NZ alcohol bill making it harder for communities to have a say

The review of the Sale & Supply of Alcohol Act (Community Participation) Bill has singled out licensing as a focus to strengthen community involvement and to reduce alcohol harm which is supported by the beer, wine and spirits industry.

“This was both timely and appropriate to review the Act which is a decade old and although our drinking culture continues to improve it is always good to look at how the sector’s key legislation supports this,” said New Zealand Alcohol beverages Council (NZABC) executive director Virginia Nicholls.

“The Bill in its current form at Select Committee will more than likely make it harder for communities to have a say.

“The Government pushed the Bill through to the first reading in Parliament in six weeks which meant that there was no consultation with the community and the beer, wine and spirits industry.

“The proposed changes will significantly impact responsible business operators and exaggerate existing problems with the current licensing process.”

Throughout the country these processes are determined by District Licensing Committees (DLCs), in keeping with the relevant Local Alcohol Policies (LAPs).

The Bill proposes to keep LAPs with the 67 different Councils around the country.

“If the LAP allows proximity provisions to sites such as schools or health facilities, the changes will enable DLCs to decline the renewal of an existing license which will remove the viability of an established business.  This has no regard to the record of the licensee,” Nicholls said.

“A neighbourhood bar which has operated responsibly for years, may find themselves under the proposed new regime, having their license refused because a new pre-school has opened along the road.”

The Bill removes the ability of parties to appeal the LAPs which includes local communities, and the beer, wine and spirits industry to the Alcohol Regulatory & Licensing Authority (ARLA) under which their licensing decisions are decided.

“We do not support the removal of businesses and individuals’ rights to appeal a local body decision on a local alcohol policy which may simply be wrong,” Nicholls said.

“Removing the appeal provisions will not necessarily speed up the LAP process since most delays are caused by the use of legitimate judicial reviews which have nothing to do with the current Act.”

The Bill proposes changes to the processes DLCs follow, the result being that DLC hearings will be more involved.

“We support a review of the rules and guidance for District Licencing Committees enabling them to investigate and represent community expectations when granting alcohol licences,” Nicholls said.

In a DLC hearing the Bill restricts who can question and cross-examine witnesses at a license hearing.

“We support a fair procedure and process, and part of this is to continue with cross-examination for both parties,” Nicholls said.

“The Bill also broadens the category of people who can object to a license application, the result being that someone with no relationship to the community in question can object.

“The vast majority of on-and off-license operators act responsibly and need surety and reducing alcohol harm would be better achieved by updating the Act and regulations.

“Since 2010 the number of licences nationwide has declined by more than 23%.

“Research tells us that the vast majority of New Zealanders drink responsibly.  New Zealanders are drinking 25% less now than they did in the late 1970s[1].  Further, harmful drinking – particularly among younger drinkers – has also fallen.”

The NZABC called for an evidence-based approach to the sale, supply of alcohol that addresses unhealthy drinking behaviours while safeguarding the involvement of communities – including responsible licensees.

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