Dr Liz Gordon: I got the liquor licensing blues

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There used to be a dairy on every corner and a post office in every town. Then came the free market and the big beneficiary appears to be off licences, where people can buy all the alcohol they like but not buy a single stamp.  Here in Hornby, Christchurch, our NZ Post Shop recently closed (an agency was started at Paper Plus, in the Mall) and we have about four upcoming applications for new off-licences.

One of these was heard about a fortnight ago.  I was an objector, along with 40 or so other people.  The three agencies tasked with examining applications, the Police, Medical Officer of Health and the licensing inspectors failed to oppose the application.

The area is significantly deprived and getting worse.  Incidents of alcohol-related harm occur frequently. There are five other outlets in the area.  All of these factors have been used in recent cases to argue either against a new store, or that the owners must demonstrate what the courts have called ‘enhanced suitability’.

Because the agencies were absent, it was up to the community objectors to make their case.  I can report we did a fantastic job.  The lawyer for the applicants seemed unprepared, the applicants hadn’t read the objections, the cross-examination was ill-informed, their defence against the key arguments (that the two owners, both taxi drivers, were significantly unsuited to running a liquor store in such a vulnerable area) was non-existent.

I went to law school with the applicant’s lawyer. I read up on him.  He was a hero that helped people in the PGC building collapse in Christchurch.  He attended the famous dinner where ex-MP (National) Aaron Gilmore, upset at being refused more alcohol, threatened the wait staff with “do you know who I am”. Gilmore now runs an asset management business – steer clear, my friends

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The lawyer, Andrew Riches, is now a partner in his firm.  I was not impressed. The rule in cross-examination is never to ask questions unless you know the answer.  He made a number of assumptions about me. He read in an earlier Daily Blog article that both my parents had been alcoholics.  Yes, that’s correct, I said.  He asked “So does that mean that you don’t drink alcohol?”.  Bad mistake, assuming I am some kind of wowser.  My eyes lit up and I said to him: “No, I love alcohol”! The whole room cracked up and his jaw fell to the floor.  He never recovered his line of argument.  The thing is, though, in my written evidence I had included a sentence saying I bought my gin from the liquor store down the road, and it only took 3 minutes to drive there. He either did not read it or ignored it.

So, any young lawyers out there – learn: read the evidence. Only ask questions when you know the answer. Don’t assume you are smarter than everyone else.  Sometimes you are not. This is rule number #1137 in Auntie Liz’s guide to modern etiquette (which I have yet to write) (but it is a good idea, isn’t it?).

The Hornby Residents Association brought down my good friend Dr Grant Hewison to represent them.  Grant has been defending communities in alcohol hearings for eight years now and is at the top of his game.  This was a big deal for us – the first time that a Christchurch community has had a lawyer appear on our behalf at a licensing committee hearing.  It was highly instructive.

It was not just knowledge of the law Grant brought with him, but also a deep procedural knowledge of how things work in hearings.  It is fair to say that, without that knowledge, community objectors have often been routed by applicant’s lawyers, and by arrogant agencies, for years. With his calm, friendly and informed viewpoint, Grant kept our hearing on track.

I would also like to pause here and consider the work of the Alcohol Consulting Group, a group of insiders who are now hiring themselves out to assist applicants to get problematic applications over the line.  This will not be the last you will hear of them.  Anyone with any info on these people, do let me know. They were a bit of a shadowy presence in the hearing.

We do not know whether the licence has been granted or not, yet.  We will probably hear within a couple of weeks.  I will keep interested readers informed.

I want to contrast our experience in Hornby with one over in Woolston, held just a week later. The premises in question was one previously owned by the notorious Nekita Enterprises, whose involvement in migrant exploitation, modern slavery and flouting of employment laws has been in the media for the past year, courtesy of the amazing investigative work of Steve Kilgallon of Stuff.

