STOP BLAMING SUPERMARKETS FOR BOOZE-FUELLED VIOLENCE

University students duck into the supermarket to stock up on “cheap” alcohol on the way back to their hostels, hop on Wellington’s iconic Cable Car, then get off a stop early and spend the rest of the night drinking in public parks, annoying the neighbours and generally behaving badly. It’s been dubbed in the media as the Capital’s “Chunder Lane”. What an absolute disgrace – at least it would be if it was true.

The term “Chunder Lane” was coined by Bernard O’Shaughnessy, a Wellington resident who has objected to virtually every liquor licence in the city for many years. His phrase was eagerly snapped up the media, the police and public health officials. It has no basis in fact. The supermarket in question – the boutique Cable Car Countdown – was applying for its very first liquor licence. The behaviour described had not occurred, and there was no hard evidence it would occur or was even likely to occur.

A veteran serial anti-alcohol campaigner made some sweeping allegations, came up with a media-friendly catchphrase, and suddenly the fledgling supermarket had to battle hard to get a licence at all. In the end, the new Countdown received a liquor licence but only until 8 pm. It was made clear by officials that if the supermarket had not agreed to the early 8 pm deadline, then their licence would not have been approved.

After sustained debate and consideration, Parliament passed the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act. After consulting with their communities, councils approve their Local Alcohol Plans (LAPs). Yet there seems to be a growing trend of police and public health officials using the licencing and re-licensing process to re-litigate a number of issues they lost, including opening hours and one-way door policies for on-licences.

Wellington Police is pushing for all supermarkets to stop selling alcohol from 9 pm – despite what the duly elected representatives in Parliament and on the Council have decided. Seizing on other media-friendly monikers, police dubbed Chaffers Park New World (also in central Wellington) the “fight club supermarket” and a “crime corridor” because youths would brawl in their car park after hours. They opposed the supermarket’s application for a liquor licence though this was eventually granted with conditions. This is despite police admitting that the people fighting did not buy alcohol from the supermarket; they simply used the car park for fighting. New World put in more security guards, more CCTV cameras and more fencing but these efforts were largely discounted.

NARGON has asked the questions before – how much responsibility does a supermarket have after they have closed and the people involved have not been sold alcohol there? According to Wellington Police, “it is their problem because they sell alcohol and they have alcohol-related issues outside their front door.” By that logic, if two gangs had a fight on the steps of police headquarters at midnight on a Saturday then the police staff bar should lose its liquor licence. That is a nonsense of course.

Violence is a serious issue and should be treated as such. The police know where the problems are and should address them directly. If the supermarket stopped selling alcohol, then the same people would fight in the car park because they did not buy booze there anyway. If the supermarket built a Donald Trump-style wall around the car park, then the same people would fight somewhere else nearby.

This kind of violence is a police issue – not a supermarket issue. Ironically, the police already know who the offenders are from the security camera footage they obtained from the supermarket. The police efforts should be directed to tracking down the fighters, the vandals and the urinators, rather than opposing a liquor licence for a hard-working supermarket which employs hundreds of people.

Trina Snow — Executive Director, NARGON