Dr Liz Gordon: A liquor store on every corner

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Last week the alcohol licensing regulatory authority ruled that the remaining five of Nekita Enterprises’ liquor stores had to close.  You remember them. They had been underpaying their staff for years and also seeking cash payments back from them.

This case should lead to further scrutiny of the current model driving liquor store expansion. For it is important to be aware that all across the country, there are now constant applications for new liquor stores.

In August, for example, an application for a new liquor store was declined in Riverton, a town of 1500 people in Southland. An existing liquor store owner from Invercargill applied to open a new liquor store there, even though there were already several other outlets.  It was the arguments of the community, especially a local GP, that led to that application being denied.

Just up the road at Winton, a town of about the same size, a current application by an existing liquor store owner for another shop is currently being considered. The new store is 60 metres from the existing Super Liquor and across the road from the supermarket.  There is another outlet up the road.

There used to be a dairy and a bank on every corner in small town NZ, but these have gone and their place is being taken by liquor stores.  The Winton premises is an ex-Westpac bank, while a new application in Christchurch is in premises vacated by SBS.

The picture is the same all over the country. Communities everywhere are fighting off continual attempts to expand.

So what is driving the push around the country for more and more liquor stores?  Especially because the research is clear that increasing the number of outlets increases alcohol harm, through the mechanisms of proximity and price competition.

Much of it is down to models of immigration over the past fifteen years. The tertiary education market allows foreign students to work for 20 hours per week while studying. For most international students, the primary goal of studying in New Zealand is to gain New Zealand residency.

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So many of them come and study a low-level tertiary course leading to a diploma, meanwhile working in a liquor store for low wages (possibly even below the minimum wage) and working towards their manager’s licence.

The immigration industry is focused on ‘skilled labour’. An alcohol manager’s licence fits the bill – after all, you are a certificated manager, aren’t you?  They gain residency, work for a few years in the industry and then look around to start their own liquor store, often replicating the same pathways that brought them to New Zealand in the first place.

They are not to be blamed for this.  After all, this pathway is well within the law as currently operating in New Zealand. But the model requires continual expansion of outlets to meet the aspirations of this migrant group.  Most are from India and their options often appear limited to restaurant work, taxi driving or liquor stores.

I should note that there are plenty of highly able and literate Indian immigrants here who hold down senior and excellent quality positions. I am not talking about them. I am talking about a smallish but growing subgroup.

Because the reality is that they are not particularly skilled migrants. In one of the new applications I am involved with in Christchurch, the applicant wants to sell ‘ciggeretes’ as well as ‘alchol’.  In short, they are supposed to be skilled migrants but some are barely literate. They are only really suited for low-level ‘managerial’ work and liquor stores are probably the most potentially lucrative avenues open to them.

The other important aspect is that many of them aspire to own multiple liquor stores, like the Nekita empire, Liquormart and others.  I am currently involved with four or five new licence applications and all of them already own at least one liquor store.

They pore over maps across towns and cities to find ‘gaps’ in the network of stores, so they can ‘insert’ another liquor store. Any new subdivision is fair game.  We successfully defended an application in my local shops earlier this year, where there is so much alcohol harm and despite a lot of outlets in the area.

A whole new industry has grown up of ‘alcohol consultants’, whose job is to paper over the shortcomings of applicants and present a respectable plan for each new outlet. In one recent decision in Auckland, at Hunter’s Corner, the applicant’s lawyer painted a strong and pretty picture of how the professional new outlet would operate, which bore no resemblance at all to what the applicant had to say once she was questioned at the hearing. In declining the licence, the Committee stated:

The Committee was concerned that the details in the application, which were comprehensive, were not reflected in the oral evidence.  Overall, there was a distinct impression of the application being well-dressed, but not backed up by substance.  This was reflected in the lack of genuine understanding of the vulnerability of this community, and the repeated comments by the applicant, to the effect of, if people want to buy alcohol they will, and so it may as well be from her.  

Without the enormous efforts of communities up and down the country, and the tireless work of pro bono lawyers, there would indeed be a liquor store on every corner, and empires would continue to be built.  One person – Dr Grant Hewison – has given of himself and his legal skills for years to prevent this happening. Both aspects of the law – the immigration incentives and licensing- need reform. In the meantime, some of us will continue to fight the onslaught, one application at a time.

