The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): The House is in Committee on the Alcohol Reform Bill. It is a decision on the age for the sale and purchase of alcohol from licensed premises. [Interruption] Order! Would members who are having a conversation like to take it outside the Chamber.
We are in the process of beginning the debate on the alcohol purchase age. The House is in Committee on the Alcohol Reform Bill. Following—[Interruption]
Members should listen to this. Following the leave granted by the House yesterday, I remind members that this debate will take the form of an in principle debate on the issue of the age for the sale and purchase of alcohol from licensed premises, and the issue of the purchase age will be decided at 5.30 p.m. by an election from the three options: 18 years, 20 years, and a split age. If this election does not produce a majority decision, the option receiving the fewest votes will be eliminated, and the issue decided between the remaining two options by a personal vote. The Committee will report progress at the conclusion of the voting, and any amendments to the bill necessary to implement the Committee’s decision will be drafted by parliamentary counsel.
The issue before the Committee is the age for the sale and purchase of alcohol from licensed premises. In the interests of fairness and participation in the debate, members will get an opportunity for an individual 5-minute call.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I think in briefing the Committee you missed one relatively important point, and that is to tell members of the Committee that, as agreed by leave yesterday, there will be only a 1-minute bell between the declaration of the first vote and the starting of the second vote, and therefore members should not go back to their offices.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Thank you very much for reminding the Committee of that, Mr Mallard—very much appreciated.
In principle debate on the issue of the age for the sale and purchase of alcohol from licensed premises
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East)
: I wish to address Part 2 of the Alcohol Reform Bill, and I want to begin by talking about the fact that this is the only part of this bill that the Government wanted to have as a conscience vote. I think it is an important matter to debate. I really strongly object to the fact that this one part of the bill has been carved out for a conscience vote, because it makes it look like age is the only problem we have with alcohol in this country. Age is not the only problem we have. There is an element of a problem that comes from the decision that was made in 1999, but I want to come back to that later on.
I think what we have ended up with is the media very much focusing on how MPs are going to vote on the age, when there are much more important issues that the media should actually be asking individual members of Parliament about. They should be asking individual members of Parliament what they feel about minimum pricing for super-cheap alcohol. They should be asking them about the closing time for off-licences. They should be asking them about the proximity of schools to off-licences. They should be asking them—
Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I understood that the debate was around the purchase age and the issues related to the three options that you mentioned at the start of this debate.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Speaking to the point of order, I am simply referring to the fact that this is the only part of the bill that the Government has allocated as a conscience vote. It is perfectly appropriate to have a discussion about the nature of the vote that we are about to have, in the context of the Committee stage on this part.
Michael Woodhouse: As you well know, it is not the Government’s prerogative to decide what is and is not a conscience vote. That will be for the Speaker to decide at that time. The Business Committee has agreed that this is a debate on the age of purchase. Members know that we will have plenty of opportunity in the substantive Committee stage on the bill as a whole to debate those issues. I think it is an important point that we need to establish at this point in the Committee stage today, that we spend
as much time as we can on the question at hand, which is the age of the purchase and sale of alcohol.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Can I just say to the Committee that the Speaker allocates the conscience votes, and the member was actually talking about the process around the conscience vote. If the member wishes to use up her 5 minutes’ time doing that, she is perfectly entitled to do so.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. This will be very brief, but it is really just a request to members. We have a debate that is going to last 2¼ hours, and unless there is a very good reason, we should not have points of order.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Thank you. Can I just say to members that, look, I said right at the beginning that in the interests of fairness I want to be able to try to give at least every member one shot—5 minutes. So it is up to members how they use it, because there may well be a considerable amount of speaking.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: What I was saying was simply this: if anyone in this Committee thinks that by changing the age we have solved the problems that this country has with alcohol, then think again, because we have not solved the problems at all. The Law Commission gave us a very extensive report. It gave us the evidence this Committee needs in order to have votes on different elements of the law, and this is only one element of the law.
I am supporting the split-age option, and if the split-age option is not supported by this Committee by a majority, then I will be voting to keep it at age 18. There is a very good reason why I want to do that. It is that I believe it is fundamental that the public of New Zealand does not think for one minute that we have dealt with the really hard issues, with the issues that require the courage of people to stand up in this Committee and to speak from the evidence that has been brought to us by the Law Commission. I am afraid that the bill that we have before us as a whole does not quite do that.
