NEW Zealand’s Parliament has voted to keep the alcohol purchase age at 18, the second major social issue it has examined this week.
MPs had the chance to vote on three options, with the decision to keep the status quo made over increasing it to 20, or changing it to a split age of 18 at on-license venues and 20 at off-licenses.
None of the three won majority support in the first vote, with the split age the least popular with 33 votes, behind the split option with 38 votes and keeping the law as it was with 50.
In a second vote, to decide the final result, 18 years attracted 68 votes and 20 years had 53.
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
Nikki Kaye, the National MP who introduced the Keep It 18 amendment, told Parliament the debate was about rights and freedom.
There had been a relative drop in alcohol consumption among 12 to 17 year olds of around 40 percent over the past five years.
Other parts of the Alcohol Reform Bill would help reduce access to alcohol by young people.
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,” Fairfax NZ reported her as saying.
Labour’s justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said evidence did not show drinking by those under 20 was “out of control”, and people were being blinded to 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.”
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.
Former policeman and drug educator Mike Sabin, 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.”
Prime Minister John Key supported the split-option.
Earlier in the week, the first reading of a bill to allow gay marriage was passed, with 80 MPs voting in favour and 40 opposed.