Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.
JOHN CARTER - MAYOR OF THE FAR NORTH DISTRICT OF NEW ZEALAND
Moving forward together
Thursday 28 August 2014
Democracy in action
A wide cross-section of the community has brought its views to the Council table on a potentially contentious range of proposed new policies which will impact on the social fabric of the communities in which we live. I'm referring of course to the policy reviews we are currently undertaking on the subjects of gaming machines, alcohol and the sale of what are commonly referred to as "legal highs".
In the review of the rules for premises involved in the sale of alcohol,
the submissions show clear points of difference between those concerned
to ensure regulation does not unfairly impact on business and in particular
the tourist economy and those determined to have issues surrounding the
social effects of alcohol properly addressed. While there were areas of
general agreement, there were also areas of divergent thinking particularly
on the subject of closing hours, the number of liquor licenses in the
Far North which currently stands at 295, and the one-way door management
approach. There were also some submissions suggesting that there should
be different rules for tourist locations such as Paihia and Russell.
I'm not going to comment on the likely outcome from the public submission process until the Council has had the chance to deliberate on the issues raised - which will be towards the end of September. However, I would like to make the point that the Council was very aware of the likely areas of conflict before the draft policies were prepared and deliberately attempted to find a way down the middle - a way to satisfy community concerns about the adverse impacts of alcohol without unfairly restricting the rights of those in the industry to make a living.
In terms of the submissions on legal highs and the licensing of "pokie" machines, the draft policies enjoyed a far higher level of overall support. The majority have supported the concept of a "sinking lid" policy for gaming machines - that is, when premises close down the licenses lapse. And there has also been almost unanimous support for the restrictive measures proposed to make sure when the ban on the sale of untested legal highs is lifted, the Far North will have a strict code in place to control where the sales of tested and approved products can and cannot occur.
These are all very important social issues which were only introduced after close consultation with the NZ Police and health authorities. I am pleased that the wider community and those directly involved in the liquor and gambling industries have now taken the opportunity to have their say. However this is not necessarily the end of the road. After the Council has deliberated on the submissions, the policies may be amended to reflect the submissions. In the case of the gambling and legal high rules, these can be adopted by simple resolution of the Council. But in the case of the Local Alcohol Policy, the policy only becomes provisional and there is a statutory period where those who have made submissions have the right of appeal to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licencing Authority (ARLA). That may annoy those looking for closure on these issues, but that's democracy.