Status quo: Drinking age stays at 18

NO CHANGE: Tommy Mason, 18, and Wolf Baynes, 19, are relieved they can still legally drink alcohol but can see why Parliament considered raising the age of consent.
NO CHANGE: Tommy Mason, 18, and Wolf Baynes, 19, are relieved they can still legally drink alcohol but can see why Parliament considered raising the age of consent.

Parliament has again brushed off a bid to return the drinking age to 20 after a rare three-way vote.

The alcohol purchase age remains at 18 after a colourful debate last night that ended in 68 votes for the status quo and 53 backing a return to 20.

An "election" for the final vote had earlier narrowly eliminated the proposed "split age" option of 18 at on-licence venues and 20 at off-licences.

That attracted 33 votes in the first poll - including that of Prime Minister John Key - short of the 38 votes for 20 years and 50 for 18 years.

The victory for MPs and lobbyists who pushed to "Keep it 18" means the existing 18 years purchase age replaces the proposed split age in the Alcohol Reform Bill, which will be passed into law later this year.

The result was a disappointment to many in the health sector, and to many MPs - some of whom had also voted unsuccessfully to lift the age in 2006 after it was first dropped to 18 in 1999.

"The people who are making money out of the heavy-drinking culture will be celebrating," Alcohol Action NZ spokesman Doug Sellman said.

"The people who pick up the mess and treat alcohol problems will be profoundly disappointed."

Most MPs had voted in the first round to lift the age, he said.

Justice Minister Judith Collins, who voted initially for the split age and then for a return to 20, said the result "denied one effective way of curbing problem drinking".

However, other measures in the bill yet to be finally passed would have an effect, she said.

Young Nats president Sean Topham celebrated the result as a "huge victory" for 18- and 19-year-olds after "months of misleading opposition".

But the support of MPs for keeping the age at 18 came with a warning. National's Michael Woodhouse told Parliament he expected the young people who had campaigned to keep it 18, like Mr Topham, to lead a change in the binge drinking culture.

"Take leadership of this issue, lead the change of the discourse among our young," Mr Woodhouse said.

"Actively promote the message that alcohol consumption is normal but excessive consumption isn't and that getting trashed is dumb in the same way that smoking or drink-driving is dumb."

Green MP Kevin Hague, a vocal supporter of keeping it 18, said the focus on raising the purchase age had been a "red herring" that scapegoated young people for a much broader societal issue.

"When we look at the sick drinking culture that we have, actually, it's the rest of us who really need to . . . show some responsibility and leadership," he said.

National MP Nikki Kaye, who introduced the "Keep it 18" amendment, said there had been a relative drop in alcohol consumption among 12-to-17-year-olds of 40 per cent in the past five years and 92 per cent of young people got their alcohol from people aged over 20.

Mr Key had earlier predicted the split age would win the vote.

Via a proxy vote, he was among the 18 MPs who shifted from the split age to 18 years in the second round. Others who did the same included Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Cabinet colleagues Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce.

For Labour, leader David Shearer also backed the split option and then 18 years; deputy Grant Robertson stuck with 18 in both rounds.


Teenagers out and about in Wellington were relieved but philosophical at Parliament's decision to leave the drinking age at 18.

"I suppose I should say, yeah, let's go party, but that's the whole reason they were going to put it up in the first place," Tommy Mason said.

Mr Mason, who has just turned 18, said he would have been disappointed if the drinking age was raised to 20.

"But I can see why they thought about it. A lot of people are getting injured through alcohol."

As a student, he said his drinking intake varied according to the social situation.

"I've been out at times when I've drunk heavily, but I've also been at mates' flats when they've said it's not a race, we're just having a good time."

Starting drinking at 18 meant youths had more time to adjust to alcohol, he said.

"Everyone at some point is going to wake up after drinking too much and regret it."

Wolf Baynes, 19, was also pleased with the decision. "The young people that are being responsible have suffered because of a few bad apples."

Even if the drinking age had been raised, teenagers would still have found ways to drink, he said.