I do not believe that we can sheet home responsibility to the 18 and 19-year-olds of this country, to say that they are the cause of the problem that we have today. I just want to remind people that there are issues that we have to take charge of and that we have to take notice of. When we see our emergency departments clogged up, weekend in and weekend out, by people who are both the perpetrators and the victims of violence; when we have people bumped off our elective surgery lists because we have got alcohol-fuelled crashes happening and ordinary people cannot get their operations as a result; when we have the victims of burglary who cannot get the police to come because they are busy dealing with alcohol-fuelled events in the centres of our towns, and in Christchurch that is now the suburbs and no longer the centre of our town; when we see people lying on the side of the road, vomiting into the gutter, or when we have to clean it up in the street in the morning after; when we find broken bottles, as my husband often does when he goes out cycling on a Sunday morning, and of course it ruins the tyres; when we see all of those events, and when we see our letterboxes kicked over, we cannot say that this country does not share the problem, that we want to sheet it all home to personal responsibility, and that we want to blame the 18 and 19-year-olds of this country.
The truth is that we cannot blame just them. It is true that pre-loading is a generational thing. It did not happen in our day. It was quite different, because we had very regulated hours of trading, and of course the pubs closed at 11 o’clock at night in those days. Pre-loading does not happen just with 18 and 19-year-olds, but it does expose a problem that occurred, I believe, in 1999. It was something that I was not aware of at the time. I think we got it wrong in 1999, but I did not know how inadequate the law was in respect of the supply of alcohol. The law does not make it illegal to supply liquor to someone under 18. The current law says that it is an offence to buy
alcohol with the intention of supplying it to somebody under the age of 18. It is an entirely flawed piece of legislation. What I believe this Committee needs to do is to split the age and to say that people who are drinking in supervised environments cannot have alcohol served to them if they are intoxicated. Supervised environments are better than unsupervised—
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): I call Denis Roche. [Interruption] Denis O’Rourke.
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First)
: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I could not claim to be as good-looking as the other member. But thank you for the call. Of the three basic options on the purchasing age in the Alcohol Reform Bill—firstly, 18 for both on-licence and off-licence premises; secondly, 20 for both on-licence and off-licence premises; and, thirdly, 18 for on-licence and 20 for off-licence premises, which is the split-age option—only one has no logic or credibility, in my view, and that is the split-age option.
The argument that somehow young drinkers in on-licence premises are more responsible or better behaved there is specious. We can see them every night, in every bar, in every town, misbehaving and drinking excessively in those places. The argument that somehow young drinkers in on-licence premises are likely to drink less there is also implausible, and, in fact, the opposite may well be the case. There is actually no convincing evidence that behaviour is better or worse, or drinking is lesser or greater, in on-licence or off-licence premises. We simply do not know. But expert opinion does say that there is actually no reason to discriminate between on-licence and off-licence as far as age is concerned.
The split age is not a useful compromise. I think it is really just a cop-out. So which age is appropriate then? I think we need to judge that by the magnitude of harm that is potentially going to come down upon young people, and that refers to health issues, to personal development issues, and to mental well-being. I believe that the latest possible age, for those reasons, is the best, and that age is 20 years. That has been the age of majority in New Zealand since the Age of Majority Act 1970. Twenty-one, I think, would actually be better, personally, but that is neither legally nor reasonably viable in New Zealand. So 20 is the correct age, I believe, for both on-licence and off-licence premises.
I do not think it is too much to ask that people aged 18 should wait another 2 years so that they can purchase alcohol, wherever that may be. Arguments for relativity to other ages as a justification for 18 are also specious. Some people say that if you can join the army and fight for New Zealand at the age of 17, you should be able to buy alcohol. In fact, the army is a highly disciplined environment where obedience and compliance are absolutely central, whereas a high degree of disobedience and very bad behaviour is what happens with young people imbibing alcohol.
There is a long list of ages in the law for imposing duties and conferring personal rights. I will give you just some examples. At the age of 14 years, for example, you are now legally a young person, and you can babysit children. At 16 years you can sit a driving test and obtain your learner licence, and you can get a tattoo without your parents’ permission. At the age of 17 years you can join the navy, the army, and the air force. At the age of 18 years your parents are no longer your legal guardians. You can make a will, you can join the police, and you can apply for an unemployment benefit. At the age of 19 you stop being eligible for free primary and secondary education. At the age of 20 you can adopt a child who is related to you. At the age of 25 you can adopt a child who is at least 20 years younger than you.
The point is this: what happens in terms of the conferring of rights or the imposing of duties at other ages is completely irrelevant to the purchasing age for alcohol. They just
have no relevance whatsoever. There is only one genuine criterion, I believe, for the alcohol age, and that is what age is in the best interests of young people. My answer to that is 20 years, because the later age creates more maturity.
Hon TAU HENARE (National)
: Back when we changed the law on the purchase of alcohol from 20 years to 18 years, I voted to have the law stay at 20, but was quite happy to have the law whatever it was. I have one thing and one thing to say: lay off the young people. Lay off young people and telling young people what to do as if this problem is about only young people. The figures that have been released by various organisations have said that binge drinking is actually not about young people; it is about all of New Zealand. It is about older people. I have talked to nurses and doctors in hospitals up and down this country, and they have said to check out Friday night and Thursday night and see who comes in. It is not the young people who are coming in. It is the older people who are coming in all drunk and untidy with bruises on their faces and crusted spew all over the place. It is the older people.
