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South Auckland anti-alcohol harm campaigners welcome government’s liquor sales reform plan

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Justice Minister Kiri Allan is looking at law changes for the impact of alcohol. Photo / NZME

A group battling the spread of liquor outlets in south Auckland says new law reforms proposed by the government are desperately needed to reduce the impact of alcohol.

But a lawyer who regularly works for those in the industry said it is important those in the sector are not denied the right to a fair hearing.

On Sunday Justice Minister Kiri Allan said the government was looking at giving communities greater powers to reduce alcohol harm, and more say on where liquor outlets were located.

The government wanted to amend rules around the public’s ability to object to a new or renewed alcohol licence application.

Under the planned changes, the government would also remove the ability of the liquor industry to appeal local alcohol policies, Allan said.

South Auckland group Communities Against Alcohol Harm chairperson Trevor Wilson welcomed the announcement.

The 73-year-old retired teacher and Māngere Bridge resident said the sheer number of liquor outlets in Counties Manukau was out of control and the social effect of alcohol abuse was a major issue.

Wilson said he thought the current liquor licensing hearings process had the unintended effect of deterring members of the public from taking part as it could be intimidating to be cross-examined by a lawyer.

“I’ve attended plenty of hearings with a pro bono lawyer and if I didn’t [have legal advice each time] it would have been quite daunting,” he said.

Who can and can not object to a liquor licence application is tightly prescribed under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

Wilson said it was important members of the public had their say and changing the law as it stood was vital to increase public participation.

Communities Against Alcohol Harm secretary and lawyer Grant Hewison also said there was a serious need for reform of existing liquor laws.

He said as things stand there was a major power imbalance between those from the alcohol industry applying for licences and resources they had at their disposal, and the community groups fighting the spread of liquor outlets.

John Young is an Auckland-based lawyer who has built up a client base of people seeking liquor licensing applications.

Unlike Wilson, he said he could see fishhooks in the law changes signalled by the government.

“I think the idea of removing the right of lawyers to cross-examine cuts both ways.”

Those representing the parties opposing an application also cross-examined the owner of the liquor outlet or bar that had applied for a licence, he said.

Being able to challenge who was objecting to an application was an important part of the legal process, Young said.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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