NOTE: As I go to press on this, I notice a new story that health authorities are urging a review of alcohol laws, and that Kris Faafoi has confirmed a review is underway. At last!

If you would like to support this work in any way, or join our network, please contact the Communities Against Alcohol Harm network at contact@communitiesagainstalcoholharm.co.nz

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.

34 COMMENTS

  1. Bang on in every respect.
    And we should not get all smug and superior about the motivation for immigrants reasons for wanting to come here.

    They’ve seen primitive immigration policies that have encouraged it along with the nasty side of exploitation and people trafficking. Unfortunately some of the people responsible for the policies are still circulating while building up their gorgeous C.Vs

    The motivation is no different from Kiwis trotting off elsewhere for many of the same reasons (e.g. for a better earn, or relationships or generally for simply aspiring to a better life for self and family).
    Thankfully NZ is now much less attractive, the Labour Inspectorate has finally STARTED to get off its chuff, and UTU and unions are doing good work.

  2. Almost all dairys and supermarkets sell cigarettes, yet I’m not suddenly starting smoking. Must be something called self control and personal responsibility. I’m sure the same applies to alcohol retailers.

    • Christ no Mike…self control and self responsibility are now “right wing”…it’s far better to just become a victim, blame some one else and then get a handout.

    • Michael Campbell “ Must be something called self -control and personal responsibility.” It might be something called addiction. Not everyone lives charmed lives, Michael. In the case of liquor stores created to create booze barons, it is government sanctioned exploitation and government encouraged addiction.

    • When self-control and personal responsibility apply to the alcohol sellers then I will be prepared to listen to your argument. There is an abundance of evidence that the alcohol industry has profit as its main concern which suits the owners but has had very detrimental effects in the communities they operate.

  3. Thanks for highlighting this Liz, it’s very socially destructive. I didn’t realise the mechanisms involved. The Indians also target the pre-school market and the elder-care market as money spinners, but I don’t know what stats are available.

    It is very different from NZ’ers going off- shore to further their careers or to embark on specialist training when it is a naked New Zealand residency grab, and with the liquor stores, the barbaric exploitation of vulnerable groups of low-income people by unskilled shysters enriching themselves at the expense of the poor.
    It may be the time-honoured neo-lib way to make money, but is unsustainable and amoral.

    Needless to say, every law infringer should be sent back to where they came from, but this is still band-aid politics and no way to build a decent constructive and nourishing society.

  4. Dr Gordon’s argument is that the community does not want these liquor stores, and also that the stores are mainly started to provide a job for low skill immigrants.

    Her definition of ‘the community’ is limited to the people who band together to publicly oppose the stores’ opening. I think that is the wrong definition of the community because it ignores all the people who are either indifferent or supportive but who don’t make a public stand either way.

    In reality, if the community’s members collectively don’t want that liquor store, then the community will avoid shopping there and it will shut down after losing a lot of money.

    As to the second argument, that liquor stores are merely or mainly job creation schemes for migration-qualifying employment, then she should really find some proof of payments to the owners from the ‘managers’, or stick to advocating for a change to the list of qualifying skilled occupations. I agree with her that managing a liquor store is not a ‘skilled enough’ occupation that should lead to residency.

    • Ada – So what you’re saying is that liquor stores should be allowed all over the place unless the locals kick up a fuss about it, and even that shouldn’t be taken into account because it doesn’t allow for mythological unheard voices. Ruthless stuff.

      Ruthless stuff – and a nightmare for urban and suburban dwellers whose lives shouldn’t have to be a constant fight against authorities who are paid to maintain a peace and quality of life to avoid this sort of contretemps.

      • That is a very poor line of argument Snow White.
        You just argued that if I oppose the original post, I must want the most extreme opposite policy.
        It is the equivalent to someone saying ‘Maybe we can do MIQ better” and then being shouted down as wanting tens of thousands of kiwis to die.

        My first point was precisely this: ‘the Locals’ are more than just the people and groups banding together to publicly oppose a new liquor store.

