Labour MP Lianne Dalziel kicked off debate on the Alcohol Reform Bill before a conscience vote 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."

MPs are due to vote at 5.30pm this afternoon on whether the keep the purchase age at on-licensed premises such as clubs and restaurants and off-licensed premises such as bottle stores and supermarkets.

The options will be 18 for both, an 18-20 split age, or 20 for both.


According to the Herald's survey's, no option will gain a majority on the first vote, and the final vote between 18 and 20 will be won by supporters of 18 - the status quo.

Lianne Dalziel said would be voting for a split age, but if that failed then aged 18.

Other important issues were minimum pricing for super-cheap alcohol, closing times for off-licenses, and the proximity of schools to of-licenses.

Those issues will be debated as part of the bill at another time.


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.

"But they can't have beer? Give me break."


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 13 of the Greens would vote for 18 and one, Kennedy Graham, would vote for 20.

None supported the split age and support for it across Parliament had been steadily falling since MPs had focused on its practical application.

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.


Mana Party leader Hone Harawira wanted to see the age for purchasing alcohol returned to 20.

"Thirteen years ago the purchase age for alcohol in this country was reduced from 20 to 18 - within a few years it became obvious that although the new freedom was very popular amongst teenagers and the alcohol industry - the alcohol-related harm to teenagers had increased."

Mr Harawira backed the Law Commission's recommendation to return the purchase age to 20 across the board.

"That review showed that consumption of alcohol by teenagers was a significant problem for the well-being of all New Zealand youth and a contributing factor in rates of educational problems, depression, self-harm, suicide, vehicle accidents, injuries, falls, drowning, fire, physical and sexual assaults, reckless and unwanted sexual behaviour, pregnancies and termination of pregnancies."

He said he toured his electorate canvassing the views of his constituents in Te Tai Tokerau on this issues.

"Amongst youth, only one 18-year-old thought it would be a good idea to raise the purchase age back up to 20.

"Mind you, when I asked 16-year-olds if the purchase age should be kept at 18, or lowered to 16 - funnily enough 80 per cent thought it should be lowered to 16.

"But this decision is ours to make - our first priority should not be the profits and the booze barons - but the health and well-being of our young people," said Mr Harawira.

He said returning the minimum purchase age to 20 in both licence and off-licence premises is not the answer to all of the alcohol related problems but part of the answer.