Auckland's battle of the booze is heading to the Supreme Court for a final decision on the hours alcohol can be sold in supermarkets and liquor stores.
This comes as Auckland Council has decided not to include separate rules for liquor stores in a new signs bylaw. Instead, it is leaving ways of reducing liquor advertising to the future.
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi is also considering a review of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act and the Green's MP for Auckland Central, Chloe Swarbrick, has a Members' Bill to minimise alcohol harm.
An overhaul of how liquor is sold in Auckland follows criticism at the licensing rules from health professionals, politicians and groups like Communities Against Alcohol Harm that regularly oppose liquor licence applications across South Auckland.
Volumes of evidence has been presented to the council on a review of its 2015 signs bylaw that will be considered for adoption by councillors and the Auckland Transport Board on May 26.
For example, an audit of 66 liquor stores in South Auckland found none of them complied with the council's signage bylaw and 18 stores breached four or more rules. Just five stores had a single breach.
The audit was done by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service(ARPHS), which recommended no alcohol advertising outdoors and just one sign displaying the name of the store.
A council spokeswoman said half of the bottle stores were not at fault because the signage had been in place since before the 2015 bylaw. Other signage had already been investigated and removed, she said.
The other 33 stores were visited by council compliance staff and issued notices to remove or replace the offending signs, or made aware of minor breaches, the spokeswoman said.
The ARPHS Medical Officer for Health for alcohol, Dr Nick Eichler, also highlighted the audit in a letter to Faafoi last year calling for a review of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.
He was responding to comments by Faafoi about the benefits of a review and "to ensure alcohol regulation in New Zealand is fit for purpose and operates effectively".
A spokesman for Faafoi said the minister intends to begin a review of the act this parliamentary term and is currently considering the scope of a review.
"There are a number of issues with the current regulatory settings. These range from issues which were not contemplated when the Act was introduced, such as the emergence of instantaneous delivery, through to issues around the alcohol licensing process and the implementation of local alcohol policies," he said.
Eichler said the audit showed shops are not complying with the law and voluntary advertising codes do not work, especially for Māori and Pacific children who have five and three times more exposure to alcohol advertising respectively than other population groups.
"In my opinion the act is currently not fit-for-purpose and is not effective at minimising alcohol-related harm," Eichler said.
Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson said the group undertook a similar audit in 2019 to see if liquor stores were abiding with Auckland Council's signage bylaw. It found a high level of non-compliance.
She said research showed alcohol advertising on liquor stores led to youth drinking, was particularly harmful to children and adolescents, and vulnerable people with alcohol disorders.
"These signs are pervasive. They are everywhere from the colour of the store through to pictures of alcohol brands and products, flags out the front. It's bollard sleeves, it's sandwich boards.
"These stores, communities dislike them as an eyesore. They are a blight. They don't make communities feel good about where they live," she said.
Alcohol Healthwatch has been pushing for specific restrictions around advertising by liquor stores and bottle shops to be included in the council's new bylaw.
Jackson said the signage bylaw is not specific to any type of retail, but brothels and real estate advertising have separate restrictions.
The council spokeswoman said brothels, real estate and election signs are covered by legislation, other bylaws or the Unitary Plan.
The new signs bylaw will not contain separate rules for liquor advertising, although the council did seek feedback on alcohol advertising in a separate survey alongside consultation on the bylaw, she said.
The council received more than 1200 responses to the survey and plans to report the findings and options to the regulatory committee at the end of the year to establish the next steps, said the spokeswoman.
On April 13, the Supreme Court granted leave for the supermarket chains to appeal in a long-running court battle over Auckland's liquor sales policies.
This followed a Court of Appeal decision in Auckland Council's favour addressing the policies, including 9pm closings for off-licence liquor sales, instead of 11pm as currently allowed.
The court action stems from the council's Local Alcohol Policy adopted in 2015 which has seen the council face off against Foodstuffs, and Countdown owners Woolworths NZ at the High Court, Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court for a final decision.
The Supreme Court granted leave for the Medical Officer of Health, who supports the council position, to appear in the last round of the legal fight.
A Foodstuffs spokeswoman said many customers need flexibility in their shopping hours around family and work hours and buy beer or wine to drink responsibly.
"Foodstuffs North Island supports the alcohol sale hours set by central Government in the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, being 7am to 11pm, which can then vary on a case-by-case basis for each off-licence if appropriate in light of location and other circumstances of that store," she said.
Countdown did not want to comment on the Supreme Court decision.
Swarbrick said her Members' Bill would rebalance the law and ensure communities have real control and final sale over liquor sales in their neighbourhoods. It would remove the appeal process that allows alcohol and supermarket companies to block the wishes of councils and communities, she said.
It would also end alcohol sponsorship of sport to provide wellbeing benefits and improve health equity.
Last month, the council unanimously supported a motion calling on MPs to support the bill.
Manukau councillor and mayoral candidate Efeso Collins said booze shops are disproportionately littered throughout poorer communities which exacerbates the impact of alcohol consumption.
"Entire alcohol stores cleverly paint their whole shop in a livery that is an advertisement to children and young people on their way to school and sports practices.
"As Mayor I would seek every opportunity to achieve the community's aspirations to reduce the number of liquor outlets as an expression of care and support the journey of our rangatahi to fully participate in society," Collins said