My message to this Committee is—and I take the point of the last speaker, Denis O’Rourke—that we expect young people to toddle off to the polling booth every 3 years, be responsible, and choose a Government for the next 3 years. We expect young people, if they want to, to join the army and go across the world to defend whatever we say. We expect them to do a whole lot of things at 18. But they cannot have a beer? Give me a break—give me a break! It sounds like the debate about civil unions and marriages all over again—it does.
The issue in this Alcohol Reform Bill of 20 years and the split age is nothing but a cop-out. In fact, the split age is nothing but a cop-out. It is either 18 or it is not, but you cannot have it both ways. And I say on behalf of all those people who are 18, are 19, or are just shy of 20, you can go into a pub, you can buy your beer, wine, or spirits, and you can partake of the very stuff—the very nectar of life—that everybody else can.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Nectar of life?
Hon TAU HENARE: Yes, it is—absolutely. Well, some of the members should know better. This is what it is about. Why should we, every 10 years or so, change the law upwards or down? Who is it that suffers? It is the young people. We should stop right now blaming young people for the problems of this country. It is not their fault—it is not their fault.
Mike Sabin: It’s not about blame.
Hon TAU HENARE: Pardon me?
Tim Macindoe: It’s all about blame.
Hon TAU HENARE: Oh, here we go—here we go. That is what you see. They cannot sit nicely like the Opposition! They just cannot do it. I want to thank the Opposition members for sitting in their chairs, in their seats, and acting like nice people. It should be 18. Why punish young people when it is a problem—
Mike Sabin: Oh, it’s about blame and punish now?
Hon TAU HENARE: That is why it is a problem, because even my own colleagues will not give me the respect that I deserve to have my 5-minute say. That is the reason. That is one of the reasons why we have such a problem in our communities. This is a serious matter and I am here to say: keep it at 18. I am here to defend the rights of those young people, especially when older people in this Chamber—and especially when even my own colleagues will not give me the respect that I deserve. Here is a warning: if they think they are going to get a cool ride this afternoon, they have got another think coming.
KEVIN HAGUE (Green)
: The Green Party has devoted a lot of time to considering and analysing the evidence and arguments that have been made on the various sides of this debate. We believe that much of the support for raising the age has arisen from the
inadequacy of other measures in the Alcohol Reform Bill, but we do not believe that that is a good basis for changing this part of the law. Today 13 of us will vote to retain the current purchase age of 18 while Kennedy Graham will cast a proxy vote for 20. None of us support the split age that is currently provided for in the bill. It started out, no doubt, as a way to find a politically acceptable compromise between 18 and 20, in a politically hot debate between those two. But what has happened is that political solutions also have practical consequences, and, over the time that this option has been on the table, members of this House have, I think, started to think through what those practical consequences have been or will be. That is why support for the split age has been steadily falling.
Rather than being a common-sense compromise, the proposed split age is actually muddled. There is no evidence at all to support it. It does not seem to have been successful anywhere. It has enforcement problems. It will force new drinkers into licensed premises where their role model for drinking will be the dysfunctional drinking culture of the rest of us. Of particular concern to me as a member who lives in a rural area is that it will create the likelihood of increased drink-driving as young people are forced to go to licensed premises that are some distance away from their homes in order to drink.
This business of evidence is important to us. We believe in evidence-based policy and in approaching all drugs, including alcohol, in a consistent way, with regulation appropriate to the harms caused. We are concerned to reduce alcohol-related harm, as I am sure everyone is, but New Zealand’s drinking problem is not specifically a youth drinking problem, as Tau Henare has said. It is a problem of culture shared by us all. The issue has been cast as a youth problem to divert attention away from the wider culture and to facilitate the denial of older New Zealanders like me that we have a problem. That is called scapegoating. The evidence is that less than 10 percent of the binge drinking that occurs in New Zealand occurs in the young people we are discussing today—less than 10 percent. That drinking by young people is, in fact, on the wane. Drinking by 18 and 19-year-olds is, in fact, lower than it was before the age was dropped from 20.
Denis O’Rourke: It’s not what the Law Commission found.
KEVIN HAGUE: It is not what the Law Commission found, but it is what the researchers found. If we approach the issues with clear heads ourselves and are not swayed by the moral panic around young people, which characterises much of the public debate, we must conclude that the problem is a broad societal one and solutions must address that. That is what public health thinking tells us, too. Public health thinking says that if we want to change something, we have more effective interventions by changing the norms of the whole of the population rather than trying to target a specific sector of the population. There is very solid evidence behind interventions to increase price, restrict location and hours, and restrict advertising and sponsorship. Those interventions will reduce harm across the whole population, including the harm caused to young people. In fact, they will be more effective than reducing the purchase age.
