Editorial: Nation's leaders guilty of shocker

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In 1999, the country's MPs of the time made a terrible mistake.

They voted to lower the drinking age from 20 to 18 and made liquor available to younger people.

Fast forward to 2012 and the controversial issue of the country's drinking age is back in the headlines, this time with the current batch of politicians voting on it again.

So, as I watched parliamentary proceedings on television just after 6pm yesterday, I was thinking they had a golden opportunity to put things right, to make our society safer by raising the age.

Instead they blew it.

After debating the issue for two and a half hours, and discarding the silly option of splitting the age (18 for drinking at on-licensed premises and 20 for buying alcohol at off-license premises) they voted 69 to 53 in favour of keeping the age at 18.

The Bay's MPs - Tauranga's Simon Bridges, Bay of Plenty's Tony Ryall and list MP Brendan Horan - did the right thing by voting to raise the age in the conscience vote.

Reaction has been strong.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell, a community leader who has consistently displayed a common sense approach to issues facing young people, hit out by saying most MPs had voted irresponsibly.

Research, he says, shows people two years younger than the legal age regularly buy alcohol and, as an educator, he is concerned about this. Prominent Tauranga GP Tony Farrell expressed disappointment. Two 19-year-olds this paper spoke to were, unsurprisingly, happy with the vote.

Alcohol is a big part of New Zealand. It is consumed as a way to relax and socialise, in homes and licensed establishments every day.

It is a social lubricant that can enhance enjoyment for some people, and can be a welcome addition to a meal.

But used wrongly, it causes a huge amount of damage through violence, other crime, and health problems.

Alac estimates the social cost of alcohol to be at least $5 billion a year and health officials say alcohol causes 1000 unnecessary deaths a year. We certainly know about the carnage it causes on the roads.

Mr Randell is right in saying teens a couple of years under the legal age will in fact be drinking. This is leading to all sorts of problems and bad decisions.

Just over two years ago, this paper surveyed 100 people in Tauranga and 66 favoured raising the age.

I editorialised then that the awful decision of 1999 needed to be put right. My view hasn't changed.

Democracy has spoken and we must accept this. But MPs who voted to keep the age at 18 have done this country a disservice.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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