The drinking age will remain at 18, after MPs last night voted to maintain the status quo, but campaigners have backed plans for a review of underage drinking.
Labour Hamilton West MP Martin Gallagher's private member's bill to raise the drinking age to 20 was defeated 72 to 49, partly because of the last-minute Government announcement.
The review was announced at midday by Justice Minister Mark Burton and Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor, both of whom supported the drinking age remaining at 18. It surprised many MPs and blindsided Mr Gallagher.
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The Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) said today it was disappointed at the vote, but welcomed the review.
Chief executive Mike MacAvoy said: "What the Government has announced, which is a review of access of minors and a first principle review of the Sale of Liquor Act, gives us a great deal broader and better opportunity to really address the issue of alcohol abuse in our society and not just amongst the young."
Mr Gallagher conceded immediately after the vote that it was looking likely to be lost even before the review was announced.
"I do remain disappointed that the Parliament didn't at least vote to send it to the committee stages because ultimately the buck does stop with the Parliament ... How many votes that announcement would have swayed, I don't know," he said.
"I think the positive is that at least we're not doing nothing."
He said the review had to have a tight timeframe and strong terms of reference as the problem of alcohol abuse by young people remained, irrespective of the vote.
"I personally think we've dropped the ball."
Green Party MP Metiria Turei said Parliament could now focus on real solutions for the country's drinking problems.
"The legal purchasing age has never been the real issue. It is unrestricted advertising, wide access to alcohol, unrestricted supply of alcohol to very young people and the widely accepted culture of binge drinking that need to be addressed," she said.
Ms Turei said she hoped MPs would now support her member's bill that would ban all alcohol advertising on television or radio. The Liquor Advertising (Television and Radio) Bill was recently drawn from Parliament's ballot.
She said the Government's review was a positive move.
Several MPs were last night angered that the review had been announced before the debate and conscience vote on the bill.
"Another committee will not solve the problem, and when the Government puts out a press release on the eve of this debate, I believe they are misleading the public," National North Shore MP Wayne Mapp said.
"In truth, to change the culture you actually have to change the law. We've seen that in many other areas of our lives. Changing the law changes the culture and acceptance of the way people behave."
Christopher Bishop, spokesman for the Keep It 18 campaign, said he was delighted at the wide margin in favour of retaining the status quo.
"Seventy-two MPs voted for personal responsibility tonight, and they voted to recognise that problems with youth drinking in New Zealand can't be solved with a simplistic, kneejerk legislative sledgehammer like this bill."
National Rangitikei MP Simon Power said the bill contained numerous inconsistencies.
"The bill is still very badly flawed and represents in my view very poor law. This bill will badly confuse the current law on the purchase of alcohol ... this bill does nothing for the supply of alcohol or for the consumption of alcohol. This bill only relates to the purchase age and nothing else."
Progressive leader Jim Anderton said MPs were challenged with making a difference for the health and well-being of teenage New Zealanders.
"The single most destructive drug in New Zealand, and I speak as the minister in charge of the Government's drug policy, is alcohol, by a country mile," Mr Anderton said.
"The single biggest predictor of criminal behaviour in New Zealand is the use and abuse of alcohol."
New Zealand First MP Ron Mark pleaded for MPs to pass the bill's second reading so they could then consider it clause by clause.
"We must always remember that when there are a group of young people who step up and demand their rights in terms of being allowed to drink at the age of 18 and 19, they are not the only voices worth listening to."
