Voters will decide the fate of alcohol sales in West Auckland.

A campaign group chasing a referendum on the future of the local licensing trusts has confirmed it will field candidates at October's local elections.

Waltag — the West Auckland Licensing Trusts Action Group — will field six candidates and endorse several independents.

They oppose the Portage and Waitakere trusts' monopoly on licences for bottle stores and pubs.

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"We think it's time west Auckland was given the chance to choose for itself," said Waltag spokesman Nick Smale, who will stand in Waitakere.

"We want to see competition allowed and the monopoly lifted but ultimately that's up to the community. If we're elected, we'll trigger the referendum and west Auckland can make its choice."

The trusts argue their control checks the spread of bottles stores, minimising alcohol-related harm, and point out anyone can apply for a restaurant licence, where alcohol can be served while people eat.

A keystone of their operation is "giving back" — returning profit to the community through grants and other initiatives in contrast to other areas where it goes to big alcohol companies.

Waltag had hoped to trigger a referendum by getting 15 per cent of eligible voters to sign a petition.

That they didn't - something noted in by the presidents in the trusts' annual report - did not undermine the prospect of electoral success, said Smale.

"I don't think we fell short because there's a lack of support. With just a few thousand dollars and access to only five out of 17 supermarkets (and none of the malls), we've collected over 25,000 signatures. There is plenty of appetite."

Nevertheless, Smale acknowledged the group faced a battle to unseat the incumbents, some of whom had held their positions for many years.

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"We're a group of punters, not politicians and we're not in this to build our political careers. We see a problem, we want to fix it, and we're going to have a crack at doing that."

The group has a short set of policies beyond a referendum.

They include:
• Routinely disclosing trust executives' salaries, a list of grants and full sets of financials;
• Holding elected members and key personnel subject to a code of conduct;
• Returning at least 80 per cent of profits to the community, effectively dumping the trusts' current goal of accumulating a $200 million investment portfolio by 2030.

In the 2018/19 financial year the trusts made a $7.2m post-tax profit on operational revenue of $117.9m, with $2.5m returned to the community. The latter figure is forecast to rise to $3.5m and $5m in the following two 12-month periods. The remainder of the profit is invested.

"We don't think the trusts are serving their communities right now — they've lost sight of their purpose," said Smale.

"We want our trusts to be confident, open and honest and we want them to give back their profits today instead of building an investment portfolio for some distant future."

But in their annual report, trusts chief executive Simon Wickham and chairman Brian Corban wrote: "While some may describe the idea of trusts as old-fashioned, there is nothing out of date about a community wanting to see alcohol sold responsibly.

"Indeed, there are many communities which would like to see the same level of responsibility being taken in their own area, having seen that in West Auckland there are no compromises and many benefits."

• For more information about the trusts: www.thetrusts.co.nz/
• For more information about Waltag: trustsaction.org.nz/