Alcohol Healthwatch is an Auckland based Charitable Trust that works in the field of alcohol health promotion. The aim of the organisation is to reduce alcohol-related harm and to ensure healthy and safe drinking environments. Alcohol Healthwatch is funded by the Ministry of Health (Health Funding Authority) to provide expertise on alcohol- related issues. Alcohol Healthwatch has been actively involved in policy development and debate around alcohol-related policy areas including the Sale of Liquor Act and the Land Transport Act.
2.0 Review Of Local Government Act
Alcohol Healthwatch supports the intention of the Review of the Local Government Act, as outlined in the Review Document, to provide more flexibility within the Local Government legislative framework. This will better enable Local Government to respond to the diverse range of community needs and broadens the scope of activities that can be undertaken. The new Local Government Act needs to be a modern and enabling piece of legislation.
Alcohol Healthwatch supports the establishment of a more integrated and coherent approach to local government that clearly establishes the place of local government within our democratic system, with appropriate roles, responsibilities, powers and accountabilities. Local authorities also need to be responsive to the communities needs, build partnerships and put in place robust democratic processes.
By definition Local Government is local in focus and in its purpose. Alcohol Healthwatch believes this focus needs to include issues of health and community well being. Alcohol and alcohol-related health problems are key community health determinants and impact on the well-being of the local population. Local Government does have a significant role in this area, for example councils are actively involved in the sale and supply of alcohol through the liquor licensing process. Councils also need to be encouraged to develop alcohol polices.
While we believe a “prescriptive” approach can be appropriate in some circumstances, it is also important to give discretionary powers for determining a range of activities. There is a need for the legislation to provide Local Government and local communities with the flexible tools needed to respond to changing circumstances. The success of the proposed changes to the Local Government Act will not only depend on a council’s ability to reflect community aspirations, but also its ability to introduce a robust process in which the community is not only consulted but included in the decision making process. There is also a need to introduce a system of checks and balances.
Board powers of Local Government to undertake a broader range of local activities.
Introduce robust and democratic system of checks and balances and establish specific position of Local Government Ombudsmen.
3.0 The Purpose of Local Government
‘Roads, rats and rubbish’ – The view that Local Government should focus on certain restricted activities is a truism, however, underlying such issues as ‘rats’ and ‘rubbish’ is the notion that local government has the crucial role to promote the health and well being of the community.
It is important therefore that in seeking to define the purpose of local government for the new act, that the issue of health is a key and determining role. Increasingly, local government is required to work ‘intersectorially’ with other organisations such as the District Health Boards to promote health and well-being within local communities.
Therefore, health needs to be included in the ‘purpose’ of the Local Government Act, or in any definition of the role of local government. It is important that the role of health in local government is inclusive throughout the whole act and not just included in the purpose. For example, health and safety are included in Section 5, the purpose of the Resource Management Act, however, these phrases have little impact on how the RMA is interpreted as a whole.
4.0 Alcohol and Local Government
Increasingly, more emphasis is being placed on local communities to find solutions for alcohol-related problems. It is important that the Local Government Act is designed as ‘enabling’ legislation that gives councils discretionary powers to carry out a range of health and community development interventions successfully. It is also important that Local Authorities are encouraged to have alcohol policies as part of their council plans.
The National Alcohol Strategy released by the Ministry of Health in 2001, states as an objective the need to,
“encourage local bodies to better address alcohol issues by effective use of legislation, by-laws, policies and plans”.
Local Government needs to accept community responsibility and help develop community responses in their area for alcohol-related harm. These responses need to include:
Discretion in being able to gazette areas alcohol free
Developing council alcohol policies
Liquor licensing controls incorporated within Councils District Plans
Alcohol management plans for parks and reserves
The strengthening of the Liquor Licensing Agency role within Councils
5.0 Discretion and Alcohol Free Areas
The social problems confronting New Zealand are not capable of being solved by central government alone. They require local government along with community groups, non-government organisations and business to be able to work together to find solutions.