The premises has been sold to an Indian couple.  He is a Corrections Officer and she has worked in administration. The community used the same argument as in Hornby, that the high levels of harm in the area, and socio-economic vulnerabilities, meant that the applicant needed to demonstrate enhanced suitability, and failed to do so. 

Without a lawyer and without lots of other objectors, my friend was a juicy target.  He was cross-examined rabidly by the Licensing Inspector, an ex-cop who apparently honed her skills in the bowels of a police station with nasty criminals.  The manner and content of her questioning may become a matter for litigation in the future, so I don’t want to go into it here.  All I can say is she made my friend, who has significant health issues, ill.

We all felt sorry for the applicants, who have spent their savings and mortgaged their home.  The Nekita guy has been quick to try and divest himself of his empire at a good price before it loses all of its value due to reputational problems, and I think the new owners may have paid too much. But they have taken on far more than they are qualified for. There is also a significant potential conflict of interest in a person working at a prison also owning (and working 25 hours per week in) a liquor store.

The outcome of that one will be interesting, too.  One lesson we have learned is that without Grant, community objectors are very vulnerable.  Instead of public-spirited champions concerned about harm in our neighbourhoods, we are easily cast as pesky idiots or litigious monsters, with no knowledge and no rights.

Christchurch has a way to go to get the agencies to do their jobs properly and uphold the law (oh yes, I was bullied by a senior police person as well, which was fun).  Until then, we may have to keep bringing ‘our Grant’ south to help us out, because the list of ‘corner dairy’ type alcohol applications is just increasing all the time. He is a beacon of light in a dark area.

NOTE: Christchurch people have decided to set up a branch of Communities Against Alcohol Harm. Contact me if you are interested.

 

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Isn’t it odd that 2 cancer causing substances, alcohol and tobacco, get treated so differently.
    Both are addictive, harmful and create a burden on public health, with the former coming with the added “bonus” of unleashing antisocial and violent behaviour in some.
    Will we see a day when litigation for alcohol profiteers becomes as significant as it has for the tobacco industry?

  2. Never blame booze, fags or God because combining any two of those elements will inevitably lead you to the third.
    Someone wrote ” Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Someone else wrote ” No, opium is.” Ba. Ha.
    I like to drink wine to make me lazy, fat and stupid. I’ve found that being motivated, athletic and brilliant far too exhausting. That’s one of mine. You may quote me. From looking around many of you are already well qualified.
    You know, @ Dr LG, that ‘neoliberalism’ is a hustle. It’s a scam. And what better way to hide ones scams and hustles than by stupefying the masses then keeping them that way.
    All civil uprisings/revolutions etc rose up from the masses who were lead by educated intellectuals which meant that the manipulative elite were more often than not to be found lynched and fly encrusted. Therefore, keep ’em stupefied and at each other’s throats while one can walk amongst them one hand in their pocket while you pat them on the back as you push them off a debt-cliff with the other.
    I’d suggest it was the ‘Them’ who replaced unionism with alcoholism.
    No one’s more imprisoned than those who are sure they’re free. God, I’m on a roll. Now where’s my booze and fags?
    Re booze?
    Smoke Pot instead. Find your choice of herb because Pot, like booze which differs from type to type , pot differs from plant to plant and location to location. Personally? I like the sound of a hot-dry climate sativa. The Sativa strain offers a light giggly, almost psychedelic high with a soft landing and Central Otago, for example, would be perfect for sativa cultivation while Southland and the central North Island would be brilliant for growing indica which is more commonly used in industrial applications because of its vigorous growth in temperate climates. Some regions, like the state of Kentucky back in the 40’s could get two crops a year. Indica has a dropped-bomb high and is perfect if you like crawling about under the house while whimpering and begging for mummy. Perfect for cooking and eating but be careful to label your cookies man. High kids, however accidentally’s never a good look no matter how funny they come across.
    Personally I’ve never smoked dope, nor will I ever. Nope siree. No pot for me. I’m saving myself for marriage and the police academy. Or the military. Perhaps all three!?
    All we have to do is get rid of these dodgy, ignorant wankers.
    RNZ.
    Govt dismisses calls for medicinal cannabis review to be widened
    A Ministry of Health document leaked to RNZ shows officials will not even consider extending an amnesty to allow all chronically sick people to use illicit cannabis.
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/442200/govt-dismisses-calls-for-medicinal-cannabis-review-to-be-widened
    One might wonder who then is our gubbimint and why do we tolerate this shit?

