Let’s be careful about trusting the West Auckland Liquor Trusts

Following a recent Spinoff article demanding better hospitality outcomes for West Auckland communities, the West Auckland Liquor Trusts are back in the spotlight. Since the first article the story has been discussed on TV 3’s The Project and a follow up article has been published in The Spinoff. This peaked our interest because along with resource consents we also dabble in liquor licensing.

The main issue with the Waitakere and Portage Trusts are matters of ownership, management and transparency.

Too much suspicious overlap

According to the Trusts website, they’re all about the community owning the liquor outlets. But how many Westies really feel like they own the liquor outlets? How many of their community members really feel in control?

West Auckland - Owners of West Liquor

The control over Waitakere Trust and the Portage Trust is held by community elected members. However, according to the follow up Spinoff article some of these elected officials appear to be career politicians.

Ross Clow is the not only the leader of the Portage Licensing Trust but also the chairman for The Trusts Community Foundation; the organisation that runs poker machines throughout the country. He is also the Whau Ward Councillor. I do not want to suggest links and connections where there are none. However, being in charge or in a position of influence on so many community levels is something to be wary of. The Waitakere and Portage Trusts have a monopoly over liquor and Ross Clow has a bit of a monopoly of his own.

However, he isn’t the only one with his fingers in various pies.

Linda Cooper is an Auckland Councillor who is also president of the Waitakere Licensing Trust. While Warren Flaunty is a director of The Trusts Community Foundation (pokies), a Henderson-Massey local board member, director of the Waitakere Licensing Trust AND on the Waitemata DHB.

Do these people love being elected and involved in community issues or what?

The area that The Waitakere and Portage Trusts cover

The dark green areas are run by the Waitakere Licensing Trust and the light green are run by the Portage Licensing Trust.

Election methods

Perhaps Ross Clow has been elected to so many positions of power because he is a fantastic contriutor to the West Auckland Community. The best man for the job. Now when people see his name they link it to a long standing community leader – which is perfectly fine. And yet from the sound of this article it really isn’t that hard to be elected to the Trusts – 1000 votes is all it takes apparently.

Do we need a rule limiting the number of consecutive terms a single person can serve? Do we need to consider other methods for voting? The Trusts could be the perfect opportunity to trial online voting.

Career politicians exist – this I accept. However, when the election process becomes stodgy, dry and have abysmal voter turnout, can you really call the elected officials representatives of the entire community?

The symbiotic relationship between the bars and the pokie machines

Poker machines are synonymous with taverns, bars, and small town local hotel pubs. When you think of one, you often think of the other.

But the control and operation of the two organisations that govern these vices in West Auckland should not be synonymous with each other. Gambling and drinking can be extremely destructive.

The quintessential kiwi tavern and poker machine set up

Where is the transparency? The Trusts are a shark swimming through West Auckland and TTCF is the little fish hitching a ride on it’s back.

Ross Clow insists that he always recuses himself from voting on issues which liquor and pokies are entangled, yet I can’t help but wonder how much influence he has over people voting in the trust. Surely they all have friendly conversations outside of the actual decision making.

ANYWAY. Is there a better alternative?

An alternative option

Let’s disestablish the West Auckland Licensing Trusts. They are poorly run. Those running them have a strong concentration of power that seems to have lasted years.

West Auckland should have its liquor licences managed like the rest of Auckland. The Auckland Local Alcohol Policy should be put in place to better regulate the proliferation of bottle shops in the now free market. But we should still give back to our communities.

Let’s increase the tax at the wholesale level. Let bars, taverns, restaurants, liquor stores and supermarkets operate as they usually do. But take the revenue created from this extra tax and give it to a ‘trust’ organisation for the various areas of Auckland to provide grants to their communities. A kitchen upgrade at the local scouts and girl guides club rooms? Done. New nets at the badminton club? Done.

If this were successful in Auckland roll it out to the rest of the country. Invercargill run a very efficient and effective licensing trust. So perhaps they should continue to operate that way. But, the other areas of New Zealand that control their liquor without the help of any trust would surely benefit from this type of set up. Deter people from drinking and use the revenue created in their backyard.

Let’s not let inefficient trusts manage the running of bottle stores, taverns and pubs. Let trusts do what they’re good at – providing for the community. Let liquor store owners worry about running liquor stores. By removing these extra layers of business management in theory there should be more money for the community!

In this alternative liquor licensing reality local business owners keep their profits AND the community wins. Maybe Ross Clow and his fellow career politicians could even be re-elected for these new look liquor trusts!


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