Supermarkets and bottle stores could face stricter limits on when and where they can open after the Government announced plans to help councils’ introduce their own rules.
Auckland Council is among several local authorities that have been trying to use powers to limit the availability of alcohol in the city, but it has been constantly set back because of appeals by supermarkets and the alcohol industry.
Justice Minister Kiri Allan said today that the Government would remove one of the industry's avenues for appealing against councils' local alcohol policies (LAPs).
The policies were meant to allow communities to set their own rules for when alcohol could be sold and where new bottle stores could open. But Allan said councils were "being blocked at every step by the booze industry" through the special appeals process.
Auckland Council's policy was introduced seven years ago but is not in force because it has been appealed to the Supreme Court, with legal costs passing $1m so far.
The Government also wants to level the playing field in district licensing decisions, with Allan saying hearings were overly formal and that residents and advocates had been intimidated and harassed by the industry's high-powered lawyers.
The new law would be introduced in December and is expected to pass by the middle of next year. Allan said the Government was also considering broader reforms related to alcohol advertising and promotions, which would be outlined in March.
Allan said councils may now choose to abandon their existing local alcohol policies and introduce a new policy after the law change - without fear of it being appealed.
Under Auckland Council's provisional policy, supermarkets would only be able to sell alcohol between 9am and 9pm, rather than 7am and 11pm. Bottle stores near schools would have to close between 3pm and 4pm.
The council also wanted a two-year ban on new liquor outlets in the CBD and other neighbourhoods with high incidences of alcohol-related offending, mostly in south and west Auckland.
The proposed law change was celebrated by community advocates in South Auckland today.
"It's hard not to get a bit emotional about this," said Mangere-Otahuhu local board member Nick Bakulich at an event in Papakura Marae. "This particular move ... will empower people to stand up to the alcohol industry," he said.
Bakulich spoke of the power imbalance in licensing hearings - in one case students from a local kura had been cross-examined by a senior lawyer representing the industry. They were "terrified", he said.
Spirits NZ CEO Robert Brewer said he agreed with the Government's proposal to review alcohol laws, saying it had been 10 years since the previous reforms.
But he questioned the focus on the special appeals process. Many of the council's policies were being challenged through judicial review, rather than the appeals system, he said.
Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Nicki McDonald acknowledged that the law change would not prevent further judicial reviews of councils' alcohol policies. But she said it was still a valuable step in combating alcohol-related harm.
"Councils have told us that this is the one thing that is really preventing them from putting good policies in place," she said.
"The appeals process has been totally broken and needs to be fixed."
National Party justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith agreed that the existing appeals process was not working effectively but did not necessarily support "throwing out appeal rights".
He would prefer that the process was streamlined, saying that getting rid of appeals assumed that councils always made good decisions.
The proposed law change was a victory for Green MP Chloe Swarbrick, whose private member's bill had included a provision to remove the appeals process. Her bill was set to be debated by Parliament later this month.
"After more than a year of our campaigning for this specific measure alongside communities across this country - notably, with the explicit support of Councils who represent more than half this country's population - we welcome the Government's commitment to act," she said.
However, she would not pull her bill. She said it also included other important measures including a ban on alcohol sponsorship of broadcast sports.