Liquor trusts a two-edged sword

By Martin Johnston

What would you rather have: cheaper wine or a free pair of pliers and a smoke alarm?
Or, on a bigger scale, a local stadium that gets funding from booze profits?

Not that you exactly get to choose your free gift, but you do get to choose who will choose it - by voting in the Portage or Waitakere licensing trust elections, if you live in one of those areas of West Auckland.

They are among five remaining licensing trusts in Auckland and about 19 nationally.

The others in Auckland are Mt Wellington, which owns the Waipuna hotel and conference centre; Birkenhead, owner of two taverns; and Wiri, which has interests in bars and commercial property.

Four, including Portage and Waitakere in Auckland, hold exclusive rights in their district to operate hotels, taverns and off-licences, although alcohol can be sold without restriction from other venues, such as clubs, restaurants and entertainment centres.

Consequently the only bottle stores in West Auckland are those owned by the two trusts; supermarkets in the trusts' areas can't get a liquor licence, although a Portage trust outlet sells wine and beer within the Mt Albert Pak'NSave supermarket.

That generally means West Aucklanders pay more for their alcohol than other parts of the city where it is generally cheaper in the supermarkets.

This is often a bone of contention for people who want to buy alcohol at the supermarket at a more affordable price. The trade-off, however, comes in the form of a financial payback to the community.

Potential beneficiaries of the trusts' net profits include those set up for cultural, recreational and philanthropic purposes.

The seven-member Waitakere trust posted an after-tax profit of $2.78 million from revenue of $64.72m last year, and the 10-member Portage trust a profit of $1.54m from revenue of $42.31m.

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The two trusts together gave about $1m to the West Auckland community last year.

More than half was for a small toolkit offered to every household. Previously, smoke alarms have been offered.

The trusts contribute to more than 200 events and organisations, including sports scholarships and awards in sports, ceramics and sculpture.

The most visible single beneficiary is the Trusts Arena in Henderson, home to the Mystics netball team and the Waitakere City Rugby Club.

The licensing trusts hold the naming rights and donate more than $50,000 - about 9 per cent of the arena's annual operating budget.

The rugby club's chairman, Ron Jones, said it had been good for the club to be based at the arena since it opened more than a decade ago, adding that the licensing trusts had been generous in their support of junior club rugby.

But links between some licensing trusts and pokies are a sensitive topic.

Waitakere president Linda Cooper, an Auckland Council member, said the smoke alarms and toolkits were "purchased with our own trading profits and not gambling profits". Licensing trust members make only recommendations, not decisions, on community grant applications received by the Trusts Community Foundation, which runs pokies at some of the licensing trusts' venues.

The Provost report says most licensing trusts raise funds from alcohol sales, hospitality, and by hosting pokies under licences held by related organisations.

"Licensing trusts make significant contributions to their community through associations with charitable organisations that operate gaming machines on licensing trust premises."

In South Auckland one of the beneficiaries of the Wiri Licensing Trust has been Manurewa Marae, in a scheme to help the homeless.

Five Portacom housing units were shifted to the marae in July.

The trust gave $50,000 towards the project, which cost more than $100,000.

For a full list of candidates go to aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

YOUR COMMUNITY, YOUR CHOICE

Monday: Auckland mayoral hopefuls share their vision
Tuesday: Waitemata
Wednesday: Albert-Eden-Roskill and Manurewa-Papakura
Thursday: Albany and Howick
Today: Licensing trusts and DHBs
Next Tuesday: All the Auckland wards, plus regional highlights, in our local body election supplement

- NZ Herald

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