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Battle against Flaxmere liquor store to go to High Court

Hastings councillor for Flaxmere, Henare O'Keefe, is appealing a decision by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority to renew a Flaxmere Liquor store license.

In June, the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority renewed its licence until September 25, 2021, on its existing conditions, despite Flaxmere (2008) Liquor Limited director's, Sukhpal and Chamkaur Singh, offering to reduce their opening hours.

Henare O'Keefe has spent the past 40 years "picking up the pieces" from alcohol-related incidents. He knows it is a problem in his Flaxmere community - just ask anyone, he says.

But what he does not know is why those with the ability to make a change, are not doing so.

O'Keefe says he was "let down" by Judge Kevin Kelly and is now taking the matter to the High Court to attempt to have that decision overturned. He says it is about "justice". And the fact their evidence, both anecdotal and statistical were "ignored".

Hawke's Bay District Health Board's medical officer of health Rachel Eyre said the board was very aware of the harm alcohol caused and knew alcohol harm in Flaxmere was high. "We carefully considered this and how we could oppose the application, however, matters around general health harm were not enough to oppose an application when there is a renewal and a history of compliance with the Act.

Lawyer, Janet Mason, said there were "very good grounds" for the appeal.

She said there are two "distinct" questions they will be making submissions on, and which they will be putting to the High Court. The first being; is the Treaty of Waitangi relevant? Along with what weighting should the Māori leadership be given, compared to the weighting of the police and medical officer of health?

Mason said the percentage of Māori in Flaxmere is about 60 per cent - a "majority Māori community". "When you look at that statistical fact and the fact that many of the people in these communities are vulnerable, then surely the views of the Māori leadership in terms of what they see in their communities and their people around the consequences of alcohol, it seems odd their views would not be given at least an equal weighting."

Mason said important questions need to be asked around why the police and medical officer of health did not object. "I presume they don't have the resources or it might be some matter like that. But I don't think that it can be argued that they didn't object because there was no evidence of alcohol-related harm. "I think it is difficult to go to a conclusion that just because they didn't object that somehow that means there is no harm. I can't believe that."

Mason said she would be "surprised" if there are any police in the country who say alcohol is not a "big factor" in domestic violence or other forms of violence. "I don't think it is a question of there not being evidence." The problem instead, she believes, lies in the way agencies are or are not collating that evidence and channelling them into the relevant areas. She expects the case, which was likely to be in the High Court in Napier, to be heard and decided upon by the end of the year.

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