The Government of New Zealand has announced plans to amend the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 in two phases.
The first phase will be the removal of the appeals process of local alcohol policies. This was the first action outlined in the private members’ Bill by Member of Parliament (MP) Chlöe Swarbrick which was drawn from the ballot on June 30, 2022. This appeals process has been abused by alcohol companies to block or delay evidence-based public health action to limit local alcohol availability.
The second phase will address issues related to alcohol sponsorship and marketing, but the government has not stated exactly what measures will be put in place in this regard.
MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s Private Members Bill “The Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill”
When MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s bill was drawn from the ballot and set to get its first reading in parliament, Justice Minister Kiri Allan stated she would not support the bill since the government had plans for its own alcohol legislation.
- Removing the appeals process from Local Alcohol Policies;
- It has been used extensively by supermarket and bottle store retailers backed by the Big Alcohol lobby to block or delay evidence-based public health action to place common-sense limits on local alcohol availability.
- End alcohol sponsorship of broadcast sports, and
- Strengthen the criteria for District Licensing Committees to consider when deciding on applications for a license to sell alcohol.
Communities in New Zealand rallied to support MP Chloe Swarbrick’s bill calling on MPs to vote for the Bill in parliament and see it through the Select Committee process. Over 8000 people from New Zealand signed the petition by Alcohol Healthwatch and Hāpai te Hauora. Local councils representing over half the population in New Zealand also endorsed the bill.
Meanwhile, seven local councils called for a review of the current Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act. These included Auckland, Christchurch, Whanganui, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Hauraki, and Waipā councils.
Increasing community participation in Local Alcohol Policies as intended by the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act (2012)
While the government’s alcohol law reform is separate from MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s bill, the first phase of the announced government law reform process is similar to that of the bill proposed by MP Swarbrick.
In the first phase, the government plans to remove the special appeals process from Local Alcohol Policies and make the setting of alcohol licensing hearings more informal to increase community participation. This does not remove the judiciary review for alcohol policies which is in place for all local council policies. It only removes the special appeals process which has been in place only for local alcohol policies.
They [the alcohol lobby] have had a huge amount of space to date. For example the way that local alcohol plans have been: the process in my view has been manipulated, it’s been co-opted by well-resourced parties they have taken up a lot of say,” said Justice Minister Kiri Allan, as per Stuff.
When you have lawyers flying in from internationally to come in and cross-examine a principal of a school in south Auckland something’s gone wrong.”Kiri Allan, Justice Minister, New Zealand
Increasing community participation and democracy in the process of alcohol policy-making was the promise of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act which was passed in 2012.
However, the special appeals process to these laws made it increasingly harder for local councils and communities to have a say over the highly resourced lobby efforts of alcohol companies. This resulted in some councils either abandoning their alcohol laws or the laws being perpetually delayed due to expensive legal challenges.
While Big Alcohol has the money to fund these legal battles, it is a significant burden for local councils. For example:
- Christchurch’s provisional rules were abandoned after costs increased more than $1 million for the council, over half a decade.
- Auckland’s alcohol policy is still being appealed after a seven-year battle costing the council more than $1 million, too.
- The Far-North’s plan was abandoned after costing the council around $200,000.
The Government also wants to level the playing field in district licensing decisions. Minister Allan explained why, according to NZ Herald reporting: local hearings were overly formal and alcohol industry lawyers were intimidating and harassing residents and local advocates.
Local authorities could be empowered to use local powers to place common sense limits on alcohol availability
Auckland Council is among several local authorities that have been trying to use powers to limit the availability of alcohol in the city. But they have faced aggressive opposition by alcohol companies and supermarkets, undermining and derailing local efforts to protect communities from alcohol harm.
The Government’s plan to remove one of the alcohol industry’s avenues for appealing against councils’ local alcohol policies (LAPs) would mean more local power over a serious public health and safety issue, more local and democratic control over where and when alcohol can be sold locally, and better protections for the most deprived communities from alcohol harm
The LAPs were originally meant to allow communities to set their own rules for when alcohol could be sold and where new bottle stores could open. But Minister Allan said councils were “being blocked at every step by the booze industry” through the special appeals process, according to NZ Herald reporting.
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, as per NZ Herald reporting.
This particular move … will empower people to stand up to the alcohol industry.”Nick Bakulich, Mangere-Otahuhu local board member
Mr. Bakulich also addressed the unethical practices of the alcohol industry and the stark power imbalance in local licensing hearings. He cited one case where students from a local kura had been cross-examined by a senior lawyer of the alcohol industry. They were “terrified”, Mr. Bakulich said, as per NZ Herald reporting.
