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Māori Health Experts ecstatic on Supreme Court decision on Alcohol Law - A welcome relief for communities burdened by alcohol harm

Sunday 7 May 2023, 4:40AM

By Hapai Te Hauora

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AUCKLAND

Auckland's Local Alcohol Policy (LAP) has been upheld by the Supreme Court in a landmark decision that Māori public health organisation, Hāpai Te Hauora is hailing as a victory for communities most afflicted by poor alcohol policy in Auckland and nationally.

Auckland Council's LAP has been in appeals for seven years and has already been heard in the High Court and Court of Appeal. This legal battle alone has incurred a cost of over $1 million to the Council. Meanwhile, communities continue to bear the brunt of alcohol-related harm without the necessary safeguards in place.

The LAP, which has been provisional since 2014, sets out a range of rules and restrictions around the sale and supply of alcohol in the city. These include limits on the number and location of alcohol outlets, as well as restrictions on trading hours and advertising.

The LAP has been the subject of several legal challenges in recent years, with some alcohol industry groups arguing that it is too restrictive and harms their business. However, in their decision today, the Supreme Court has ruled that the LAP is a reasonable and proportionate response to the need to reduce alcohol-related harm in the community.

Jason Alexander, Interim CEO for Hāpai te Hauora says "Hāpai wants to congratulate the Supreme Court on its landmark decision to uphold Local Alcohol Policies (LAPs) in Tāmaki Makaurau. This decision is a significant victory for health equity and Māori communities, who have been disproportionately affected by alcohol-related harm for far too long. Hāpai would also like to recognise the unwavering efforts of Māori community representatives and organisations who have been advocating for LAPs, and seeking acknowledgement of the horrific, detrimental impact that alcohol use has had on Māori health."

By May 2022, around two-thirds of the Councils in New Zealand have put into effect a LAP. However, the two leading supermarket chains have appealed against 86% of the draft policies, whereas bottle stores have appealed against 72% of them. Several of the largest cities in New Zealand, such as Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch, are still without any LAP.

In announcing the decision, the Court stated "There is no indication in the 2012 Act that departure from a licensing status quo requires particular justification. Requiring particular justification would risk undermining the special emphasis placed by the 2012 Act on community preference". In siding with communities, the court stated that "Local communities should be free to express a preference for terms that differ from the licensing status quo".

General manager for Māori Public Health - Tara Dymus says "The LAP strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of the alcohol industry and the need to protect public health and safety. Strong alcohol Policy is critical in reducing alcohol harm in vulnerable communities, and today's decision falls squarely on the side of our communities".

"For 7 years, a critical piece of the alcohol harm minimisation puzzle has been caught in the judiciary, with the alcohol industry unsuccessfully attempting to hinder protective policy in its infancy, causing even more harm to our vulnerable communities. We now look forward to working with Local Councils across Aotearoa to propel these LAP’s forward". says Dymus

The decision has been welcomed by public health advocates and communities alike, who have long argued that the LAP is a crucial tool for reducing the harm caused by alcohol in Auckland. They argue that the LAP has already had a positive impact, with fewer alcohol-related incidents and a reduction in the density of alcohol outlets in some areas.