Almost everyone says that they do not believe in prohibition, but what this bill proposes is, in fact, to impose a form of prohibition on a particular selected group. That is just wrong. What we need to do instead is actually cast a balance between the freedom of individuals—between individual autonomy and harm reduction. If I at 52 can make a decision to engage in behaviour that causes me some harm, why ought not the 18-year-old able to do that? Those who oppose that will say: “Well, yes, but you have got all of this experience and wisdom at your age.” But the reality is that Denis
O’Rourke has already given a list of things that we already allow those 18 and 19-year-olds to do.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour)
: I want to begin by just acknowledging the Minister in the chair, the Hon Chester Borrows. Mr Borrows chaired the Justice and Electoral Committee, which heard all the evidence on the Alcohol Reform Bill, and so I am delighted that he is in the chair today. I want to pay tribute to the way he chaired the committee. I acted as one of the two deputy chairs of the committee for the purposes of these hearings, because we heard so many submissions that we had to divide up into two subcommittees in order to do them justice. What I want to do today is bring the debate back as much as possible to the evidence that was actually heard before the select committee, because we ought to be basing our decisions in respect of this debate on that evidence.
The point about this particular part of the debate is that the group that is being targeted here is not the problem. As we have heard from both Tau Henare and just now from Kevin Hague, the claims that drinking amongst under 20s is now out of control since the lowering of the drinking age is just not borne out by the evidence. By pointing the finger at the under 20s it detracts from the real problem, which is the binge-drinkers of all ages. It sends a message to all those heavy drinkers who are in denial about their behaviour that we have dealt with the problem—i.e., youth drinking—and so we do not need to change anything, and that is patently wrong.
The issues around binge drinking by some young people will never be solved or even helped by trying to restrict supply to 18 and 19-year-olds. If supply were the issue, then there would be many, many more young people drinking since the lowering of the age, not fewer. As we have heard, as I said, from Tau Henare and now Kevin Hague, that is not what the evidence shows.
The issue is the culture, price, access, and supervision—all issues that need to be dealt with in the next phase of this debate, and hopefully will be, whether or not by way of this Government bill or by way of Supplementary Order Papers put forward by my colleagues and me with the aim to strengthen the bill. Those proposals really are going to need to be considered as part of the whole solution here.
As my colleague Lianne Dalziel said, it is wrong to single out age in isolation. We have to deal with issues like minimum pricing and restricting the number of liquor outlets and the hours they are open. All of these proposals would have a far greater impact on the problem of our binge drinking culture across all age groups than simply lifting the purchase age by restricting supply to 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds.
Denis O’Rourke: It would help, though.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: I am being interjected on by Mr O’Rourke, who did not participate in the select committee hearings and who knows nothing about the evidence. But never mind that—never mind that—let us just have grumpy and ignorant interjections—
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Order! Can I just interrupt. Sorry to interrupt the member. Can I just say to members that when you are in close proximity, like we are over here on the cross benches, interjections can actually be heard through the mike, and it muffles the sound. It is the convention that when you are in that sort of position, you do not interject from that seat.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: I know that many colleagues across the Committee are considering voting for a split age. Again, the evidence does not support the split age actually producing any positive results. The Law Commission did not favour a split age. Another factor to consider is one that was raised earlier, I think by Kevin Hague again. Young people in rural areas may live some distance from the nearest pub, and taxi services do not operate in those areas. A split age is, essentially, lifting the purchase age
to 20 for all young adults in rural areas. Also, I want to say this—and I am sure the Minister in the chair will have a perspective on this—my partner is an ex - police officer. I have talked to him at length about this issue, because he had a lot of experience in enforcing licensing matters. He tells me that the practical realities of trying to enforce a split age would be a nightmare for our already hard-pressed police. I do not want to put that on them.
The evidence does show that we have to get tough on our binge drinking culture. There is no doubt about that. Everybody, bar the industry itself, who came before the select committee gave us that message loud and clear. But the way to do that is not to single out age, not to make that the major issue, and not to pretend that by stopping 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds, or at least trying to stop them, from purchasing alcohol we can make a difference. Raising the drinking age is not the way. We need to keep it at 18.
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West)
: If this were an issue of simply preventing 18 and 19-year-olds from having a quiet beer, we would not be having this debate today. What we are talking about is an issue of profound importance in our community. To those who say we are singling out young people and piling all the blame on them, I say that is absolutely untrue. We are looking at protecting them from an aspect of their lifestyle, our whole lifestyle, that is doing enormous damage.
There is nothing in this bill, the Alcohol Reform Bill—not in my amendment, not in any part of his bill—that will stop an 18-year-old or 19-year-old from having a quiet beer. On the contrary, I stand with most members of this Committee in saying that is to be encouraged, and I welcome them. I simply say, however, as a parent whose children have just passed through this age group, that it was my responsibility, and my wife’s responsibility, to help educate our young people to learn how to drink responsibly, and I hope that we have been able in a small way to do that.
