Mixed views in NZ on new alcohol supply Act

The Brewers Association of New Zealand has expressed ‘disappointment’ that that country’s government has passed a bill that could retrospectively see existing bottleshops closed following community objections.

The New Zealand Parliament this week passed the Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Community Participation) Bill, designed to amend the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 to increase the influence of local communities on alcohol licensing decisions in their area.

The Act allows councils to develop local alcohol policies in consultation with the local community, and to influence factors like the number, location, and opening hours of licensed businesses in an area.

Once local alcohol policy is in force, council-appointed District Licensing Committees (DLCs) must consider it when they make decisions about alcohol licensing applications.

The Brewers Association of New Zealand said while it agrees with the core premise of the changes, the legislation “will create uncertainty” for businesses in New Zealand.

“The law removes the ability to appeal Local Alcohol Policies, the right to cross-examine opponents of an individual licence, allows for any person or group around the country to oppose a local licence and extends the right of opposition against renewals where a new local alcohol policy may now restrict that licence,” Association Executive Director Dylan Firth said in a statement.

“Under the new law, if a council wishes to establish limits on how far away a licenced venue is from a sensitive site in their Local alcohol Policy it would now apply to existing licences.”

‘Sensitive sites’ include childcare facilities, churches and health facilities.

“A Licencing Committee would now be obliged to cancel the licence of an existing business, no matter how long they have been there, how good an operator they were or if they were there before the ‘sensitive site’,” Firth said.

“It is our view the government has in this bill, substantially devalued every single licensed business in New Zealand and placed their owner’s livelihoods and those of thousands of staff into a state of uncertainty.”

He said the Act goes against the recommendations of the 2014 law commission report that suggested that any Local Policy  “grandfather current licences, provided they are being appropriately managed and comply with other aspects of the policy.”

He described the legislation as being rushed with Ministry officials were unable to provide a full regulatory impact statement to the Minister and Cabinet on the proposed Bill prior to the decision by Cabinet to proceed.

The risks to existing businesses were highlighted when earlier this month a bottle shop in Auckland was shut down after a group of neighbours complained that it had was selling single cans of beer.

Online news source Stuff said that a hearing before the Auckland District Licensing​ Committee saw local residents divided over whether the shop, called Liquids, was a convenient source of adult beverages or a contributor to litter and crime.

While the alcohol industry has expressed concern regarding the laws, New Zealand’s anti-alcohol lobby has described the changes as a ‘huge relief”.

An analysis report for New Zealand’s Ministry of Justice noted that communities find it challenging to influence licensing decisions in the way the Alcohol Supply Act intended.

“This reduction in community input has contributed to a proliferation of licensed premises where communities do not want them. This has been particularly stark in some poorer communities that already have a high density of outlets, late opening hours, and outlets situated close to sensitive areas,” the report said.

The New Zealand initiative comes as Australian communities have increasingly expressed frustration about their ability to influence local planning decisions and alcohol regulation comes under increased scrutiny.

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