  3. Hi Dr Liz
    Our school has gone through the same process of objecting to a proposed off license here in Pleasant Point, South Canterbury. We along with several others in the community objected to Singh Trading opening up another liquor outlet in our small town (population 970) as it already has two off-licence liquor outlets. However the outcome of the hearing ruled in favour of the off-licence. Our school is now appealing this decision. We are a very small school, with no expertise in this area and very little money but we do have the passionate support of many in our community. I would love to talk to you regarding our appeal as reading this blog, I feel you may have some pearls of wisdom you could share with us. If you feel you may be able to help us please contact me at principal@stjoplpt.school.nz or phone 03 614 7202

  4. Liz thank you to Grant and you for all your work at the hearing for the Hornby application. It was great appreciated.

    Regards Marc

  5. Hi Dr Liz
    Our school has gone through the same process of objecting to a proposed off license here in Pleasant Point, South Canterbury. We along with several others in the community objected to Singh Trading opening up another liquor outlet in our small town (population 970) as it already has two off-licence liquor outlets. However the outcome of the hearing ruled in favour of the off-licence. Our school is now appealing this decision. We are a very small school, with no expertise in this area and very little money but we do have the passionate support of many in our community. I would love to talk to you regarding our appeal as reading this blog, I feel you may have some pearls of wisdom you could share with us. If you feel you may be able to help us please contact me at principal@stjoplpt.school.nz or phone 03 614 7202

    • Aroha S – Did they provide you with a reason for favouring the off-license ? If you’ve not already done so, you could also ask for a copy of the minutes of the meeting which ruled against the interests of the Pleasant Point community, and for a transcript of their own recorded notes about that meeting, and for the time frame.

      (Apologies if you’ve already done all this, but the note and minute taking can be both inadequate and revealing.)

  6. Well done, Liz. This is happening all over New Zealand with communities fighting the effects of irresponsible government policy which makes booze barons richer, and can wreck a neighbourhood, and lives. Cheers.

  7. Why is being a wowser such a bad thing? Does not society need all types. And those who are sober and clear headed should be listened too, not derided by money hungry lawyers who delight in put downs and their smug elitisms.

    Funny how it’s those who care nothing for the poor, are the fastest to run out the ad hominins.

    Off licenses and the drink laws we now have are not working – but we are just not willing to admit it.

    If you want a drink go to a pub, go with your mates and have a social time.

    • Ex Labour It was the Nats under Shipley who lowered the drinking age and were silly enough to pretend to think that it would turn Kiwi yobs into civilised continental Europeans, which it didn’t. It just messaged kids that drunk is good.

      One of those Australian television cop programmes showed a very drunk New Zealand girl, in six inch high heels, and wearing a six inch long mini skirt, being put into a police van wailing, “ But I’m sophisticated.” Wrong. I guess her next career move will be to become a National MP.

      It was the Nats who demolished and emptied houses under false pretences, and continued to deny there was a housing crisis even when faced with people living in car boots, car ports, garages, tents, aunties’ laundries, and under bridges and park benches and bushes : they caused this, and worse.

  8. Agree totally with you Liz, having been through a number of hearings but as they say at some stage a squeaky wheel needs to be oiled so we will continue down here in Ch Ch being that squeaky wheel until someone does listen and provides the oil to quieten the squeak, meanwhile I await the answers to some questions that of all people I asked National Justice spokesperson to seek from Labour Justice Minister Chris Faafoi , and he has submitted these as formal written questions to the Minister

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