        Are “unheard voices” really mythological? Maybe they are just not politically engaged.

        • Ada- “ That is a very poor line of argument Snow White. “ On the contrary, as a long time tax payer and rate payer, I think SW’s argument ok. But even if it were a poor argument, so what ?

          This isn’t the Oxford Debating Union, it’s everyday people concerned about something which is impacting on communities, and damaging them in major ways, and which one way or another, we all end up paying for. That’s the issue.

    • I’ll buy alcohol from any liquor store anywhere. My local butcher had a petition against a new liquor store opening in my suburb. I didn’t sign because I knew the liquor store was going to be convenient for me as it was right next to the butcher which I use and I wouldn’t have to go and que in a supermarket to buy beer. That said there are 140,000 unemployed workers in New Zealand most of whom are quite capable of working in a liquor store. This liquor shop must have rascist management and ownership because they have only ever employed Indians. My sentiments here can also be applied to the un-unionised Irish bar chain in Auckland that has a policy of refusing to employ kiwi bar staff in favour of desperate Irish backpackers. Kiwis love beer and are happy to sell it to each other, there is no need import people to sell it us.

  5. “Much of it is down to models of immigration over the past fifteen years”.

    Yes, I would agree with that.

    After immigration changes in the mid-80s NZ /AO saw increasing numbers of migrants (to be distinguished from refugees coming under the UNHCR resettlement programme), many with English language and literacy needs. The reason for this open, points-based immigration policy was to attract human capital but I also read somewhere that it was thought NZs superannuation scheme would not be effective without increased population growth gained from immigration. It quickly become apparent that this kind of mass immigration was not working. Although migration from the UK continued and many came from South Africa, in the public imagination it was seen as the Asian invasion. NZ cities – Auckland in particular – were not ready for this influx (or indeed consulted) – while provincial NZ looked on. It’s a misconception that in the early days PRC migrants were ‘rich’ – they weren’t but they were in the main qualified and highly skilled. Language difficulties, discriminatory employment practices and concerns over social cohesion were cited as proof the immigration experiment wasn’t working.

    What happened? Well, the models changed. More emphasis was put on English language proficiency in the application process. This attracted applications from the Indian subcontinent where English education in schools is a legacy of British colonial rule (although Liz’s anecdote would seem to contradict this!). Meanwhile export education became an even bigger earner and international students were targeted by universities and private institutions alike. It was made easier for international students, supposedly with the right qualifications, to transition to work-to-residence status and eventually PR. But NZQA couldn’t keep up with quality control and it all went pear-shaped. Meanwhile immigration was captured by business interests, especially after the establishment of MBIE under the Natz. Much of what we have now was entrenched under the Fifth National Government 2008 to 2017.

    Where to next? Has Labour got the political will to put things right? Probably not. The neoliberal model will be hard to get rid of. Imported ‘skills’ has simply become a proxy for profit. And here there are too many interested players. Big players with deep pockets. But there are surely places where central govt in conjunction with local govt can step up. Liquor licensing is one. Thankyou for bringing this into focus Liz.

    • Absolutely. And as you say – the capture of The Ministry for Everything by business interests. Not sur[prising really when the whole culture of the organisation is set up to promote business growth (sustained rather than sustainable) carrying on from the old Economic development.
      Not only does it therefore treat people as merely economic units to be exploited in some way but its the reason money rulez the way. A Thiel or the like is welcomed while someone with skills in sustainable development in things like horticulture, or preservation of things like wildlife and potable water systems is treated like shit – often simply because their parents were conned by the lies and false promises of charlatans and the NZ government.
      Primitive, simplistic policies with more unintended consequences than not, and often simply based on what is perceived to be happening elsewhere.
      When you combine all that with one of the most unproductive Munsters, captured by his officials (probably because he just finds them ‘nice’ people) – we get what we’ve got.

