderson and Graeme Young in opposition.

Mayor Hamish McDouall said Local democracy reports that the appeals process was one of the many problems with the 2012 law.

“Once a LAP has been published, the people who submitted it can appeal. This makes the appeals process much more difficult and complex than it should be, much more costly and delays the implementation of the LAP.

“It happened here. It’s a problem all over the country.

“The act brought some of the decision-making closer to the council because before that a liquor store opened here almost right next to a secondary school and the councils were taken out of any control. We weren’t told asked, there was nothing we could do but complain about in the media.

“So the provisions of the law that allowed us to put in place an LAP were a good thing. However, you have these hurdles in the way. If a policy can be overturned, that suggests that the local voice has been somewhat diluted.”

McDouall said he doesn’t know if the private member’s bill will fix that problem.

He said he had already started lobbying opposition MPs and had in mind those from the Maori and National parties.

Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air

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