New Zealand: Time to get tough on supermarkets and liquor
July 21, 2015
Supermarkets are at the centre of the alcohol problem. They provide super-cheap liquor at places where everyone can buy it. They also use their well-honed marketing skills to get the greatest sales. The liquor has traditionally been crowded into the entrance and the exit, the best-selling parts of the store.
The Law Commission’s major report on the liquor laws in 2010 found that low prices and easy availability help stoke New Zealand’s binge-drinking culture, and recommended tough action on both. The Government gutted the report, but in 2012 did pass laws which imposed important restrictions on the supermarkets’ lucrative freedom to sell cheap alcohol. Perhaps the most significant of these is the requirement to move the alcohol from the most prominent parts of the store. Not surprisingly, supermarkets have resisted this just as they resisted other proposed law reforms. But now the authorities are starting to fight back.
New World Metro on Willis St has known since the law change in 2012 that it is illegal to display alcohol in prominent areas, but it has been slow to change. Finally last week it moved its liquor display from the checkout area to the back of the shop. Its excuses were feeble.
It told the Wellington District Licensing Committee that it needed till May next year to shift the alcohol because it meant shifting fridges in other parts of the store and ordering new ones from Italy. The committee called its bluff, giving franchise owner Richard Taggart just two weeks to shift the non-refrigerated liquor.
The police said Taggart should have acted sooner, and the committee clearly agrees. This is an excellent result and it suggests that the authorities won’t tolerate any more shilly-shallying.
There’s been a similar go-slow with Newtown New World, which was first ordered in 2010 to move an alcohol display from the shop entrance. At that time Liquor Licensing Authority chairman Judge Edward Unwin wondered whether the supermarket was a “bottle store which also sells groceries.”
But nothing has been done for years until finally this month the supermarket was ordered to remove the “gauntlet of alcohol” at its entrance within three months. Once again a supermarket has been ordered to do what it should have done years ago. Newtown campaigner Steve Stirrat greeted the victory as a recognition that owner Donald Chung had shown a “lack of community focus”.
The new laws give greater powers to communities to cut back the number of liquor outlets in their area. Liquor outlets are notoriously common in vulnerable areas like South Auckland. There is also plenty of evidence that liquor outlets encourage crime. A 2012 report by University of Canterbury researchers found that the more liquor stores an area has, the more likely it is to have higher rates of serious violent crime.
The power to sell liquor, then, is a privilege that should be given sparingly and with very tough conditions. And if the seller doesn’t play ball, the privilege should simply be withdrawn.