Increasingly local communities have called for liquor bans because they have experienced problems due to the over-consumption of alcohol in public places, increased violence, loss of safety, and a raft of social problems that has resulted. However, communities have been frustrated by the current legislation that only allows 12 hour bans for non-consecutive periods or 24 hour bans on certain select days, i.e. Christmas Day, New Year, Guy Fawkes.
Alcohol Healthwatch supports local councils having the discretion to have “alcohol free areas” or “liquor bans” but only after community consultation. Such “alcohol free areas” and “liquor bans” would need to meet certain tests and criteria set out by the councils. There would also need to be a review process put in place.
Many councils have endeavoured to introduce long term liquor bans through by-laws in their communities, however, these have been 'ultra vires' under the existing act, while others have tried to use the Reserves Act to establish such bans.
6.0 Regulating the Drinking of Alcohol in Public Places
Alcohol Healthwatch recommends that local councils be given the discretionary power to introduce ‘alcohol free areas’ or long term alcohol bans. It is important that legislation governing liquor bans is ‘modernised’ and is written as enabling legislation and thus put into the context and style of the new Act
Alcohol Healthwatch does not support simply altering the existing sections of the act that deals with liquor bans (ss 709 A-H) as it is already overall complex and prescriptive.
Key to the success of the proposed changes to the act is that councils are able to respond to community, and that councils introduce a robust process of consultation, and an ability to remove any liquor bans when they are considered no longer appropriate.
Rewrite the Local Government Act to provide enabling legislation for the provision of ‘Alcohol Free Areas’ or liquor bans.
7.0 Alcohol Bans Have Been Successful
It is acknowledged that individual communities have different public safety needs. Often this relates to the type of events or the range of activities that happen within the area. For example, at Piha Beach in Auckland, the community recognised the need for a long term alcohol ban over the summer period at the beach and at the beach car park.
This resulted in summer long alcohol bans being put in place at Piha Beach between 1996-97. Much of the success of these bans was due to the fact that they were widely publicised even through they were illegal and beyond the powers of the local Waitakere Council to enforce. The ‘illegal’ alcohol bans, however, proved successful in reducing disorder, injuries and lessening crime. General public safety was enhanced. News & Views, Alcohol Newsletter, March, 1996.
Similarly, the Gore District Council introduced a ban in the Gore Town Centre to combat public drinking, to reduce crime and violence and promote safety. The by-law was judged a considerable success by the community according to former Mayor Ian Tullock, however, the by-law was overturned by the Invercargill District Court.
Case Study 1: Otara Town Centre (Manukau City)
The Manukau City suburb of Otara is home to a large community of Pacific people, many Maori and a number of Asians and Paheka. During the 1960’s large tracts of state houses were built in the suburb and the surrounding areas. The Otara Town Centre is often referred to as the capital of Manukau City and it has a distinctly Polynesian and South Pacific flavour to it.
For many years the Otara Town Centre has suffered from a negative image. Much of this has had to do with the lower scio-economic status of the area. For a number of years the local community has been trying to overcome this image problem. For its part, the Manukau City Council has consistently endeavoured to build up the facilities and improve the environment of the area. This has included supporting the Otara Mainstreet programme and Enterprise Otara. Over the years the highly successful Otara market has also developed Held every Saturday morning, the market is now a major Auckland tourist attraction.
However, in the recent past there has been the persistent problem of public drinking in the town centre. This has occurred both during the day and at night. During the day the problem has often revolved around older people sitting outside the TAB and drinking. At night the problem has been people purchasing alcohol from the local off-licenses and siting outside nightclubs and bars to consume it.
The effect of this behaviour has been to seriously reduce the amenity level and safety of the Otara Town Centre. This impacts upon the whole Otara community. The police lack the legal powers to proactively deal with the problem, as it is not illegal to drink in a public place, while the Manukau City Council has lacked the powers to establish a bylaw restricting these activities. In order to reduce the effects of drunken people urinating against the Otara Mainstreet office doors, which resulted in urine seeping under the door, the Manukau City Council built a drain so as to channel the urine to a drain half way between the Mainstreet Offices and the Library.
