All about the drink

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

He might not drink al­co­hol, but John Burke is keep­ing a close eye on liquor re­form in New Zealand.

Mana res­i­dent and for­mer Porirua mayor Mr Burke was re­cently elected pres­i­dent of the New Zealand Li­cens­ing Trusts As­so­ci­a­tion, an ad­vice and lob­by­ing body rep­re­sent­ing char­i­ta­ble li­cens­ing trusts na­tion­wide.

His main role will be to ad­vise lo­cal trusts – many of whom op­er­ate liquor li­cences – about changes to the Sale of Liquor Act, cur­rently be­ing re­viewed by the Gov­ern­ment.

The last time the act was re­viewed, in 1989, huge changes were made to liquor li­cens­ing trusts, which dis­trib­ute money gained from the sale of al­co­hol to com­mu­nity groups.

The 1989 changes al­lowed the pub­lic to vote for competition to be opened up in ar­eas in New Zealand where liquor li­cens­ing trusts op­er­ate.

Mr Burke will lobby against any re­forms which could stop trusts rais­ing funds to dis­trib­ute in the com­mu­nity. Last year li­cens­ing trusts na­tion­wide gave out $50 mil­lion.

In the 1990s Porirua voted to al­low competition for the sale of liquor, and the lo­cal trust suf­fered as a re­sult.

‘‘The peo­ple of Porirua voted by a mar­gin of al­most two to one that they would pre­fer the li­cens­ing trust to have competition here,’’ Mr Burke says.

‘‘Any­body who wants to open a bar in Porirua, who can prove to the lo­cal au­thor­ity they’re fit, don’t have to go through many dif­fi­cult pro­cesses to open their own bar.’’

Mr Burke sat on Porirua’s li­cens­ing trust board for most of the 1990s, but did not seek re-elec­tion in 1998 fol­low­ing dis­agree­ments about how the trust man­aged its busi­ness.

‘‘I found my­self all too of­ten at odds with my fel­low trustees.’’

He stood again in 2001 and be­came pres­i­dent, and has helped to turn its fi­nances around. In the past 12 months the trust has dis­trib­uted $2.5m, all to the Porirua com­mu­nity ex­cept for a $50,000 do­na­tion to the Christchurch earth­quake fund.

In the process of re­vamp­ing its fi­nances, the trust got rid of its liquor li­cens­ing func­tion al­to­gether, re­brand­ing as the Porirua Com­mu­nity Trust in 2005.

The trust still owns five lo­cal bars, but leases these to lo­cal op­er­a­tors.

‘‘The model of the li­cens­ing trust own­ing and op­er­at­ing its own bars didn’t seem to be work­ing well in Porirua,’’ Mr Burke says.

‘‘These days our busi­ness prof­its come from rent and in­vest­ments.’’

An arm of the trust is the Mana Com­mu­nity Grants Foun­da­tion, which gets its funds from 90 gam­bling ma­chines around Porirua.

The trust’s as­sets now ex­ceed $6m, a big turn­around from the time of its ‘‘sub­stan­tial busi­ness losses’’ 10 years ago.

‘‘We’re now mak­ing a quar­ter of a mil­lion in busi­ness prof­its. I sleep bet­ter nowa­days.’’

Ease of pur­chase was a big fac­tor in Porirua’s vote – be­fore competition was in­tro­duced lo­cals could not buy al­co­hol from su­per­mar­kets, only li­censed bot­tle shops. ‘‘There’s a big, big con­ve­nience thing.’’ Of 19 liquor li­cens­ing trusts in New Zealand, only four re­main ‘‘closed’’, or with­out competition in their area. One is In­ver­cargill, where pro­ceeds from the lo­cal trust fund the city’s ‘‘no fees’’ polytech­nic among other com­mu­nity projects.

New Zealand’s first li­cens­ing trust was cre­ated in 1944 in In­ver­cargill, which had pre­vi­ously been ‘‘dry’’ un­der pro­hi­bi­tion.

Trusts were cre­ated to keep al­co­hol prices low in the face of an ef­fec­tive mo­nop­oly which ex­isted at the time be­tween the coun­try’s two ma­jor brew­eries.

Mr Burke now fears the price of al­co­hol could rise if rec­om­men­da­tions from the Law Com­mis­sion are adopted.

He wor­ries mea­sures in­tended to curb youth binge drink­ing will pe­nalise pen­sion­ers and make life more dif­fi­cult for bar own­ers.

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