Taumatamakuku chairman Roddy Pihema said community leaders shouldn’t be alone in the fight against alcohol harm. Photo / Michael Cunningham
The tide may be turning for Northland communities who have been fighting a war against the liquor industry spreading across the region.
Minister of Justice Kiri Allan announced changes to alcohol legislation in November to
prevent appeals against Local Alcohol Policies, giving communities more control over granting of licences.
Current alcohol licensing laws do not give New Zealanders a voice on alcohol in their neighbourhoods, according to the report “I feel it’s unsafe to walk” – an issue Northland communities know all too well.
Liquor licences are rarely refused under the current law, but that hasn’t stopped Northland communities from fighting applications tooth and nail.
A proposed liquor outlet in Maunu, Whangārei was refused a licence recently after more than 40 objections were submitted by local residents.
In October the Far North’s District Licensing Committee rejected an application to open a new liquor store on a site shared with a BP service station in Waipapa.
The company’s plans triggered a flood of objections from locals, hapū, police and health experts, who noted the proliferation of alcohol outlets in the Far North was damaging families.
Whangārei/Kaipara Alcohol Harm Prevention Sergeant Tai Patrick said the current system relies on community members actively checking on council websites for liquor applications.
“It really comes down to people in the community willing to give up their time.”
Patrick said “preloading” is a big issue, where to save money, people drink heavily at home before going into town for entertainment.
“Just recently I went to a supermarket that was selling 330ml bottles of beer for $1.50,” said Patrick, who was able to persuade the licensee – who was in a high-deprivation area – to remove it from the shelves.
“I only need to look at the family violence data I may get and how it’s impacted [poor] areas.”
Alcohol is involved in about one out of every three crimes committed in New Zealand and people living in lower-decile neighbourhoods live closer to pubs and liquor stores than those who live in more wealthy areas, research found in 2009.
Obtaining alcohol became as easy as buying groceries in 1989. when people were able to buy wine in supermarkets. Beer followed 10 years later.
Yet alcohol remains the substance causing the greatest risk to people’s health in Northland, according to Northland Te Whatu Ora Mental health and addictions services general manager Ian McKenzie. The situation is the same nationwide.
The Northern Advocate went to two Northland townships, Kawakawa and Waipū, to see how alcohol was impacting the communities day to day.
The main road of Kawakawa’s business area begins with a pub and ends with a pub.
In the small Far North township, there are at least seven businesses that provide liquor within a five-minute walk: two bottle stores, two pubs, a supermarket, a bowling club and an RSA.
Drinking is an additional burden to low-socioeconomic areas like Kawakawa, where the population sits at the highest deprivation ranking on the index – 10.
Taumatamakuku chairman Roddy Pihema, said while liquor suppliers might be following the law when it comes to licensing, it raises the question: “Why do we need so many distributors of alcohol in such a small space?
“I’ve been having a few discussions about how so many of these outlets happen to be in just about one area, and it’s kind of mind-boggling really,” Pihema said.
Pihema pointed out that most of the money made from businesses selling alcohol does not return to the community, but the harm does.
“To see so many outlets for something that we know causes a whole lot of issues within communities … all over the North, it’s quite frightening.”
Pihema said rangatahi grow up understanding alcohol as a substance for celebration and self-confidence, something that will make them happier.
“I think that’s something that’s been missing from the conversation for a long time, there’s not enough reaffirmation of self-esteem and self-worth.”
The Kawakawa community told the Advocate the flow-on effects of alcohol in communities are wide-ranging, from theft and the hazard of broken glass to violence, illness and death.
Kawakawa local Bruce Hunt owned a grocery store for 32 years but never wanted alcohol on the shelves because he knew the harm it did to his community.
“I have always been against Sunday trading, and putting alcohol in shops even though I was a shopkeeper, I was a grocer, we didn’t want alcohol.
“Not so long ago we just buried one of my nephews through an alcohol-related incident.”
Hunt said the Government needs to look at putting alcohol back in the pubs, and not the stores where people can bring it home.
Trish Hope said she wouldn’t feel safe walking at night in neighbouring townships due to issues with alcohol.
“Paihia is the same … people are up at the bar drinking and stuff at 10.30 or 11 o clocks.”
Kawakawa local John Davis said alcohol advertising is particularly blatant around the festive season and liquor licences slip through without the community being aware.
“We see it [alcohol harm] all the time … a lot of people go into hospital for alcoholism and have nowhere to go.
“The council do put out [liqour licence submissions], whether or not people want to engage with that is a problem.”
Czahn Armstrong said most of the alcohol suppliers in Kawakawa had been there for several years and alcohol was easy to get wherever you lived.
“I think every town and city has a problem with alcohol whether we like it or not, and having less stores won’t change anything. It just means that people will drive to Paihia or Kerikeri to get it.”
At just over an hour’s drive away from Kawakawa sits Waipū, where the locals don’t seem too concerned about alcohol harm in their community.
Waipū’s population is larger than Kawakawa’s and is socioeconomically higher, sitting at a 5 on the index of deprivation.
There are at least four businesses that provide liquor within a five-minute walk: a bottle store, a supermarket, a brewery-restaurant and a hotel bar.
Read Stratford has been living in Waipū for six months and thought the neighbourhood felt safe from the obvious impacts of alcohol harm.
“I haven’t seen any harm to be perfectly honest … but I’ve moved up from Auckland and you see a lot of harm down there.
“Especially around lower socio-economical areas, you see [drunk people] hanging out around town and you see the harm and the homelessness,” Stratford said.
Local business owner Ellen Snelling said most suppliers open late and close early in Waipū.
“It’s probably quite sheltered from [alcohol harm], it’s not on the street … I haven’t seen any major negative behaviour.
“We’ve got a pretty amazing community here, where a lot of people kind of band together and look at what’s best for the community.”
Former bar owner and DJ Debra Vanin said the main street of Waipū was mostly free from the obvious impacts of liquor, but there was still liquor-related harm in the community due to its affordability and accessibility.
“We didn’t even know there was a liquor store here, which is lovely and it’s just small and quaint.
“We had an incident recently … there were these young ones drinking and they got into this terrible fight.”
Clementine Vanin said young people mostly drink at home or at a friend’s house, but occasionally youth drinking made its way to public parks and areas.
“I am aware of it and I do see a bunch of people my age drinking a lot every weekend … every chance they get.”