The proposed alcohol law improvement means 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.
MP Chlöe Swarbrick has welcomed the renewed commitment of the government to alcohol law improvements and reiterated the need for measures to protect New Zealanders from alcohol marketing.
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,” said MP Chlöe Swarbrick, from the Green Party.
The responsibility doesn’t stop there, because the harm doesn’t stop there. The Government has proven they’ll change the law when the pressure is on. They must also adopt our measures to minimise excessive corporate marketing influence saturating our kids’ lives, particularly through sports.”Chlöe Swarbrick, Member of Parliament (Greens), New Zealand
The new law would be introduced in December and is expected to pass by the middle of next year. Minister Allan also said the Government was considering broader reforms related to alcohol advertising and promotions, which would be outlined in March 2023.
Key drivers of alcohol harm in New Zealand still not addressed
Dr. Nicki Jackson, executive director of Alcohol Healthwatch, said removing the appeals process was a good start, but she was concerned about the timing of the announcement with an election close by. Dr. Jackson acknowledged that the law change was a valuable step in accelerating action on alcohol harm, but it would not prevent further judicial reviews of councils’ alcohol policies.
Dr. Jackson further criticized that the key drivers of alcohol harm in New Zealand are still not addressed in the new government-announced alcohol law improvements. These are availability, price, and marketing.
Alcohol availability and the linked alcohol burden are disproportionately high among the most deprived communities.
We know in New Zealand that there are more places that sell alcohol in deprived communities. We also know that deprived communities experience more harm per drink,” said Dr. Nicki Jackson, as per Newstalk ZB.Dr. Nicki Jackson, executive director, Alcohol Healthwatch
In terms of marketing, if we go at it piecemeal… we just risk the industry moving to other kinds of platforms,” said Dr. Jackson, as per Stuff.Dr. Nicki Jackson, executive director, Alcohol Healthwatch
The first phase of the reforms has taken the appeals process out of local alcohol policies, making it easier for communities to implement some evidence-based policies, and oppose new liquor licenses. But the government has so far not said anything about giving communities the power to remove existing licenses. Dr. Jackson says this is what communities have been calling for.
The chief executive of the Public health agency Hāpai Te Hauora, Selah Hart agrees that the proposed reforms to alcohol laws and the Justice Minister’s commitment to adjusting the law are commendable but are not enough. Hart says that the availability of alcohol needs to be reduced by stripping back the number of liquor stores in communities that are overrun with them.
Dr. Jackson adds in her interview with iheart radio that liquor stores or bottle shops are not the only problem. Supermarkets are a key driver of the high availability of cheap alcohol in New Zealand. They are also one of the major opposition groups to local alcohol policies. But, local policies generally do not address supermarket sales of alcohol.
Currently, alcohol advertising is self-regulated by the alcohol industry. This self-regulation scheme is failing to protect people and communities, including children, from being exposed to alcohol harm.
According to research presented in The Conversation in 2020, children were exposed to an average of 46 ads for unhealthy products every day, including 12 alcohol ads.
According to an analysis published in the New Zealand Medical Journal by Dr. Nicki Jackson and colleagues, Big Alcohol violates its own codes in multiple and systematic ways:
- Promotion of health and lifestyle benefits of alcohol,
- Promotion of alcohol as a coping mechanism,
- Sexualisation of women,
- Location of billboards very close to school grounds,
- Promotion of alcohol consumption games, and
- Using “heroes of the young” to promote alcohol.
Next steps for alcohol law reform in New Zealand
Justice Minister Kiri Allan has said that the reason she does not support any of the private member’s bills regarding alcohol is that alcohol is a matter that requires a whole of government approach.
The Justice Minister further stated that the reforms are in two phases because the communities have asked for reforms to local alcohol policies to be prioritized. The procedural matters are to begin this year. She also stated that the changes to alcohol marketing and sponsorship would take a longer time.
In terms of alcohol marketing and sponsorship, the changes are to come in by March 2023. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden believes the effort to improve the country’s alcohol law will face resistance from the alcohol industry. Both the Prime Minister and Justice Minister have talked about “complexity” in addressing alcohol industry sports sponsorship, citing the need to look at the consequences of removing sports sponsorship to community sports .
As Movendi International has previously reported, there is wide public support for improving alcohol marketing regulations in New Zealand. Various public figures, including rugby league legend Graham Lowe, have spoken out in favor of banning alcohol industry sports sponsorships.
[This article was updated on November 7, 2022 as per new information from Te Ao]