Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

MPs vote to keep drinking age at 18

MPs spent two and a half hours debating the age. Photo / Thinkstock
MPs spent two and a half hours debating the age. Photo / Thinkstock

Parliament has voted to keep the drinking and purchase age of alcohol at 18-years-old.

In the first ballot, the 18 age option received 50 votes, the 20 age option received 38 votes and the split-age option received 33 votes.

The final vote between the top two was 68 for aged 18 and 53 for aged 20.

MPs were offered three options under the committee stages of the Alcohol Reform Bill:

- Aged 18 for both drinking at an on-licensed premises and buying liquor from an off-licensed premises like a supermarket.

- Aged 20 for both drinking at an on-licensed premises and buying liquor from an off-licensed premises like a supermarket.

- Split age - aged 18 for drinking on-licensed premises and 20 for buying alcohol at off-license premises.

The vote on the age is the only conscience vote in the Alcohol Reform Bill. Debate on other elements of the bill will resume after next week's recess.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said keeping the age at 18 across the board denied one effective way of curbing problem drinking but it was not the only tool available.

Other key proposals included:

- Increasing the ability of local communities to have a say on alcohol licensing.

- Strengthening rules about the types of stores eligible to sell alcohol and restricting supermarkets and grocery stores to displaying alcohol in a single area.

- Requiring express parental consent for private supply of alcohol to under-18 year olds and ensuring that the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner.

- Restricting alcohol availability by making it harder to get a licence and introducing maximum trading hours for licensed premises.

- Strengthening the controls on alcohol advertising and promotion by making it an offence to promote alcohol in a way that has special appeal to minors.

MPs spent two and a half hours debating the drinking age this afternoon.

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel kicked off the debate saying that the focus on the purchase age was causing a distraction on other important issues.

"If anyone thinks that by changing the age that we have solved the problems this country has with alcohol, then think again because we haven't solved the problems at all."

National MP Tau Henare urged the House "to lay off the young people".

Supporting an age of 18, he said they were entrusted with choosing Governments in the ballot box and defending New Zealand or other countries in the Army.

He said a split age was "nothing but a cop put".

"It's either 18 or it's not. You can't have it both ways."

In a rowdy debate, Mr Henare was barracked by members of the National Party who want a change and he warned them they were not going to get an easy time of themselves.

Greens MP Kevin Hague said there was no evidence to support a split age. It would have enforcement problems and would force new drinkers into licensed premises "where their role models for drinking will be the dysfunctional drinking culture of the rest of us".

Of particular concern for him as a rural MP - West Coast - was the likelihood of increased drunk driving if young people were forced to go to licensed premises some distance from their homes in order to drink.

Labour MP Phil Goff, who supports a split age, said alcohol abuse was one of the biggest social and economic problems facing New Zealand.

The Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council estimated the social cost at $5 billion to $6 billion a year and the Ministry of Health talked of 1000 unnecessary deaths a year being caused by alcohol.

"What other product would we tolerate happening in our society with that sort of cost?"

The Law Commission report on alcohol had been set up to tackle the problems of alcohol abuse and addiction. What was the point of commissioning such a report if you didn't intend to follow recommendations they made.

The Law Commission recommended increasing the age to 20 - after initially recommending a split age. He was influenced by the evidence-based approach of the law commission as well as witnessing his own generation abusing alcohol.

Alcohol was not the sole preserve of the young and he said his generation had been very bad role model for those following through.

- NZ Herald

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