Flaxmere in midst of 'alcohol holocaust', local councillor tells licensing authority

Flaxmere community leaders fighting the renewal of a bottle store's liquor licence are hoping to set legal precedence by arguing that the Treaty of Waitangi principles should apply to liquor laws.

The Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority has been hearing evidence before it makes a decision on whether to renew Flaxmere Liquor's licence.

Representing Flaxmere residents opposing the renewal, Hastings District Councillor Henare O'Keefe and Kaumatua Des Ratima said most of the suburb's social ills were linked to alcohol abuse.

"We are in the midst of an alcohol holocaust," Mr O'Keefe said.

Their lawyer Janet Mason argued Treaty of Waitangi principals should apply to the Sale and Supply of Liquor Act given 58 per cent of the community was Māori.

Other Māori and Pacific Island communities were watching this case as it could set a precedent, she said.

Mr O'Keefe urged the judiciary to "draw a line in the sand" around the harm caused by alcohol.

In a rousing, and at times, teary speech, he said in his 40 years as a social worker he picked up the pieces of alcohol-related harm on a daily basis, urging authority chair Judge Kevin Kelly to be "courageous" in his decision-making.

Takitimu District Māori Council chair and Flaxmere kaumatua Des Ratima said it was morally and ethically wrong to have three bottle stores in such a small community.

Their presence "normalised" alcohol for young people, he said.

Mr Ratima almost didn't get a chance to speak at all.

Before the hearing began, the lawyer for the owners of Flaxmere Liquor, Previnder Kaur argued Mr Ratima didn't qualify to give evidence because he didn't live within 1km of the store.

But Mr Ratima's lawyer Janet Mason successfully argued - and for the first time ever - that he did have the right because his role as an elected member of the Māori Council gave him a statutory duty to look after his constituent's needs.

While giving evidence, Mr Ratima later told Flaxmere Liquor owner Chamkaur Singh that his quest to oppose his liquor licence was not "personal".

"This is a people issue. The only time we can speak is when there is consent for public submission. If there is not, we have no voice and we suffer the impacts of that."

Mr Singh's lawyer, Pervinder Kaur said her client had been a responsible owner, and there was no proof the store itself had caused harm.

The owners would also be willing to close an hour earlier at 10pm, she said.

The Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority has reserved its decision.

Anusha Bradley

Wine bottles in store (file picture).
Wine bottles in store (file picture). Source: