West Auckland Licensing

For inner-city dwellers, the thought of not being able to grab a drink from the local supermarket would be ridiculous. This is a reality for all who live in West Auckland. You can only buy liquor from a liquor store that is sanctioned by a Trust. I prefer to refer to them as the overlords of progress. Since the 1970’s the Waitakere Licensing Trust has held West Auckland ransom. Restricting the sale and supply of liquor throughout the region as well as placing an additional tax on it for the hassle. Not only can’t you buy a bottle of wine at your local supermarket, but you’re also going to pay more too.


I caught up with Nick Smale who’s part of a group fighting to get rid of the Waitakere Licensing Trust’s grip on alcohol in Waitakere.


Nick: I live in Te Atatu, I’m a stay at home dad mostly with a bit of contract work in data analysis. I used to be a scientist. I’m frustrated by the local licensing trusts and giving it a crack at getting rid of this monopoly


Keegan: So you live in Tat North?


N: Tat North


K: So you live near one of the biggest blights the Waitakere Licensing Trust own.


N: The Tavern’s not real flash. I don’t mind it. It’s a bit of a time capsule. I’ve been a few times and had a good time drinking a Lion Red and playing some pool.


Just before Christmas they’ve opened up a new place. Mr Illingsworth. Up until that time the The tavern was the only option. There’s a place for a place like a tavern but there’s also a place for other options.


K: I used to live in West Auckland myself and was always frustrated by the fact that the place (West Auckland), that could be the best hospitality district in Auckland in terms of access to produce, wine and spaces is constantly thwarted by a draconian organisation who hold this monopoly over who and what liquor or restaurants are able to function in the whole of West Auckland. Why do they hold the power?


N: It’s a historical thing. Before the Trusts, it was a dry area and you couldn’t get a liquor license at all. In the early 70’s they decided to go back, “wet” and they chose licensing trusts for whatever reasons.


It’s quite a big effort to get this petition done. It’s a lot of signatures, 28000. It’s hard to change things. From my perspective, it doesn’t make any sense to have them there. The two big reasons for having them there are:


1) It reduces the harm from alcohol because it has a responsible operator and less of a profit motive.


I don’t think that stands up to scrutiny. You read the law commissioners report in regards to the Local Alcohol Policy Plan under the Sale and Supply of Liquor act of 2012, they basically said private operators or licensing trust, it makes no difference in reducing the harm from alcohol. The data’s not perfect but there’s no objective data that proves that.


2) Funding, outreach & grants to the community


A lot of support for the trusts is because of the giving back programmes where they give out tool kits, first aid kits, fire alarms and kids car seats. They support sports clubs and community organisations too and that’s all good. People see that and don’t question it and think if things change that will stop but that’s not how it works. If you get rid of the monopoly the trusts are still there. They have a pretty big asset base. We estimate it at about 100 million which they can use to grants regardless. I think if we get rid of the monopoly the community will get more funding not less.


K: I also feel that they’re just stealing money from the community that they’re stealing from them by way of the Pokies


N: The pokies thing is a big issue. Up until recently, the Trust has been doing the $1million dollar mission. All of their giving back was via the pokies. That comes through the Trusts Community Foundation. It’s a separate entity, it’s not connected to the Trust in any way but most people in the public see money given out by the Trusts Community Foundation just assume it’s the Waitakere Licensing Trust. The Waitakere Licensing Trust themselves have not helped to dispel the misconception.


K: So where are we at with the petition?


N: We’re just a little over half way. We need 28,000 signatures. It’s a big job. We don’t have any money. We’ve got a give a little going. Probably in hindsight, it cost a lot of money to get your message to people. We’ve just started putting a little bit of money into social media which has been quite effective. That’s only a couple hundred dollars. If you had a few thousands I sense you’d knock over the target pretty easily.


K: Have you spoken with Hospitality Association of New Zealand. Surely they have a view on the trusts?


N: We haven’t spoken to HANZ. I’ve spoken to distributors who distribute into West Auckland, staff etc. Generally, people in the industry are very supportive of what we’re doing but what we do find, particularly for pre-existing license holders in West Auckland, they’re reluctant to say or do anything publically either cause they have a business relationship with the Trust or fear their licenses to operate.


K: Do you think a lot of these people need to grow a pair?


N: Some of them, yes. One organisation, in particular, Countdown have made it hard for us. Foodstuffs and New World will let us stand in front of their stores and collect signatures. If we get there and get rid of the Trusts there will be a good amount of money in it for them.


I don’t think I’ll ever understand exactly why they’ve taken the position that they have.