Hon Tau Henare: Oh, you’re so good, aren’t you!
TIM MACINDOE: And I may be abused by my colleague on my left, but I believe it is an important issue. So I rise today to urge all members of this Committee to support Supplementary Order Paper 280 in my name, which is designed to restore 20 years as the minimum age—[Interruption]
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Order! [Interruption] Order!
TIM MACINDOE: Sorry, Mr Chair, I thought you were taking a point of order. It seeks to restore 20 years as the minimum age for all categories of liquor purchases in New Zealand, and the overwhelming number of New Zealanders are urging us to do just that.
Iain Lees-Galloway: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. Earlier in the debate you advised a member from New Zealand First not to interject on another member on his flank. There is significant interjection coming from Tau Henare. There seems to be some bickering going on between Jackie Blue and Tau Henare, and I just ask that you apply the same convention to the Government benches as you do to the Opposition benches.
Hon Tau Henare: I find it very difficult to interject from my seat, because Tim Macindoe is sitting in my seat.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): All right. That is one all. I have not given out a yellow card yet.
TIM MACINDOE: Inevitably, today’s debate focuses on the age question because that is what this clause is all about, but I am a huge fan of the Alcohol Reform Bill in totality. There is a vast array of measures in it. This is just one aspect, but it is an important aspect, because it is an important age group. It is a problem that of course, as Kevin Hague has said, is multifaceted, and from which none of us is immune, but it is no less important for that. On the contrary, today’s focus on the widespread harm that
alcohol abuse is causing our children, our grandchildren, our school pupils, our tertiary students, and our young people is one of the most crucial issues that we must confront. That harm is very real, very disturbing, and very dangerous. We cannot avoid it.
This debate is not a matter of blaming young people for New Zealand’s binge drinking culture; it is about trying to protect them from it. It is not about restricting their rights; it is about enhancing the rights of those who love and care for them to guide them in safe and responsible choices as they move into the adult world. It is not about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted; it is about ensuring the horse is able to return to the stable, fit to run again after surviving its burst for liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I am, as I have said, a big fan of the Alcohol Reform Bill. I am particularly pleased with some of the Supplementary Order Papers that the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, has recently advanced to strengthen the bill. They add emphasis—
Hon Lianne Dalziel: She didn’t strengthen the bill. She made it weaker.
TIM MACINDOE: —particularly on parental responsibility, which is directly related, Ms Dalziel, to the issue that we are debating today, and that is why I mention them. They go hand in hand. We have to see all the measures as part of a package, not each one on its own. But with the way this debate is structured today, we are debating just one clause of it.
New Zealand Herald
has today summarised many of the issues well in its editorial, but it has repeated the common mistake that we are talking about a drinking age. It is important to clarify for everybody listening that there is no such thing as a drinking age and there is no proposal to introduce one. It is a purchase age that we are talking about. Unfortunately, the
New Zealand Herald
has reached an inadequate conclusion by making a bigger mistake, and the big mistake it has made, which I hope it will correct for its readers, is that the Law Commission came down on the side of the split age option.
It is true that in its initial report the Law Commission did recommend the split age proposal. Like the Law Commission, when I first began considering this issue, I too thought that the split age had a lot of merit. But, like the Law Commission, I have concluded on the basis of the evidence that there must be further moves than that. This change of position was set out clearly on page 258 of the final report, which is this huge tome that I am holding. I hope, as I say, the
New Zealand Herald
will correct the mistake. I will reluctantly support the split age proposal today, but only if my amendment is defeated.
Dr CAM CALDER (National)
: Many of us may choose to sample a cleansing ale, maybe a curvaceous aromatic red or a complex peaty Laphroaig single malt from time to time. Most New Zealanders partake responsibly. Sadly, a significant number do not. The Alcohol Reform Bill is a multi-strand approach to minimise alcohol-related harms. The harms we are talking about are reflected in the crime statistics, incidents of public disorder, and the numbers filling our hospital casualty departments and wards. Alcohol is estimated to contribute directly to 1,000 deaths a year and is a major driver of crime. It is implicated in 30 percent of all police-recorded offences, 34 percent of all recorded family violence, and 50 percent of homicides.
Purchase age is just one of a number of strands of our reforms, an issue upon which we MPs are privileged to have a conscience vote. We know that the purchase age itself will not be a cure or a panacea to fix the damage that alcohol causes in our society, and we all acknowledge the need for a cultural shift in New Zealand’s attitudes.
