Wednesday, June 19, 2024

New liquor supply Bill gives voice to communities

New legislation will ensure the voices of communities are heard in alcohol licensing decisions, contributing greatly to a reduction in alcohol harm, Minister of Justice Ginny Andersen said today.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Community Participation) Amendment Bill passed its third reading today.

“The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 introduced by the previous National government has contributed to the silencing of community voices and favouring of those with interests in the alcohol industry,” Minister Andersen said.

“It was always envisaged that people would have the opportunity to be heard when it comes to how, when and where alcohol was sold in their own neighbourhoods, but unfortunately this hasn’t eventuated.

“We know many communities are struggling with the widespread and damaging effects of alcohol-related harm. By changing the law in this way, we are empowering communities to have their say.”

The Bill addresses three persistent issues identified by communities:

  • council authorities having difficulty adopting and applying local alcohol policies (LAPs) due to constant appeals by those representing the alcohol industry;
  • individuals and groups being excluded from objecting to licence applications;
  • licensing hearings being overly legalistic and formal, with community members feeling harassed and intimidated while under cross-examination.

LAPs are set by councils and can determine where and when alcohol can be sold by businesses, including how many shops there are and their proximity to places, such as schools.

“Many councils across the country have had to abandon their efforts to put LAPs in place, after facing expensive and lengthy legal opposition,” Ms Andersen said.

“For example, Christchurch City Council abandoned its provisional LAP after five years, having spent $1.1m. To fix this the Government is removing the ability for parties to appeal provisional LAPs.”

The Bill also allows any person or group to object to a licence application, with a narrow exception for trade competitors, and extends the timeframe for objecting, to give people more time to prepare evidence. Previously, only a small group of people with specific interests could object.

“These changes will mean people are not excluded from having their say about the way alcohol is sold in their local communities,” Minister Andersen said.

The Bill also makes licensing hearings more accessible and fairer for everybody taking part, ensuring cross-examination is no longer allowed.

“I’ve heard from many community members – including licence holders themselves – that licensing hearings can be adversarial and intimidating.”

“The changes will help reduce barriers to participation and boost the influence communities have in local alcohol decisions,” the Minister said.

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