      And yes – “Talk to our comms people” NZQA couldn’t keep up with quality control – but then why would that worry MBIE when there’s money to be earned for NZ Inc. through International Student fees and as much churn as possible

  6. A couple of observations here.
    Perhaps we should make a distinction between the types of liquor shops.
    There are the supermarkets which are generally in commercial areas or suburban shopping centres which can sell only beer and wine..
    There are the liquor supermarkets like Liquorland which are generally located in high traffic areas or large shopping arenas.
    There are the little shops like Big Barrell and Black Bull that can be anywhere.
    It seems to be the last category that people object to most.
    That is because they seemingly come from nowhere, without any consultation and not wanted by anyone who lives nearby except the local pissheads and meth dealers.
    These places are frequently found out for selling to intoxicated and/or underage persons, and yet they continue on and do it again and again.
    What annoys people is that they feel powerless to prevent another grog shop from opening across from their home.
    Oh sure, there is a licence application process etc. etc. but unless there is someone proactive enough to go through the newspaper public notices and discover what is going on, the first time many people know about the new grog shop is when it opens.
    It is a very obscure secretive process, and that is what these liquor barons bargain on to get a grog shop on every corner.
    It reminds me of the situation of 18th century London.
    There were an estimated 15,000 grog shops in London during this time, over half of which were gin shops which created a great deal of misery for so many people before eventually the government was obliged to bring it under control.
    It is not simply a problem of people not being able to make the right choices of whether to drink alcohol or how much.
    It is a problem of alcohol saturation in our communities.
    The owners of Big Barrell (who ironically are largely teetotallers themselves) only care about the money, what damage they do to our communities is not a big deal to them because it falls on the police and health system.
    Local councils don’t seem to take much persuading that another corner grog shop will be great for the community and the rubber stamp comes out.

  7. The research is clear that over 70% of NZers do not want a proliferation of liquor stores. They make alcohol more available and cheaper and cause more harm. The research also shows that liquor store proliferation increases overall amounts of drinking. An addiction to alcohol is not about individual willpower but a serious public health issue. Alcohol and drug addictions ruin lives, destroy families, lead to crime and abuse and eventually death. Overcoming addiction is terribly hard and having temptation on every corner is unnecessary and harmful.. I thought the informed and discriminating readership of TDB knew all this?? You do, don’t you?

    • I would suggest you can’t regulate against vice – you have to treat the demand not the supply. It doesn’t really matter despite what research suggests abut availability and pricing – you’re talking about a few percentage points difference or another kilometre down the road. For those on the edges, it would have drunk people driving and spending more of the food money. – who cares how many liquor stores, as long as there’s one, right? How about enforcing labour laws, setting up dependency clinics and providing more mental health services instead.

  8. John Discriminatory ? Not really. Oldie brought age into it, not me, and oh how he/she/ it shocked me because with age often comes wisdom rather than the generalising of the young, but then again, Oldie may be a relative term, and that I don’t know and shan’t dwell on.

    Rude ? Perhaps a little abrupt – un peu. Mondayitis. I forgot that it was Tuesday, having not yet recovered from Sunday, and the pictures of you-know-who despoiling the joys of daffodils and Wordsworth and springing. This too will pass.

  9. ” review of alcohol laws, and that Kris Faafoi has confirmed a review is underway ”

    Well if Faafoi has anything to do with it nothing will happen of any consequence and when ever they promise a ” review ” that means political speak for making it look like we are doing something but intend to do absolutley nothing at all !

  10. Well, I didn’t appreciate living in whole areas of Auckland a decade or three back where you were forbidden to buy alcohol locally, either. Verboten entirely or forced to pay exorbitant prices to some Licencing Trust monopoly with restrictive opening hours.
    May we never see that joyless scenario again, too.
    .

  11. Create a Foundation for Alcohol Rehabilitation and Family Violence Remediation and have a staffed branch in every suburb with a liquor store. Funded by “contributions” from the Liquor sales industry.
    Also the store owners have to do community service one day per week.
    Plus they could visit the ED for 4 hours once per week to help subdue the violent patients as they are wheeled in for treatment.

  12. Thanks for this Dr Gordon, you and SSJ are about the only reason I visit this site anymore (plus guest posts). Though, especially down in Southland, there is also the culture of home destilling which, if not actually unregulated, isn’t very well enforced.
    That dates back to prohibition, as does the ILT which prevents Invercargill supermarkets from selling even wine. I think Winton and Riverton are beyond its reach however.

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