They won’t budge…
Last week we sent a letter to the Waitakere Licensing Trust (WLT) asking them to consider triggering the referendum themselves. A few of us attended the meeting on Tuesday and I spoke to the letter (speaking notes here).
The board were unanimous and unequivocal in their answer. They will not trigger a referendum themselves under any circumstance.
We didn’t stay long and chat with them about it, but a few observations from what they did have to say.
- The WLT board remain steadfastly opposed to competition and are equally steadfast in their desire to avoid a referendum. They remain hopeful that our campaign will fail and their monopoly won’t be put to the vote.
- If there is a referendum, the WLT expect to fight for their monopoly with all their resources. They justify this as necessary (to the extent they feel obliged to do so) to ensure the financial wellbeing of the WLT.
- After I talked to the letter, Linda Cooper proceeded to respond to us on behalf of the board. Whilst I didn’t realistically expect the majority of the board to support triggering a referendum, I did expect the group would at least confer / discuss the information I had presented prior to giving their answer. Clearly, the dynamic of the board is such that Linda didn’t feel any such consultation with her colleagues was necessary. I don’t know if that reflects that Linda is a strong leader that is rarely challenged by her board or whether the board had already discussed our letter and agreed their position ahead of our attendance. Either way, that isn’t how a well-functioning board should operate.
- I interrupted Linda’s response and asked that she check with her board members. A couple of the members subsequently shared their views on why they support the monopoly and therefore oppose holding a referendum. Assuming their responses were genuinely held beliefs, they demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of their constituents and many of the issues at play in this debate. Warren Flaunty spoke of how neighbouring areas were envious of the licensing trust monopoly in West Auckland. Penny Hulse spoke about Te Atatu Peninsula’s transformation into another ‘Grey Lynn’ – which she held up as a demonstration of how the licensing trust monopoly doesn’t hold back progress. She also lauded the establishments now on offer in Te Atatu Peninsula (and whilst it’s great that Penny thinks what’s on offer is good, 60 year old teetotalers aren’t exactly the target market for most bars or bottle stores!).
Overall, the WLT board appears to be a cosy group of like-minded people who passionately support the status quo. They also unanimously feel that it is appropriate to use the resources of the licensing trust to protect their monopoly, which includes working to avoid a referendum and likely spending over a million dollars campaigning should there be a vote.
Allowing competition will fix some of the issues with our licensing trusts. But many of the issues result from this uniformity of board members. We know there are plenty of West Aucklanders that don’t support the monopoly or many other aspects of The Trusts’ activities, but these perspectives are not represented. There appears to be a lack of understanding or a desire to understand the different views within the community.
It’s 100% clear now that we won’t get the chance to vote about competition in September/October, but we will have the chance to vote for board members who will represent us around that table. In previous elections, the candidates have been more or less homogeneous and this time we want some candidates who will break that mould. If you’re passionate about the licensing trusts and making West Auckland a better place to live, consider standing in the elections. There’s some information here and feel free to contact us to talk about it (firstname.lastname@example.org).
NB – After the meeting, we received advice from Auckland’s electoral officer that a standalone referendum in the Waitakere Licensing Trust would cost in the order of $200,000.
PRESENTATION TO THE WLT: 25/06/19
We’re here today to make one final request for you to resolve to trigger a competition poll.
We were disappointed to miss the deadline to force the poll through a petition. But we remain committed to making the referendum happen. If you decide not to trigger the referendum, we are determined to collect the necessary signatures.
I know you’ve considered this before but I’d like you to consider a few things before making your decision this time:
- Cost to the community. We don’t know exactly how much a referendum will cost, but it is very clear that it will be significantly cheaper if run with the local body elections. The savings would certainly run into six-figures – which is money that could be used to benefit West Auckland. It is in your power to avoid these costs.
- The community’s appetite for a poll. In the month leading up to the deadline, we spent about $4,000 and I took a month off work so that we could collect signatures at 3 supermarkets. In that time, we collected over 10,000 signatures with over 8,000 of those signatories coming from the Waitakere district. $4,000 is not a lot of money, and there are 8 more supermarkets in the Waitakere district at which we have not yet collected signatures.
It is not a lack of appetite from the community which makes this petition challenging, it comes down to money and where we are being allowed to collect. If it were the supermarkets driving this petition, it would be done very quickly indeed.
- Mandate from the community. The legislated requirement for a petition is 15% of electors. It sounds reasonable.
- Between 10 and 15% of eligible residents aren’t enrolled to vote.
- During the electoral cycle, the number of people with incorrect details on the electoral roll will fluctuate. The roll’s accuracy will peak at the general election. At the moment, there are something like 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 people whose details are not up to date on the roll.
- Combining these factors means that a valid petition will need to have signatures from between 20 and 25% of residents.
- Now consider that in 2003, there was something like $3m spent campaigning by yourselves and the supermarkets. The turnout that resulted was 56%. So despite a $3m campaign, 44% of voters didn’t bother to tick either box.
- All together, that means – if we assume the turnout is similar again, that the number of signatures we need to trigger the vote, is pretty close to the number of votes we’d need to win to allow competition.
- Finally, from a personal perspective. Alcohol can be a divisive topic. There are plenty of people who find alcohol objectionable and some of them can be quite vitriolic. There are also others who – in their own words – ‘support the trusts’ and they do so with a passion which can boil over to the point of aggression.
One thing we’ve learned in this process is that to collect the signatures needed requires people to physically collect signatures with pen and paper. For us, that means standing in front of supermarkets or elsewhere to collect signatures and opening ourselves up to verbal abuse and very occasionally, threats to our physical safety. I passionately believe that West Auckland would be better served in every regard by allowing competition and that is why I tolerate this abuse and continue to front-up and collect signatures. But this is not a reasonable thing to ask your community to do, just so they can have the chance to vote.
The intent of the legislation was that the community could trigger a referendum through a petition. In practice, particularly in an area like West Auckland where participation rates in local politics is particularly low, the 15% threshold is an unreasonably high requirement. It is easy now to see, why since the mechanism was installed in 1989, there has never been a petition which was not driven by the supermarkets.
I understand that you did not write the legislation, but you do have in your power the ability to respect the intent of the legislation. Over 17,000 people have signed this petition. More than 15% of residents. There IS a clear mandate from your community to hold the vote. Please, give us the opportunity to vote as part of the upcoming elections.