New Zealand's alcohol purchasing age not to be raised

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Thursday, November 9, 2006

In a conscience vote last night, Wednesday, parliament decided that the alcohol purchasing for New Zealanders will not be raised to 20 but instead will stay at the current age of 18.

The vote was 72-49 with the noes as the majority, a conscience vote is where the individual Member of Parliament (MP) votes instead of the party and their policies.

The bill was brought before Parliament with the intent of placing the drinking age back at 20 following its lowering to 18 in 1999. It was first drafted by Matt Robson of the NZ Progressive Party, and was then taken on by Martin Gallagher from the New Zealand Labour Party.

However, the Labour-led government is being attacked for interfering with the liquor purchase age bill. Before the debate on the bill, two ministers who are against raising the age, justice minister Mark Burton and associate health minister, Damien O'Conner both announced that they would fully review the sale/supply of liquor to people below the age of 18, regardless of whether the bill were passed or not. The review will most likely look at how many off-licence outlets there are and increased law enforcement of the drink age. Mr Burton said that he did not pre-empt the bill voting, he said: "It was important to ensure all options were on the table before the vote. What we are saying is you can have confidence that if the bill doesn't proceed there will be an alternative vehicle for addressing the issues immediately thereafter."

Many MPs said that it was unorthodox to intrude in such a manner in the voting process. Leader of Jim Anderton's Progressive coalition and supporter of the bill, Jim Anderton, said: "Making a last-minute plea to MPs is not to be fooled by the promise of the unnecessary review. This is the review you have when you want to give parliamentarians a soft option. We do not have that luxury. And I hear that sigh of relief in many places, 'oh gosh you've got a review so we don't have to make a hard decision'. Well this is the place for hard decisions and this is where the buck stops."

Christopher Bishop, a spokesman for the Keep it 18 campaign, said: "We welcome the Government's moves to review the supply of alcohol to minors in the likely event that the Sale of Liquor Amendment Bill is defeated today. Raising the drinking age is never going to work as a way of dealing with New Zealand's drinking culture. It is a simplistic and knee-jerk solution – a legislative sledgehammer."

Chester Burrows, National MP, said: "My experience is I've seen too many pissed young people, raped young people, assaulted young people."

Wayne Mapp, National MP, said he favours a split age, 18 and 19-year-olds are allowed to drink in pubs but not to buy alcohol at liquor stores until they are 20. "They [the two who introduced the review] should have waited till Parliament decides, rather than trying to dictate," he said.

Gordon Copeland, United Future MP, who also preferred the split age, said he had "no doubt the move would influence the way people voted. It was a most unfortunate interference."

Simon Power, National MP, said: "It [the bill] is inconsistent. It requires peculiar legal definition and will make life more difficult and harder for the police to enforce."

Ron Mark, New Zealand First MP, said: "Are we going to do something, or are we going to do nothing?" asked New Zealand First list MP Ron Mark. "We can at least let this bill go through to the next stage."

Ross Bell, spokesman for the Drug Foundation, said: "Not only is such a review too narrow, it also seemed to pre-empt the outcome of Wednesday's debate. A cynical person might think the announcement gave MPs an excuse not to support the bill. That review has already been looked at by the Law and Order Select Committee, and what is needed is a review of price and availability of alcohol."

However it has been suggested by the select committee previously researching the drinking problem in New Zealand that there is little hard evidence 18 & 19 year olds are buying alcohol for minors, with the largest problem instead being the purchasing of alcohol by parents for their children.