I acknowledge the fact that many young people drink responsibly, and I acknowledge the fact that misuse of alcohol is not confined to the young. I do, however, support a rise in the purchase age to 20 at both on-licences and off-licences, and there are a number of
reasons for this. Crucially, I personally have not observed any diminution in the level of alcohol-related harm since the purchase age was reduced to 18 in 1999. You could say that young people have had a 13-year trial to prove they could behave responsibly, and the results speak for themselves. Working as a hospital doctor in the 1990s I spent many hours in accident and emergency attending to the victims of alcohol-related traffic accidents and violent assaults. Talking to colleagues who still practise medicine today, I hear that this situation has only worsened.
I admire the work that our uniformed policemen and policewomen do in our community, and I have taken the opportunity to go out with police patrols on a number of occasions in Manurewa. Unsurprisingly, alcohol was a factor in many cases that they attended. It is interesting to note that the Manurewa Youth Council and the results of my two surveys of the wider Manurewa electorate overwhelmingly support raising the purchase age to 20.
I wish to acknowledge the Law Commission, and I note that following a comprehensive review of international evidence about harm to teenagers from alcohol, including four independent New Zealand public trials, the Law Commission’s final recommendation was to return the purchase age to 20 for both licensed premises and off-licences.
We have heard much about the rights of teenagers to access alcohol. The argument runs that if you can vote, become an MP, get married, or go to war at 18, then why should you not be able to buy alcohol? The compelling argument is that voting, becoming an MP, or getting married do not normally lead to serious harm befalling the individual. Going to war, of course, is an exception, but 18-year-olds are not sent off to war by themselves. They undergo rigorous training and are supervised by older colleagues. Interestingly enough, to reduce the harm to them, we do not let people go into casinos until the age of 20.
The situation that pertains to New Zealand at the moment is that every 18-year-old has a licence to purchase alcohol with no supervision requirements, and no restriction on their ability to supply alcohol to younger teenagers and children. It is very pertinent to note that a purchase age of 20 does not stop 18-year-olds drinking with adult supervision. We have a purchase age in New Zealand, not a drinking age, and it should be noted that as a parent, when my daughters were younger I could take them into licensed premises and have a drink with them in supervised areas.
Another concern I have is the neuroplasticity of the developing brain. Research indicates that for most people the maturation process involves a gradual shift from an instinctual brain response to a more rational one continuing well into the 20s. In other words, a dose of alcohol in an 18-year-old has the potential to do more harm on average than the same dose in a 25-year-old. Delaying alcohol use, decreasing the overall amount used before adulthood, will reduce the variety of risks, and it is also likely to impact upon the increasing incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome, which is a serious and growing problem in New Zealand.
NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central)
: Last night we passed the first reading of the marriage equality bill. Members walked into this House and said they believe in equality. This bill, the Alcohol Reform Bill, focuses on rights and freedoms. I do accept that occasionally this Parliament does pass legislation that discriminates against people with regard to age. But as someone who values freedom I believe that the evidence must be there and the threshold must be high.
Let me be very clear. I believe we need tougher alcohol laws in this country. I believe that New Zealand’s alcohol laws are far too loose. Most of us in this House believe that there needs to be a culture change in this country. Where we differ is how
we do that. Where we also differ is in what the combination of policies are that are needed to reduce supply to minors, restrict overall supply, and improve enforcement.
The rest of the Alcohol Reform Bill will be debated in the coming months. Today we are going to have a vote on one provision focused on a change to the purchase age. Last night thousands of young New Zealanders tuned in on social media and Parliament TV. Many of them have expressed huge pride in the vote last night. Some of them do not realise that within hours of Parliament empowering young people, Parliament is now at risk of restricting the freedom of young New Zealanders. As I said before, I could accept that if the evidence was clear that youth drinking had not been reduced since the age was lowered. Surveys taken between 1997 and 2010 show that under-18 drinking has dropped by over 45 percent. In 2006 Alcohol Advisory Council research found that 53 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds were drinkers, but by 2010 that had reduced to 32 percent. That is a relative drop of 40 percent in terms of prevalence rates in the last 5 years.
I want to be clear again: I believe in reducing youth drinking—I just believe that there are greater provisions to achieve that. I also want to be clear that, if we look at the Alcohol Reform Bill, those provisions focus on the restriction of supply with regard to convenience stores and dairies, they focus on targeting young people in terms of advertising and restrictions around advertising provisions, and they also focus on the falsification of ID. These are effective measures that target and restrict supply to young people.
Probably one of the most significant things in the bill that, in my view, will reduce the ability of young people to get access to alcohol is the express consent provision. What does the overall evidence show, again? Whom do most young people learn to drink from? It is their parents. Where do most young people get alcohol from? They get it from their parents and family members who are over 20. I say as well—and Kevin Hague pointed this out—that when we look at the proportion of young people and where they get alcohol from, 92 percent get it from people over the age of 20. These are very clear statistics from the
ALAC Alcohol Monitor. This is very clear evidence that, rather than parliamentarians walking into this Chamber and, in my view, voting for discriminatory legislation that disproportionately blames 18 and 19-year-olds for a wider cultural issue in New Zealand, you need to vote with your heads and vote for provisions that will make an actual difference in terms of the restriction of supply.
