25 May 2021

Calls for halt on new liquor stores after rising assaults in cities

From Checkpoint, 5:16 pm on 25 May 2021

The National Māori Authority is demanding a halt on licences for new bottle stores, after multiple highly-publicised assaults in Auckland and Wellington CBDs.

Māori Wardens patrolling the CBD say they are seeing multiple vicious, alcohol-fuelled attacks every weekend in downtown Auckland.

"It is getting worse. We need to do something about it very quickly," Māori Warden Thomas Henry told Checkpoint

He has seen some ugly scenes on the streets of central Auckland: fists flying, knockout blows, and people being rushed to hospital emergency rooms.

"There's so much injury that's happening in and around the CBD, because it's all around the binge drinking."

Access to alcohol in the central area is very easy, he says. "There's so many liquor stores around the place." 

Downtown areas like Fort Lane in Auckland are hotspots for alcohol-fuelled violence, police say. At Fort Lane in 2020, multiple fights broke out in one night, and one person was knocked unconscious. 

The people who patrol those areas say nothing has changed. 

One of those people is Māori Warden Thomas Henry. He says every weekend his team comes across alcohol-fuelled violence.

This year, media have reported on multiple blindside punches and gang attacks resulting in injuries like broken legs, spinal and facial damage.

"There's too many scenes I've seen, especially in the CBD, fuelled by alcohol," Henry said. 

He told Checkpoint there is a sort of turf war situation developing on the central city streets late at night, where big, violent groups stick together and are on the lookout for anyone they do not like coming too close.

"It is bad. We need to do something about it… There's enough liquor stores we've got in the Auckland central area. Even in south Auckland," Henry said. 

Figures provided to Checkpoint show 565 new on-licences and off-licences were approved in Auckland city between between May 1 2020 and April 30 2021.

In 2019, the number was 608. Auckland Council says it cannot differentiate between new approvals for businesses that have been sold and those that are completely new operations. 

But the figures give at least some idea of how many alcohol outlets are being licenced.

Walking through the CBD area it is clear how accessible alcohol is. On Queen St between Karangahape Rd and Mayoral Drive there are four bottle stores within 400 metres of each other.

National Māori Authority chairman Matthew Tukaki says he wants a moratorium on the issuing of new licenses, particularly bottle stores.

"In Auckland central for example we're seeing young people going to Airbnb places, renting short-term accommodation for a weekend, getting liquored and fuelled up, all of a sudden causing absolute havoc on our streets," Tukaki said. 

"That violence is starting to lead to injuries and harm, and we're also seeing an increase in that harm being mortal."

The National Māori Authority said there are more than 14,000 liquor outlets in New Zealand - roughly one for every 350 people - which Tukaki said is more than enough.

"When you look at it, 495 million litres of alcohol sold in New Zealand in 2020 alone; 293 million litres of beer, 112 million litres of wine, 89 million litres of spirits. That equates to 100 or thereabouts litres on average between every man, woman and child in the country," Tukaki said. 

The Authority is starting engagement with communities on the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 and whether a complete overhaul is needed.

It is also looking at what sorts of prevention campaigns need to be run, including looking at a ban on alcohol related advertising in sport.

"I've walked those same streets on Friday and Saturday nights, and I can tell you the way young people are getting into blows with each other is absolutely astounding," Tukaki said. 

In a statement to Checkpoint, New Zealand Police says they have Alcohol Harm Prevention Officers working in every District to monitor liquor licences and reduce harm.

But they said they cannot reduce alcohol-related offending or anti-social behaviour alone, and called for personal responsibility.

As for changes to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, NZ Police said it supports anything that will prevent alcohol-related harm. 

Change could soon be on the way in Auckland where the council's provisional local alcohol policy - currently under appeal - provides a temporary freeze on off-licences in the CBD for two years. 

'Impossible for communities to fight this in absence of good local alcohol policy' 

Alcohol Healthwatch chief executive Dr Nicki Jackson told Checkpoint research shows off-licences are associated with a range of harm, including violence, sexual violence, vehicle accidents, property damage, and more.

"The Auckland local alcohol policy started the appeals process in May 2015, so we've just passed the six-year limit on this appeals process, and now it's to be heard at the Court of Appeal,” she said.  

"We would have had a moratorium on off-licences if we'd adopted this policy back in 2015 without an appeals process.” 

Dr Jackson said the appeals process is used vigorously by alcohol retailers.  

"So 86 percent of all local alcohol policies have been appealed by the supermarkets and 72 percent by the bottle stores. Christchurch gave up the appeals process after spending more than $1m through these processes.  

"Hamilton gave up. Auckland doesn't have one, Wellington doesn't have one, so our major urban centres are still not protecting their communities from alcohol harm.  

"We're advocating for this appeals process to go." 

The alcohol lobby has such a huge amount of money and resources it is an unlevel playing field, she said.  

"It's been mainly the supermarkets that have driven these appeals, and most councils around the country don't have the resources. 

"In Auckland, we had a four-week hearing in court. Other councils don't have the resources to do that, so the majority of them have avoided the court hearing and have negotiated behind closed doors to compromise on a local alcohol policy,  

"And it's ended up being watered down to such an extent that it really just maintains the status quo of harm," Dr Jackson said.  

"Communities, they deserve a break. They shouldn't have to object to all of these licences. We’re at saturation already. We actually need to reduce the number of licences in our neighbourhoods. We need measures in place that bring in sinking lid policies.  

"We would welcome the Ministry of Justice collecting good data around this. You got to think about this - it's our most harmful drug. So we should know when retailers are opening and when they're closing their doors. 

"We do know from the Auckland District Licensing Committee that there were no new off-licences refused last year, so they do report on the number of applications and the number declined.  

"It's just impossible for communities to fight this in the absence of a good local alcohol policy, they have to take days off work, they need to front up, hopefully with a lawyer if they can afford that, and then go against the alcohol applicants who all have got all the resources at their disposal.” 

She said the number of off-licences allowed would differ across communities.  

"We know that deprived communities experience more harm per drink, than more advantaged communities with the same drinking patterns.  

"That's the phenomenon that occurs around the world. So we need extra protections in our deprived communities.  

"At the moment the criteria to object to a licence is just an impossible threshold for communities to reach, and that's why we're not seeing licences refused."