The alcohol industry appears to be putting its considerable lobbying weight into challenging the rights of communities to determine the way alcohol is sold in their neighbourhoods.
Research by Alcohol Healthwatch released today raises concerns that pressure imposed by the alcohol industry could be contributing to more liberal alcohol sale policies being adopted by local councils. As of July this year 30 of the 31 local alcohol policies developed by councils around New Zealand had been appealed by the alcohol industry.
"We urge the liquor lobby to respect the right of communities to have their say," Hāpai Te Hauora CEO Lance Norman says. "We ask them to honour the spirit of the legislation. The intent of this law is clear: people want more say and more control over alcohol sales so they can limit the damage it can do in communities".
Norman is particularly concerned with the report's findings that Māori are more likely to live in an area where no local alcohol policy has been established. "We know Maori already suffer disproportionately from alcohol related harm - the last thing we need is another disparity to deal with. For Maori who live in areas where there is a local alcohol policy in place we would hope their voices are heard rather than silenced by those with commercial interests."
Ngāti Whātua Māori Public Health Manager Antony Thompson says he would be concerned if the alcohol industry were attempting to put up barriers to local advocacy, given that the communities he represents often found it difficult to engage with regulatory bodies. "It takes quite a bit of effort and motivation to come to the table to express concerns about where a liquor outlet is, how long it's open and how many of them there are. So we'd hope that our efforts to ensure Māori communities have a voice in this debate haven't been in vain."
Thompson urged local councils to give voice to local communities in the alcohol debate and warned he'd be watching closely to ensure the liquor industry does not try to shout these voices down.
The report, A review of Territorial Authority progress towards Local Alcohol Policy development, is available on the Alcohol Healthwatch website here.