I want to touch briefly on the split age. I believe it is confusing and could have serious, unintended consequences. For rural kids, where is their transport? Rural kids are being told that they need to go into town to drink. In my view, that is going to lead to an increase in drink-driving, and that is a serious, unintended consequence. I also want to be clear that in terms of raising the age to 20, let us think about how this may undermine the rest of the bill. The rest of the bill is focused on provisions targeted at anyone who supplies to a minor without parental consent. Do we really think that 18 and 19-year-olds are not going to have unsupervised access to alcohol? The thousands of young people who are around the country in our universities, are they going call mum and dad when they want to have a drink? Do we really think all of those 18 and 19-year-olds who are currently working will ring mum and dad when they want to have a drink? I believe that the split age law is confusing and could have serious, unintended consequences, but I also believe that if you can marry, if you can go to war for your country, and if you can be elected to this Parliament, then you have the ability to be able to have a drink.
Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram)
: I am very happy to take a call on this, the Alcohol Reform Bill. It is fair to say that we are disappointed with this legislation. We are squandering a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really address the issue of
alcohol harm in our society. But, as other members have mentioned, we will have the chance to debate that in coming months. The choice we have today is around the purchase age for alcohol and the three options that have been put in front of us.
In coming to my decision on how I am going to vote, I have considered the evidence, because I consider that is what we need to do. We have had colleagues from around the Chamber talking about the evidence just not backing up many of the claims of those who want raise the drinking age back to 20—that is, that drinking is a problem confined to that age group of 18 to 20. In fact, what we have seen is drinking dropping amongst this cohort in the last 5 years. Many who support raising the drinking age point to neurobiological evidence and talk about the developing adolescent brain, but one of the things about this legislation is that the age is just being used as a scapegoat and a smokescreen for the fact that many of the other measures that need to be taken—the tough calls—are not being taken.
If we were going to have a real debate around the age of purchase or the age of drinking alcohol in New Zealand, then we would have had a real debate about it. Instead, what we have is just flippant comments about the neurobiological evidence. Actually, the neurobiological evidence points to the fact that the adolescent brain develops up to the age of 25; 20 is just some arbitrary line in the sand. If you are going to put it there, then you may as well put it at 18. There is no neurobiological evidence to suggest that 20 is any better than 18. It is not better. There is no evidence for that.
Hon Member: Read the report, Megan.
Dr MEGAN WOODS: I task the member opposite and I invite him to take a call and point to the neurobiological evidence that shows that 20 is better than 18. He cannot, because it does not exist.
Then we have the other option of the split age. I say that if you think the drinking age matters, then you need to choose to vote either 18 or 20. I think that we need to make a call on this, and I will be voting to keep the drinking age at 18, because I do not think that raising it back to 20 is going to achieve anything in addressing alcohol harm in this country. The royal commission, when it initially made its recommendations, did look at a split age, but it abandoned this by the time the final report came out, and it abandoned it for a very good reason. That very good reason is because it is a political compromise, not something that works anywhere else to actually address the issue of reducing alcohol harm in this country. Raising the age back to 20 or splitting the drinking age between 18 and 20 will do nothing to reduce alcohol harm in New Zealand. All it is doing is putting the onus for this problem back on young people and, as previous speakers have said, making scapegoats of them.
We need to do better than this in this Parliament. We have an opportunity to really address this issue, and we are squandering it. We need to do better for our country, and we need to do better for our young people than making scapegoats of them. This is all it is doing; it is very convenient to raise the drinking age to 20 and think you have solved the problem.
Mike Sabin: Purchase age.
Dr MEGAN WOODS: But the reality is that nothing will change. Raising the age at which people can purchase or drink alcohol from 18 to 20 will not address the problems we have in this country. I urge members from all round the House to consider the evidence when they are making their vote. I have looked at the evidence, and I will be voting to keep it 18. Thank you.
COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura)
: It is great to see that this debate on the Alcohol Reform Bill is maturing, that a lot of the heat is going out of things, and that we are getting more to the norming and the performing stage of this debate. It is healthy that that occurs. I personally sat on the Justice and Electoral Committee only a couple of
times, and my position started off supporting a split age. I would just like to explain why I started off in that position. It was purely around the understanding that at the age of 18, youth at school could actually be seen as role models to younger ones at secondary school, and could have a significant influence on those younger ones at college. So that is where I started from. I was looking at a split age: an off-licence purchase age of 20, and the on-licence purchase age remaining at 18.
