Bottle shops harder to open in rich areas - research

By Will Trafford

Liquor licensing laws are preventing poorer communities from opposing new Bottle Shops in their rohe. Photo NZME / File

Reforms to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act are required to stop even more bottle shops emerging in the poorest regions of the country, according to a Massey University report.

The Impacts of alcohol supply on public space report funded by Health NZ also says institutional racism has been a part of how bottle shops have bubbled up in the most deprived areas of the country

To understand why a shop was granted a licence or had its licence renewed despite objections, researchers examined licensing decisions and interviewed locals in eight low-income communities.

The study discovered dozens of hurdles that caused local opposition to be disregarded or ignored during the licensing process; most didn't know a shop was even scheduled to open.

“Eighty-three per cent of the 156 people we interviewed could not recall learning about the licence application but the majority claimed they would have objected if they had known,” research officer Steve Randerson says. 

“The few who did get to a hearing found it very technical and hard to bring enough evidence to have an impact, particularly under cross-examination.”

Randerson says institutional racism is part and parcel of the current act.

A bill sponsored by Kiritapu Allan (Justice Minister), reforming the sale and supply of alcohol act will go to Parliament in December. Photo / NZME / File

A bill sponsored by Kiritapu Allan (Justice Minister), reforming the sale and supply of alcohol act will go to Parliament in December. Photo / NZME / File

“Māori objectors found the overall process was not a fit way to engage with their communities and in fact discouraged participation. Other non-Pakeha objectors felt licensing committees did not represent the diversity in their community and so did not fully appreciate the weight of the issues they were raising.”

Kaumātua or māngai kōrero and whakapapa were being ignored in procedures, according to Dr Belinda Borell (Ngati Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi, Whakatōhea), a Hohua Tutengaehe postdoctoral fellow and co-author.

"It’s difficult to explain how undermining this is for Māori communities to have our respected representatives dismissed as irrelevant, particularly when there is so much rhetoric about meaningful Te Tiriti engagement.” Dr Borrell says.

“Important opportunities to support Māori input into licensing decisions were lost.”

Licences were issued in areas with a higher concentration of Māori residents because Māori voices weren’t heard, and that advanced the disproportionate impact of alcohol on Māori health, according to the researchers.

Members of Communities Against Alcohol Harm protesting outside a liquor store in Ōtara. Photo / Justin Latif

Members of Communities Against Alcohol Harm protesting outside a liquor store in Ōtara. Photo / Justin Latif

Based on the findings, the act and the licensing system don’t live up to Crown obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, specifically, ensuring Māori voice in policymaking.

Borrell says even when Māori were aware of the licensing process, access to the legal process to oppose the licenses being issued by boards Māori often weren't present on, was inadequate.

“This makes the alcohol licensing system less likely to work for the very people it aims to protect,” Dr Borell says.

Alcohol outlets had a negative impact on neighbourhoods according to most respondents, and the researchers say their opposition should be guaranteed by a clause in the act, which ensures licensing is consistent with Te Tiriti and co-governance guarantees.

“If the act is going to live up to its aim of minimising alcohol harm, equity and Te Tiriti should be lead considerations in the review of the licensing system and its implementation,” Randerson says.

An overhaul of the act, sponsored by Justice Minister Kiri Allan (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) will head to Parliament in December.

An earlier bill by Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, which would prevent alcohol brands from sponsoring sporting events and also stop an ability to appeal council decisions blocking new bottle shops has been incorporated into the government bill.

National and ACT pledged to vote down the Swarbrick bill but the government bill will probably pass with Greens, Labour and Te Pāti Māori backing.

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air