HOW YOUR MP VOTED
The vote on the second reading of the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill was:
Jim Anderton (Prog C, Wigram), Chester Borrows (Nat, Whanganui), Peter Brown (NZ First, list), John Carter (Nat, Northland), Ashraf Choudhary (Labour, list), Bob Clarkson (Nat, Tauranga), Jonathan Coleman (Nat, Northcote), Gordon Copeland (UF, list), Clayton Cosgrove (Lab, Waimakariri), David Cunliffe (Lab, New Lynn), Brian Donnelly (NZ First, list), Harry Duynhoven (Lab, New Plymouth), Taito Phillip Field (Lab, Mangere), Chris Finlayson (Nat, list), Te Ururoa Flavell (Maori Party, Waiariki), Craig Foss (Nat, Tukituki), Martin Gallagher (Lab, Hamilton West), Jo Goodhew (Nat, Aoraki), Sandra Goudie (Nat, Coromandel), Hone Harawira (Maori Party, Te Tai Tokerau), John Hayes (Nat, Wairarapa), Phil Heatley (Nat, Whangarei), Shane Jones (Lab, list), John Key (Nat, Helensville), Annette King (Lab, Rongotai), Colin King (Nat, Kaikoura), Luamanuvao Winnie Laban (Lab, Mana), Nanaia Mahuta (Lab, Tainui), Wayne Mapp (Nat, North Shore), Ron Mark (NZ First, list), Sue Moroney (Lab, list), Pita Paraone (NZ First, list), Winston Peters (NZ First, list), Ross Robertson (Lab, Manukau East), Eric Roy (Nat, Invercargill), Tony Ryall (Nat, Bay of Plenty), Dover Samuels (Lab, list), Pita Sharples (Maori Party, Tamaki Makaurau), Nick Smith (Nat, Nelson), Barbara Stewart (NZ First, list), Paul Swain (Lab, Rimutaka), Georgina te Heuheu (Nat, list), Anne Tolley (Nat, East Coast), Chris Tremain (Nat, Napier), Tariana Turia (Maori Party, Te Tai Hauauru), Judy Turner (UF, list), Doug Woolerton (NZ First, list), Richard Worth (Nat, list), Dianne Yates (Lab, list)
Shane Ardern (Nat, Taranaki-King Country), Chris Auchinvole (Nat, list), Rick Barker (Lab, list), Tim Barnett (Lab, Christchurch Central), David Bennett (Nat, Hamilton East), Paula Bennett (Nat, list), David Benson-Pope (Lab, Dunedin South), Georgina Beyer (Lab, list), Jackie Blue (Nat, list), Mark Blumsky (Nat, list), Sue Bradford (Greens, list), Don Brash (Nat, list), Gerry Brownlee (Nat, Ilam), Mark Burton (Lab, Taupo), Chris Carter (Lab, list), David Carter (Nat, list), Steve Chadwick (Lab, Rotorua), Charles Chauvel (Lab, list), Helen Clark (Lab, Mt Albert), Judith Collins (Nat, Clevedon), Brian Connell (Nat, Rakaia), Michael Cullen (Lab, list), Lianne Dalziel (Lab, Christchurch East), Jacqui Dean (Nat, Otago), Peter Dunne (UF, Ohariu-Belmont), Ruth Dyson (Lab, Banks Peninsula), Bill English (Nat, Clutha-Southland), Russell Fairbrother (Lab, list), Darien Fenton (Lab, list), Jeanette Fitzsimons (Greens, list), Phil Goff (Lab, Mt Roskill), Mark Gosche (Lab, Maungakiekie), Tim Groser (Nat, list), Nathan Guy (Nat, list), Ann Hartley (Lab, list), George Hawkins (Lab, Manurewa), Tau Henare (Nat, list), Dave Hereora (Lab, list), Rodney Hide (Act, Epsom), Marian Hobbs (Lab, Wellington Central), Pete Hodgson (Lab, Dunedin North), Parekura Horomia (Lab, Ikaroa-Rawhiti), Darren Hughes (Lab, Otaki), Paul Hutchison (Nat, Port Waikato), Sue Kedgley (Greens, list), Keith Locke (Greens, list), Moana Mackey (Lab, list), Steve Maharey (Lab, Palmerston North), Trevor Mallard (Lab, Hutt South), Murray McCully (Nat, Albany), Damien O'Connor (Lab, West Coast-Tasman), Mahara Okeroa (Lab, Te Tai Tonga), David Parker (Lab, list), Allan Peachey (Nat, Tamaki), Jill Pettis (Lab, list), Lynne Pillay (Lab, Waitakere), Simon Power (Nat, Rangitikei), Katherine Rich (Nat, list), Mita Ririnui (Lab, list), Heather Roy (Act, list), Clem Simich (Nat, list), Lockwood Smith (Nat, Rodney), Maryan Street (Lab, list), Nandor Tanczos (Green, list), Lindsay Tisch (Nat, Piako), Judith Tizard (Lab, Auckland Central), Metiria Turei (Greens, list), Nicky Wagner (Nat, list), Kate Wilkinson (Nat, list), Maurice Williamson (Nat, Pakuranga), Margaret Wilson (Lab, list), Pansy Wong (Nat, list).