Communities given greater powers to reduce alcohol harm
The Government is fixing alcohol legislation that has been used by the alcohol industry and retailers to stop local communities from putting in place rules around the sale of liquor in their area, Justice Minister Kiri Allan announced today.
The amendments to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 will remove the ability to appeal local alcohol policies (LAPs). The current appeal process is costing councils and ratepayers millions in legal fees, as alcohol companies and supermarkets have thwarted efforts by local councils to limit the sale of alcohol in their communities.
“The law isn’t working as intended. Local communities should be able to set their own rules to reduce alcohol harm, but are being blocked at every step by the booze industry,” Kiri Allan said.
“When the Act was introduced by the National government, it aimed to ensure the safe and responsible sale and consumption of alcohol. But the Act hasn’t worked as intended, creating a system that leaves communities struggling and silenced in their fight against the powerful alcohol industry.
“In Auckland, a provisional LAP has been in the appeal process for seven years, at a reported cost to the Council of more than $1 million in legal fees. The matter is currently before the Supreme Court, which has reserved its decision.
“There are similar stories in Wellington and Christchurch, where Councils have abandoned their efforts to put harm reduction plans in place after facing expensive and lengthy legal opposition. In total five councils, including the four largest authorities accounting for half of the total population, have halted or abandoned their efforts to implement LAPs.
“Recently I met with a diverse range of communities in South Auckland who shared with me their experiences in battling against alcohol harm and attempting to reduce the ever-increasing availability of alcohol. It was distressing to see the community prevented from taking action by the deep pockets and legal manoeuvres of those who benefit from alcohol sales.
“Ten years ago when the Act was brought in by National, Labour warned it would been weak, wouldn’t achieve the desired outcomes and that we would have to revisit this issue again, because of their failure. My top priority is to bring power back to the people. That’s why the first phase will focus on immediate reforms to licensing procedures,” Kiri Allan said.
The Government is also looking to amend rules around the public’s ability to object to a new or renewed alcohol licence application and how objectors can make their case at a licensing hearing.
“Because the hearings are legalistic in nature, I’ve heard concerns that the current process can be too formal, with some community groups saying they’ve felt intimidated and harassed while under cross-examination by highly experienced lawyers representing the interests of those in the alcohol industry.
“It was always envisaged that people would have the opportunity to be heard when it comes to how alcohol is sold locally. I’ve heard loud and clear that this part of the Act is not working.
A Bill proposing procedural changes to the alcohol licensing process will be introduced this year, with the aim of passing it into law by mid-next year.
“These amendments are just the first steps in fixing alcohol laws. The Government will be doing future work to look at licensing structures and processes, marketing and sponsorship, pricing, and changes to ensure the law is responsive to new products and retail models.
“While no decisions have been made our intention is to tilt the balance away from the alcohol industry towards giving community a greater voice and ensuring we are doing more to address the significant impact alcohol has on our communities, whānau and health system.
“In recent years, the Government commissioned two reports that emphasised alcohol as a health and justice issue and recommended strengthening alcohol regulations.
“These reports and their recommendations will help shape decisions on our next steps,” Kiri Allan said.
- Currently, councils and other local authorities’ consult with their communities to develop local alcohol policies (LAPs) that are best suited for them. This includes regulations around the number of licences allowed in an area and trading hours.
- Appeals that are in process when the amendments come into force will continue to be heard until those proceedings are complete.
- While the Bill removes the ability to appeal LAPs, businesses will still be able to influence LAPs in the same way that any other persons or groups can, through the special consultative procedure councils use to develop LAPs.
- Of the 67 councils, 41 have LAPs, covering 35% of the population and 26 councils don’t have LAPs. Of those:
- 15 have not developed a LAP to a draft or provisional stage
- Six have developed a LAP to a draft or provisional stage
- Five have halted or abandoned provisional LAPs following appeal.
- As at May 2022, 86% of provisional LAPs have been appealed by supermarkets and 73% by bottle stores.
- There are five councils that have halted or abandoned LAPs:
- Auckland: A provisional LAP has been in the appeals process for seven years, at a reported cost to the Council of more than $1 million in legal fees. The matter is currently before the Supreme Court, which has reserved its decision.
- Christchurch: Has abandoned its provisional LAP, having reportedly spent five years and around $1.1m.
- Wellington: Has halted efforts to adopt its provisional LAP, having been appealed by eight parties and been found against by ARLA.
- Far North: Has abandoned its provisional LAP, having reportedly cost the Council around $200,000.
- Hamilton: Abandoned its provisional LAP in 2018, after the Council reportedly spent more than $200,000 on the appeals process.