Frustrated by the proliferation of liquor stores, South Auckland advocacy groups and health officials want an urgent review of licensing laws – and ask questions about a licensing commissioner with historical ties to the alcohol industry.
Three bottles of Corona beer and their lees rest at the foot of an electric pole under a collection of red bandanas on Vine Street in Māngere East, a short distance from Middlemore Hospital. The items serve as a memorial to Arthur Brown, 26, who was shot dead outside these stores in the early hours of March 10, 2019.
As I photographed the memorial, I feel how important Brown must have been to his friends and family, given that two years after his death, they still come together to toast a sibling and companion.
The presence of recently emptied glass bottles, however, indicates another problem.
The complainants allegedly had eight outlets within a 2 km radius to purchase this pale lager brewed in Mexico. In the future, they may only need to walk a few yards because, despite the abundance of choice, a new liquor store may open next to the 24/7 Laundromat on Vine Street.
Just over a mile away on Wickman Way is a thirsty liquor store. His license renewal application has just been approved, despite objections from police, public health professionals, a high school principal and local residents.
Shirl’e Fruean lives halfway between Wickman Way and Vine Street and was attending a protest outside the proposed store on March 16.
“There was a murder and a suicide in the park here,” she said. “You see people walking around the neighborhood drinking and we have teenagers waiting outside the stores asking adults to buy alcohol for them, so the last thing we want is that. is seeing more drunk people in our community.
An accomplished performing arts teacher and musician, Fruean expresses concern that the growing number of liquor stores are sending an unhealthy message to the young people she works with, as well as to her own young children.
“I don’t want them to think alcohol is the main thing in Māngere, but with so many shops here, unfortunately, it shows that’s all we are – even if we’re not.”
His concerns are supported by research. Auckland Regional Public Health Officer of Health Nick Eichler said international and New Zealand evidence clearly indicated that more liquor stores meant more people were injured by alcohol.
According to the health service analysis, South Auckland has a much higher density of unlicensed outlets than in other parts of the city.
“Bottle shops don’t steal business from each other, rather they create new business because they encourage drinking more and drinking more dangerous,” Eichler said.
“If you compare different areas of New Zealand with similar deprivation levels and similar ethnic profiles, and if you just look at the number of bottle shops, you will see lower damage rates in those areas. [with fewer stores]. “
Community asks District Licensing Commissioner to resign
For seven years, Communities Against Alcohol Harm has been fighting against the opening of liquor stores in South Auckland. But the success rate is relatively low, despite the help of a lawyer specializing in local authority law.
When it was revealed that one of the District Licensing Committee Commissioners, Katia Fraser, had previously represented alcohol clients as an attorney while at the same time working as the Licensing Committee Commissioner , the members of Communities Against the Harms of Alcohol were shocked.
Lobby group member Reverend Emily Worman said her organization was deeply concerned that Auckland Council not only re-elected Fraser to the licensing committee, but promoted him to commissioner in chief, a role which requires him to supervise the 11 other panelists of the committee.
“We’ve been fighting in this space for years, and it’s exhausting,” Worman said. “Seeing Katia Fraser appointed Chief Commissioner of the DLC is just another example of how this system works against our community and our very real concerns.”
Worman said she was particularly concerned about the commission’s decision, chaired by Fraser, regarding the Thirsty Liquor Wickman Way store.
“Last year 159 people in the area opposed a liquor store across from two major schools, yet that license was renewed.”
It was not just the locals who raised concerns. In a 2019 letter to the Auckland Council, Auckland Regional Director of Public Health Dr William Rainger called for Fraser’s appointment to the commission to be “revoked.”
The letter stated: “Ms. Fraser’s involvement in the alcohol industry … is such that she cannot perform her duties as commissioner without at least an appearance of bias.”
Along with Rainger’s letter to the board, three more letters were sent; Communities Against Alcohol Harm, Maori Guardian David Ratu and the Ōtara Gambling and Alcohol Action Group, all concerned about the potential for conflict of interest.
Section 193 of the Alcohol Supply and Sale Act states that a person should not be appointed to a commissioner position if, by reason of his involvement in the alcohol industry, he does not may not perform their duties “without actual or appearance of bias”. Eichler says it was on this basis that the regional public health department complained about Fraser.
“We were concerned that she would act as legal counsel to alcohol industry clients in other parts of the country while also being the District Licensing Commissioner here,” he says.
“I think it would be reasonable for someone to think there is some kind of conflict of interest to act on both sides of the aisle.”
‘We were not shown these letters’
Auckland councilor Josephine Bartley was responsible for selecting licensing commissioners for a new three-year term from 2020.
She says council agents never showed her the letters during the selection process, but Fraser was one of the few lawyers to apply for a position, which made her a particularly strong candidate.
“We weren’t shown these letters, and maybe that would have changed my mind,” she said.
“There is a whole selection process that is quite robust and thorough, and I was pleased with Katia’s explanation that she had no interest that would prevent her from being part of the DLC. For the role of Chief Commissioner, this required specific legal expertise and experience. and that’s what we had to consider. “
Fraser declined to comment when contacted for this story, instead referring inquiries to Auckland Council.
In a statement, Auckland Council for Democracy and Engagement chief executive Kenneth Aiolupotea said the board ensures its selection process is fair and sound for all candidates, and that all candidates are treated in the same way.
<< If a complaint or concern had been raised about a candidate but had been fully investigated and concluded to the satisfaction of the board, no information regarding that complaint or concern was provided to the selection board. However, all applicants were thoroughly questioned about conflicts of interest, both real and perceived at the start of each interview. "
System-wide problem calls for reform
Councilor Bartley argued that the Alcohol Sale and Supply Act, passed by the national government in 2012, was the real problem.
“The legislation is not strong enough to allow the DLC to prioritize harm reduction for the community. At the moment, the current legislation does not give them much to do, and until you have a local alcohol plan [currently being appealed by two supermarket businesses], you can’t get much traction. “
Eichler agreed. The regional public health department’s concerns went beyond committee members, “to how the whole system works,” he said.
“There has been an incredible amount of work from a lot of good people in Auckland Council, in the communities, in the police and ourselves to develop the local alcohol plan and the Auckland Council. should have the autonomy to implement it, but the law does not protect it. the alcohol industry ties it to endless appeals, and that’s where it still stands ”.
He said the judicial nature of the commission hearings also disadvantaged local residents who wanted to raise concerns.
“It’s a huge sum for the alcohol industry, so spending a lot of money to hire high profile lawyers to cross-examine community objectors in the DLC is a pocket change for them. And it really prevents communities from feeling empowered to talk about these procedures. “
Change may be on the horizon. Justice Minister Kris Faafoi recently announced that a review of the law is being considered, although its timing and scope have yet to be determined.
For Worman and the other members of Communities Against Alcohol Harm, the review can’t come fast enough. She said it was infuriating that policymakers seemed indifferent to what alcohol was doing in already underprivileged places like Māngere.
“We see for ourselves what all the reports and research are telling us – more access to alcohol means more harm. The community just wants a real stake in this process. So why are we being ignored?”
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest information service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Editors and NZ On Air.