23 Oct 2022

Māori input crucial in alcohol harm reduction bill, says consultant

2:59 pm on 23 October 2022
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Independent consultant Kristen Maynard says Māori are disproportionately affected by alcohol harm in communities. (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

There are renewed calls for greater consultation and consideration of Māori needs as new alcohol laws are considered.

A private member's bill currently before Parliament would change laws around the sale and supply of alcohol, which would tighten restrictions around liquor stores and licences and block appeals against council policies.

An independent consultant, Kristen Maynard (Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ruapani), said it was crucial for mana whenua to have the chance to contribute to what was happening in their communities.

"I think it's really critical that they participate effectively because in that process, you're able to determine the amount of alcohol outlets in there, which is really, really important, because typically there's a high proliferation in high Māori-populated areas," Maynard said.

"So it's important that Māori are able to influence that process."

Alcohol harm in communities was disproportionately affecting Māori, and more laws needed to better reflect a te ao Māori perspective, Maynard said.

"Māori are being disproportionately impacted by alcohol and we need to be looking at this not only in terms of the symptoms it's producing, which is the over-representation in alcohol-related harms, but also in terms of the system and the social determinants of health.

"I think it's really, really important moving forward that we do that and the law itself is a product of that."

Earlier this year, the Waitangi Tribunal heard several claims about the inequitable effect of alcohol policy on Māori communities, as part of its long-running Hauora inquiry.

One claim, filed by Ōtara Māori Warden Rawiri Raatu, who is also the chair of the Kookiri ki Taamakimakaurau Trust, claimed the country's alcohol laws breached the Treaty by ignoring measures, such as raising the drinking age or increasing the price of alcohol.

Maynard was frustrated at what she said was continued pushback from the Crown, despite overwhelming evidence.

"I mean, the Law Commission recommended a number of these evidence-based policies, it's only been strengthened by the reports today, and these policies ... have the potential to reduce both harm and inequity and yet nothing has happened since," Maynard said.

University of Auckland senior health lecturer Karen Wright (Ngāi Tahu) was a part of a programme last year in which academics and mana whenua in Counties Manukau created a treaty-based framework.

Wright said connections with Māori were essential.

"Relationships were really key. Importantly, that these were authentic relationships, so relationships that shared power and that enabled decision-making that reflected that power-sharing," said Wright.

Members of Parliament will debate and vote on the bill's first reading, after which, if it is successful, it will head to the select committee process where public submissions are usually invited.

The legislation was strongly supported by Māori public health organisation Hāpai te Hauora chief executive Selah Hart.

"This is the most harmful legal drug that sits within Aotearoa New Zealand. We just came off the back of two-and-a-half, three years, of putting health first in our Covid response. Why aren't we doing the same with alcohol?"

National and ACT are block-voting against the bill, while Labour MPs will cast votes based on their individual views.

Last month, Justice Minister Kiri Allan said she would not support the bill because the government had a plan to introduce its own alcohol harm reduction legislation.

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