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Local Alcohol Policies deserve a fair and thorough process


Opinion Editorial

For immediate release 5 March 2014

Local Alcohol Policies deserve a fair and thorough process

For the past year, local Councils the length and breadth of the country have been spending many hours consulting, researching, debating and deciding on whether to introduce a local alcohol policy (LAP) in their area. If they do decide to go ahead with an LAP, many are quickly realising that the process requires quality local data, transparency, can be costly and lengthy, and no matter what the outcome, it will continue to polarise the many differing views of their communities.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 (SSAA) is a new law creating new powers for councils to help combat the harm caused by the excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol in their communities. One of these powers is the development of a local alcohol policy which is a discretionary tool that councils can choose to utilise to help them with their local liquor licensing decisions. Councils are not required to have LAPs because the SSAA gives them greater powers to decide whether or not to grant an alcohol license than they previously had under the old law. For example, even though the national default hours for off-licences are set from 7am to 11pm, a council can impose reduced hours on a case by case basis just as they do today.

The new powers granted to councils are wider than just trading hours. Councils can also control key factors such as how many new licences are granted, where they can be located and the types of discretionary conditions which can be imposed on licensees. These new powers have naturally attracted interest from all corners of the community; individuals, church groups, the Police, Medical Officer of Health, supermarkets, bars and wineries, to name a few. It’s no surprise then that the views of local communities and the decisions of their councils have the potential to be polarising.

There have been some very thorough consultation and submission processes carried out across the country, with many councils receiving hundreds of submissions, and in some cases more than 1,000, with submitters providing a mix of both anecdotal and expert evidence. Making a submission can often be an expensive and time consuming process. The New Zealand Retailers Association (NZRA) has now made submissions to local Councils on over 20 occasions in the past 12 months. Recently we’ve noted that some of the provisional local alcohol policies that have now been notified have not provided the reasons for accepting some submissions and rejecting others. Understandably that makes it hard initially for submitters to gauge any potential next steps, particularly because the Local Government Act requires that councils provide reasons for their decisions.

Health data and local sentiment is an absolutely essential part of the consultation process. Bars, off-licences, supermarkets and wineries are part of these local communities too, so it is also appropriate that their views are considered in an equitable way as part of the overall consultation and decision-making process. LAPs are an important tool, but by law they also need to be a set of reasonable, efficient and effective controls that minimise local alcohol-related harm, where the national default rules, such as hours, cannot do that effectively.

Parliament recognised that these new local powers would need special oversight, and it appointed the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (ARLA) to oversee appeals on provisional local alcohol policies and determine whether they are reasonable.
Everyone who made a submission on an LAP, as well as the Police and the Medical Officer of Health for the region, are provided with the right to appeal, and a number of appeals have now been made to ARLA on provisional local alcohol policies across the country. Most councils will no doubt have been expecting this because this is brand new law we are dealing with here, and it’s only normal that some precedents have to be set. The NZRA is aware of some appeals that are already underway from our members, as well as others from Hospitality Association of New Zealand (HANZ) members as well as appeals from the Police and the Medical Officer of Health. The fact that there are now appeals to ARLA is not unexpected, as it’s the result of new legislation which gives local councils a new power and provides an appeal right as you would expect to help ensure a fair process applies.

No matter which part of the debate someone is coming from, we support any submitters who choose to exercise their statutory rights in lodging an appeal. The lodgement of a single appeal triggers a potential ARLA hearing or mediation, and no one appeal is necessarily stronger or more important than another. We see this as a process which needs to be robustly tested to ensure we use the best evidence about the causes of alcohol related harm and the best ways to minimize that harm, particularly when endeavouring to apply it in a local context.

Both appellants and councils will bear costs in terms of time and money during any appeals process. That’s why it’s so important for councils to be transparent about their decision-making processes and release their reasons for accepting or rejecting submissions. They can’t really complain when submitters are left with little or no alternative but to seek more solid, transparent, evidence based decisions through the appeal process.

Alcohol-related harm is a serious issue. We need to work collaboratively to develop appropriate policies in local communities across the country to try and combat this issue effectively, and we encourage all parties to engage with each other to resolve appeals directly, or through mediation, rather than through expensive litigation.

In the meantime many councils are still considering whether or not to introduce a local alcohol policy. We urge them to at least give the new national default rules a reasonable chance to be applied and prove their effectiveness in their local area, or at the very least, wait until some of the case law has been established in the short-term, so time and cost impacts on ratepayers and businesses are reduced wherever possible.

Louise Evans McDonald
Government & Advisory Group Manager
New Zealand Retailers Association Inc


Louise leads the Association’s Advocacy team and has represented the views of the Association and it’s members through the development of alcohol law reforms which led to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

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