The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act (2012) gave councils the right to set alcohol policies for density of outlets and hours of opening for the sale of alcohol via Local Alcohol Policies. Alcohol Action, the DHB, the Police, and others made submissions on the Hastings/Napier Local Alcohol Policy in early 2014.
Concerned to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, they recommended, among other things, a reduction in the hours that local off-licences and on-licences can be open, one of the most effective measures to reduce alcohol-related harm as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Years have passed and the policy is still not ratified by the councils. The policy they developed did recommend some reduction in the hours of availability of alcohol.
They proposed the status quo of 3am for on-licences with a one way door after 2am, and 9am to 9pm hours for off-licences. However, the opening hours for supermarkets were changed to 7am after deliberations around submissions from commercial interests. These deliberations were behind closed doors because of the commercial sensitivity of the matters discussed, we were told at the time.
So why the delay to adopt the policy? Even with the compromises already made I expect that commercial interests have challenged it as they have all over the country. If that is the case, it is interesting that the public do not know what these appeals are.
So much for transparent government. In this long period of silence one must assume that there are other behind closed doors meetings with commercial interests with an outcome that may be another compromise that the public have had absolutely no input into.
Keeping silent allows the appellant to get their way without having to face public opinion.
Reduction in retail hours in the Australian cities of Sydney and Newcastle has reduced violent crime by about a third. Their bars close at 3am and the one way door is 1am or 1.30am. We want this for our citizens as well.
Reduction in hours resulted in less preloading and more profit for bars in Newcastle. Only supermarkets want to sell alcohol early in the morning and late at night. May I suggest that supermarkets will not go bankrupt if they sell alcohol between 9am and 9pm. If customers cannot plan to buy their alcohol between those hours then perhaps they should not be drinking. Late night and early morning purchases are mostly made by people who have already been drinking excessively, greatly increasing the chances of harmful outcomes.
I propose that, even though commercial interests can have virtually bottomless pockets for legal battles, the councils stay firm on their current harm reduction approach whatever the cost. It is my understanding that the councils' first duty is to the people who elected them.
Surveys repeatedly show that the majority of citizens want to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. Reducing the harm caused by alcohol is a priority for both Hastings and Napier councils. Let's implement evidenced-based pro-social initiatives, not profit-driven tinkering.
* Fran Lowe is an organiser with Alcohol Action Hawke's Bay and a psychologist with a specialty in addictions.