Moves across the ditch to tighten rules around kava could extend to Aotearoa, leaving a bitter taste for kava advocates here who have accused the Australian authorities of taking a paternalistic, narrow view of the popular drink.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is seeking submissions on proposed changes to the food standard regulating kava use across both New Zealand and Australia.
The proposal went online earlier month and submissions are open until Thursday.
The stated aim is: "To support a Federal Government pilot program which will allow commercial importation of kava into Australia to build stronger cultural and economic ties with Pacific Island nations".
Australia has historically had stronger controls on the Pacific drink than New Zealand, but relaxed rules around importation in 2019 to allow for individuals to bring up to 4kg in their luggage when entering the country.
This year the country moved to allow commercial importation and is now proposing changes that would more tightly control its sale.
The two main changes would effectively ban takeaway kava and tighten existing regulations on how it is prepared.
FSANZ further states that the proposed changes are designed to keep kava firmly for use in traditional ceremonies, a bone of contention for those who say that authorities are not taking into consideration the diversity of kava culture in the Pacific.
"We need to remember that not all Pacific people are the same," Dr Apo Aporosa from the University of Waikato told the Herald.
"For instance, niVanuatu have different cultural practices to Fijians, and Fijians different practices to Samoans. This equally applies to the kava culture. So what is traditional in one place may not be reflected the same in another."
The proposed ban on takeaway kava has the potential to affect the small number of outlets that offer it in New Zealand.
'Anau and Todd Henry of Four Shells Kava in Auckland point out that kava culture differs across the Pacific and has changed over time.
"3000 years ago in northern Vanuatu, the original form of kava preparation was done by adding water to chewed kava pulp," the couple said in a statement.
"However, if you got to Port Vila today you will see that the most common way for people to have kava is in takeaway plastic bottles from the many kava bars located around the city.
"There are numerous ways that kava is consumed across the Pacific, but to us the essence of the kava tradition is about mutual respect, inclusivity, and civility, not necessarily the vessels in which the kava is consumed from.
"If kava was required to only be consumed in its 'traditional' form, how far back should it go? And who gets to dictate which kava tradition is observed?"
Aporosa said that he travelled to Australia in June and presented latest research on the health effects of kava to a group that included senior health officials.
He said he did so to counteract "a number of misunderstandings and misinformation" being relied on by Australian authorities, but those same authorities appear to have fallen back on that old material in presenting the submission that underpins these new proposals.
He also questioned why the process was not being run by members of the Pacific community.
"It feels like we are being treated like ignorant natives, incapable of speaking for ourselves and our cultural substance and practice," Aporosa told the Herald.
He said that some in the Australian government appear to hold "imperialistic ideas" about kava.
Aporosa said he completely refuted the inference in the supporting document to the proposal that kava was addictive and had adverse effects on liver function, citing his own his research.
He questioned the role of the "aesthetics of modernity" and said it contributes to negative attitudes towards kava.
Aporosa said the mixing by hand and communal nature of the kava experience is often seen by non-Pacific people as primitive and undeveloped, whereas slickly packaged alcohol tends to be viewed as acceptable, despite the huge socio-cultural impacts of alcohol on all parts of society.
He pointed to the increasing use of kava by Māori in New Zealand as an alternative to alcohol, with kava facilitating quality korero - often with other ethnicities in inclusive spaces - and questioned whether this had been taken into account by health bosses across the ditch.
He said there is no reason why non-Pacific people should not be using kava, which he says can "provide relational spaces that promotes positive mental health", as long people respect kava, its use, and those they are consuming kava with.
A 2019 study from Australia ranked the harm caused by 22 commonly-used substances, both legal and illicit. That study awarded kava three "harm points".
That same study awarded alcohol 77 points - the highest of any substance.
Referring to the ban on sending kava to friends and family in Australia, Aporosa said: "I can post a box of 12 40oz bottles of Jack Daniels - enough to kill - into Australia from NZ, but cannot send 100 grams of safe kava."
"The entire situation is ludicrous, beyond ridiculous, health bureaucracy gone mad."
Will it happen here?
Aporosa said he was not "overly concerned" that NZ would implement those changes if the FSANZ proposal was carried, that decision makers in NZ are "vastly more informed and reasoned about kava".
Asked why the changes were needed in New Zealand, an Australian spokesperson for FSANZ said: "The Code requirements for kava are identical for Australia and New Zealand. Enforcement of the Code is the responsibility of food enforcement agencies in Australia, and the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand.
"The proposal has been prepared to ensure it continues to meet its intent to support traditional use, and protect public health and safety."
But Vince Arbuckle, deputy director-general of New Zealand Food Safety, told the Herald that he was unable to confirm whether or not the changes will be implemented in New Zealand and encouraged any interested parties to make a submission to FSANZ.
'Anau and Todd Henry at Four Shells said that they don't expect that the general public will be troubled by any potential change, but said it could have "long-term negative effects" on kava drinkers.
"What everyone should worry about is that Australia can influence laws in New Zealand that relate to established cultural practices like kava drinking," they added.