Sunday Star Times 22 April 2012
Support for returning the drinking age to 20 is gaining momentum as MPs face calls to address binge drinking.
But politicians courting the youth vote are cautious, and the Green Party has indicated it is unlikely to back a change to move the age from 18 to 20.
MPs are expected to vote on the purchase age provisions of the Alcohol Reform Bill in the next couple of months.
The drinking age was lowered to 18 in a 1999 conscience vote. Health leaders want it restored to 20, and say the evidence points to that as the only option.
National MP Jackie Blue said straw polls had shown “overwhelming” public support for the age to be set at 20.
The Alcohol Reform Bill purchase age provisions would allow 18-year-olds to buy alcohol in licensed premises, but restrict off-licence purchases to those 20 and older.
National MP Tim Macindoe, who wants sales in any venue restricted to 20-year-olds, says support for the move has grown over the past three years.
“In the previous Parliament I would have been struggling for much more than 20 per cent [support from MPs], but at the moment it would be closer to 30. And there will be an opportunity as the pressure comes on over the next couple of weeks to lift that.
“There is support within my own caucus, and there is some support within Labour, as well as [Act’s] John Banks, and potentially New Zealand First.”
The Maori Party also supports raising the purchase age to 20 for both licensed premises and liquor stores.
National and Labour MPs will be able to cast a conscience vote but the Greens, who have 14 MPs, have yet to decide, although party policy is to oppose raising the age.