Alcohol purchase age remains 18
Parliament has voted to keep the alcohol purchase age at 18.
In a rare three-way vote, MPs chose to keep the status quo over moving it up to 20 or changing to a split age of 18 at on-license venues and 20 at off-licenses.
None of the three options won majority support in the first round of voting, with the split age option the least popular with 33 votes, behind 20 years with 38 votes and 18 with 50.
In a second run-off vote to decide the final result, 18 years attracted 69 votes and 20 years had 53 votes, according to the result read by assistant speaker of the House Eric Roy.
Debate in the House was intense and evenly matched with roughly as many MPs speaking for 18 as for 20.
Fewer MPs spoke in favour of the split age, despite it being supported by Prime Minister John Key and being included as the new law in the Alcohol Reform Bill.
The victory for MPs and lobbyists pushing to "Keep It 18" means the existing 18 years purchase age replaces the split age in the Alcohol Reform Bill, which will be passed in to law later this year.
National MP Nikki Kaye, who introduced the "Keep It 18" amendment, told Parliament the debate was about rights and freedom.
Kaye said there had been a relative drop in alcohol consumption among 12 to 17 year olds of 40 percent in the last five years.
There were effective measures in other parts of the Alcohol Reform Bill that would help reduce the access to alcohol of young people under the age of 18, Kaye said.
Already, 92 percent of young people got their alcohol from people aged over 20.
"You need to vote with your heads and vote for provisions that will make an actually difference in terms of supply," Kaye urged MPs.
Labour's justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said claims that the drinking of under-20s were out of control was not borne out by the evidence and distracted from the "real problem".
"The issue is the culture, price, access and supervision all issues that need to be dealt with in the next phase of this debate," Chauvel said.
Green Party youth spokeswoman Holly Walker said there was an undoubted unhealthy drinking culture in New Zealand.
"We need to change this culture but raising the purchase age will not achieve that change," Walker said.
"The implication will be that we have dealt with the problem of binge drinking ... but that is not what will happen. Changing the age will send the message that problem drinking is just a young person's problem."
But 92 percent of problem drinkers were aged over 20, Walker said.
In the late 1990s, 80 percent of 14 to 18 year-olds were counted as alcohol drinkers, but that had now fallen to only 32 percent.
Tim Macindoe, who led the amendment for moving the age up to 20, said it was "absolutely untrue" that an increase in the age would unfairly target young people. A "quiet beer" for 18 and 19-year-olds would still be possible under supervision.
"This is not a matter of blaming young people for New Zealand's binge drinking culture, it is about trying to protect them from it," Macindoe said.
The "overwhelming number of New Zealanders" were urging an increase in the age, he said.
Mike Sabin, a former police officer and drug educator, also backed an increase to 20.
"The adolescent brain is biologically quite different to that of a mature adult," Sabin said.
"It is a time where the brain is absorbing drugs and alcohol eight times quicker and metabolises them three times slower."
There was a "big difference" between and 18-year-old brain and a 20-year-old brain, he said.
"The longer we can delay the uptake or certainly the abuse of alcohol, the better it will be for that individual."
Cam Calder, who voted for the age to go up to 20, said he had spent hours in the 1990s tending to the victims of alcohol-related assaults.
Anne Tolley, speaking as the local East Coast MP, said a survey in her electorate had returned an overwhelming response of more than 80 percent supporting the age to go up.
"The experiment of lowering the drinking age to 18 has not worked," Tolley said.
Among the minority of MPs to speak for a split age was senior Labour MP and former Justice Minister Phil Goff.
He said he had recently met with an "incredibly angry and frustrated" doctor at Auckland Hospital's emergency room.
"We are witnessing the damage that's happening ... the truth is unless we do something to stop younger people getting access to alcohol now they are going to be damaged and the cost is going to be permanent," Goff said.
"Lifting the age is not the only solution ... We have to change the culture, but it is a place to start."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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