Frustrated by the lack of a solution to their problem, members of the local Otara community recently met with the Hon Phil Goff, Minister of Justice, to explain why there needed to be a change to the Local Government Act to give councils greater discretion to set up alcohol free areas. Those attending included Enterprise Otara, Otara Mainstreet, the Maori Wardens, the Otara Ambassadors, the Community Board and the Local Councilor, Manukau City Council Officers, Alcohol Healthwatch and others.
The Otara Community believes that if the Manukau Council had the legal discretion to create an alcohol free area under the Local Government Act in the Town Centre the problem would be solved. The Manukau City Council supports this view as does Alcohol Healthwatch.
Case Study 2: ‘Auckland City’
Auckland’s Downtown area has become a ‘hub’ of New Zealand’s expanding tourist industry, however, at the same time there is concern in about increased levels of violence and the loss of personal safety in the city’s downtown area.
Significant social and economic changes have impacted on Auckland’s Downtown area. These include the city promoting itself as an international events and tourist centre based around the America’s Cup and the Americas Cup village, an expectation of 24 hours entertainment and 24 access to alcohol, increased numbers of bars in the Downtown area, a lowering of the drinking age from 20 to 18 years, with the associated increase in drinking by minors.
These changes have resulted in more people coming to the city for entertainment. Correspondingly, Police statistics indicate increased levels of violence in the city while surveys undertaken suggest significant levels of concern about personal safety. It is has also been highlighted that Aotea Square and Queen Elizabeth Square are of particular concern.. Equally there is concern at the number of people drinking in streets and other public spaces.
One solution put forward for solving these problems, has been to introduce ‘alcohol free’ areas such as Aotea Square, and to restrict public drinking in the street. To achieve this end a change in the Local Government Act is required that would allow for the introduction of longer term liquor bans. This view is supported by Auckland’s Mayor Christine Fletcher and the Minister Assisting on Auckland Issues, Judith Tizard. This is highlighted in an article in the Central Leader 22, Aug 2001.
“Auckland issues Minister Judith Tizard and Auckland Mayor Christine Fletcher took a late night walk of the inner city to gauge problems. The women walked the streets on Friday night escorted by senior police officers, for a first-hand look at policing issues in the central business district. Ms Tizard, the Auckland Central MP, was surprised to see so many teenagers roaming inner-city streets in the early hours of the morning with the police telling her that many drinking in public were under 18.
Mrs Fletcher says she was dismayed by the number of people drinking and the amount of broken glass. She says law reform of the Local Government Act is needed to give councils powers to make public drinking illegal.”
The comments of Christine Fletcher and Judith Tizard reflect the concerns expressed by the public in surveys of the Downtown Area. This includes a survey conducted by Alcohol Healthwatch in November 2000, A report on the Survey of Safety in Downtown Auckland, and by the Auckland City Council, Planning Department in 1999.
The Alcohol Healthwatch survey conduct in Downtown on consecutive Friday nights found:
39% of people felt unsafe at night
33% of people felt safe or very safe at night
58% of respondents supported the introduction of a bylaw prohibiting alcohol consumption on the streets.
The Auckland City Council Survey, Behaviour and Attitudes and Perceptions of Residents Workers and Visitors in the Central City Report Prepared by City Planning, March 2000, found
64% of females perceived the city as unsafe after dark compared with 315 of males.
All respondents thought that aggressive people, drunks, drug addicts and the homeless make the city an unsafe place during the night.
Changes to the Local Government Act to allow for the creation of ‘alcohol free’ areas is a remedy for improving safety issues in the city, and of supporting the entertainment and tourist industries. Such a change in the law is supported at both a political and community level in Auckland City.
Auckland City Council Survey, Behaviour and Attitudes and Perceptions of Residents Workers and Visitors in the Central City Report Prepared by City Planning, March 2000.
Alcohol Healthwatch, A report on the Survey of Safety in Downtown Auckland, November 2000.
Central Leader 22 Aug 2001.
Ministry of Health, National Alcohol Strategy 2000 -2001, Wellington.
News & Views, Alcohol Newsletter, March, 1996.