Emma Brazil, 18, supported the drinking age staying put, but she could see why the issue was considered. She admitted it was possible that New Zealand had a binge-drinking problem.


The option to adopt a split alcohol purchase age of 18 in bars and 20 at off-licences venues like bottle stores and supermarkets was defeated with only 33 backing the split option.

On the first ballot 50 backed keeping the age at 18 and 38 opted to increase it to 20.

In the final run-off between 18 and 20 the 121 MPs voted to keep the age at 18 by 68 votes to 53

For keeping the alcohol purchase age at 18

Jacinda Ardern (L)
Shane Ardern (N)
John Banks (A)
Maggie Barry (N)
David Bennett (N)
Paula Bennett (N)
Steffan Browning (G)
Gerry Brownlee (N)
David Carter (N)
Charles Chauvel (L)

David Clendon (G)
David Cunliffe (L)
Clare Curran (L)
Lianne Dalziel (L)
Jacqui Dean (N)
Catherine Delahunty (G)
Peter Dunne (UF)
Ruth Dyson (L)
Bill English (N)
Kris Faafoi (L)

Darien Fenton (L)
Christopher Finlayson (N)
Julie Anne Genter (G)
Paul Goldsmith (N)
Tim Groser (N)
Nathan Guy (N)
Kevin Hague (G)
Tau Henare (N)
Chris Hipkins (L)
Parekura Horomia (L)

Gareth Hughes (G)
Raymond Huo (L)
Paul Hutchison (N)
Shane Jones (L)
Steven Joyce (N)
Nikki Kaye (N)
John Key (N)
Colin King (N)
Melissa Lee (N)
Iain Lees-Galloway (L)

Jan Logie (G)
Moana Mackey (L)
Trevor Mallard (L)
Mojo Mathers (G)
Murray McCully (N)
Ian McKelvie (N)
Russel Norman (G)
Simon O'Connor (N)
David Parker (L)
Rajen Prasad (L)

Grant Robertson (L)
Denise Roche (G)
Jami-Lee Ross (N)
Eugenie Sage (G)
David Shearer (L)
Lockwood Smith (N)
Nick Smith (N)
Rino Tirikatene (L)
Lindsay Tisch (N)
Metiria Turei (G)

Tariana Turia (MP)
Phil Twyford (L)
Nicky Wagner (N)
Holly Walker (G)
Kate Wilkinson (N)
Maurice Williamson (N)
Michael Woodhouse (N)
Megan Woods (L)

For lifting the purchase age to 20.

Amy Adams (N)
Chris Auchinvole (N)
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (N)
Jackie Blue (N)
Chester Borrows (N)
Simon Bridges (N)
Cam Calder (N)
David Clark (L)
Jonathan Coleman (N)

Judith Collins (N)
Clayton Cosgrove (L)
Te Ururoa Flavell (MP)
Craig Foss (N)
Phil Goff (L)
Jo Goodhew (N)
Kennedy Graham (G)
Hone Harawira (M)
John Hayes (N)
Phil Heatley (N)

Brendan Horan (NZF)
Annette King (L)
Andrew Little (L)
Asenati Lole-Taylor (NZF)
Sam Lotu-Iiga (N)
Tim Macindoe (N)
Nanaia Mahuta (L)
Tracey Martin (NZF)
Todd McClay (N)
Mark Mitchell (N)

Sue Moroney (L)
Alfred Ngaro (N)
Damien O'Connor (L)
Denis O'Rourke (NZF)
Hekia Parata (N)
Winston Peters (NZF)
Richard Prosser (NZF)
Ross Robertson (L)
Eric Roy (N)
Tony Ryall (N)

Mike Sabin  (N)
Katrina Shanks (N)
Pita Sharples (MP)
Scott Simpson (N)
Su'a William Sio (L)
Barbara Stewart (NZF)
Maryan Street (L)
Anne Tolley (N)
Chris Tremain (N)
Louise Upston (N)

Louisa Wall (L)
Andrew Williams (NZF)
Jian Yang (N)
Jonathan Young (N)

The Dominion Post