However, the problem with drinking is a lot more complex than that. I have got to endorse the comments of those who have identified that. What really galvanised my thinking was the coroner’s report into four deaths that occurred within an industry that is close to my heart—that is the shearing industry. It was all around the behaviour of those who were taking the lead in the shearing industry. The older men were the ones who perpetuated the culture of heavy drinking.
One particular case occurred in Southland. A young lad of 17 was at a function. He was given a hard time because of his hair length. There was no one there taking responsibility for that young fellow, who was actually working in that environment. He jumped in a car, drove off down the road intoxicated, went off the road, rolled the car into a ditch, and drowned. If that is an argument for raising the drinking age, then I think it is a knee-jerk reaction.
Effectively, the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association has had to come out and actually start talking about changing the culture within the shearing industry, because there is this old adage about working hard and playing hard. I mean, you have got to remember that we have got youth there who are aged 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19, and they are actually learning their skills. They are starting on a pathway that has proved very successful for many people.
I have come to the conclusion that I will be supporting 18 years of age as a purchase age based on the principles that domestic violence, drunken driving, police time wasted managing violence outside licensed restaurants, and nursing and doctoring time that is taken up managing the accidents and emergencies during the weekend are more representative of the overall problems that we face around alcohol. So whilst we are, at this particular stage, considering only the aspect of purchase age, I want to speak on behalf of the enormous percentage of 18 and 19-year-olds who are acting responsibly. I would put out a challenge to the older people in New Zealand to step up—
Hon Simon Bridges: You’re one of them, Colin.
COLIN KING: —that is right, and I am very proud of that—and take responsibility for their behaviour, because that is where the role models are and the examples are set.
It is a fascinating time to be on one’s feet. This has been a very long and sort of complex debate—probably not aided by some of the comments coming out of the Law Commission, which actually tended to simplify matters and just focus on the tobacco-type argument around preventing the consumption of alcohol, which, in itself, would actually have a detrimental effect on other aspects of the alcohol industry, like that of the production of wine in Marlborough, where excise tax would actually really ruin it.
Based on those arguments, I do not see the evidence that people talk about as being consequential around the purchase age solving the problem. In actual fact, I received a paper the other day from a South Island district health board—
GARETH HUGHES (Green)
: Kia ora. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora. I rise to speak on the Alcohol Reform Bill, in favour of keeping the purchase age 18. I want to outline my reasons: raising it is not fair, raising it will not be effective, and raising it will not deal with the real issue, which is the serious cultural, historical problem our country has with alcohol. I want to share some of my views, because I think I have got a unique view. I am probably the only member in this House who still gets asked for ID for alcohol. I think it shows that the reforms made last time Parliament turned its
attention to this issue have worked, because when I was 16 and when the purchase age was 20, I could go into a pub. When I was 16 and the age was 20, I could still drink rocket fuel on the street. What we know is that we are cracking down on lack of IDs. We have got some room to go, and, in fact, we could clamp down further on supply to minors. What we know is that since those reforms, youth drinking has actually declined, according to numerous studies.
I want to also share—and you might not know this about me—that I used to be a barman across the road at the Back Bencher. There I saw the problem. It was not youth drinking. It was inappropriate drinking—inappropriate drinking, no matter what the age was. There I saw regular alcoholism. I saw regular intoxication. I even saw MPs binge drinking and intoxicated, across the road.
The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): Order! [Interruption] Order! I do not think you should make that reference. I think that that is an inappropriate remark, and I ask the member to withdraw it.
GARETH HUGHES: I withdraw. The real issue is irresponsible consumption, regardless of the age.
Raising the age is not fair. On your 18th birthday you are given a raft of rights and you are given a raft of responsibilities. You can vote, you can fight, you can smoke, you can gamble, you can even get elected to a council, as Jami-Lee Ross saw, but under these changes you could not go and buy a bottle of wine to have with dinner. It is astounding that the student army volunteers in Canterbury, under this proposal, would not be able to buy a six-pack after a hard day’s shovelling. It is unfair, it is discriminatory, and it is scapegoating young New Zealanders. Like lowering the blood-alcohol level for under-20-year-old drivers, it is easy to target the under-20-year-olds and ignore the real issue. It is easy to target young Kiwis and ignore the real problem. It sends this signal that we are dealing with the problems, but we are not. It will not be effective in reducing harm. We know that 92 percent of problem drinkers, heavy drinkers, are over 20. It purposefully ignores the real issues, which are price, availability, and the $70 million spent annually on alcohol advertising. Lastly, it ignores the real issue, which is our cultural problem.
The split age will be confusing and it will not work. It sends the wrong signal, and there is no evidence that it will work at all. It is going to benefit only the pub owners and encourage people to pile into town. In my city a third of the crime occurs in the “golden mile”, mostly as a result of alcohol. Why would we want to push our young men and young women downtown, into that environment where we know crime and sexual abuse is happening now because of alcohol?
So, in summary, raising the age is not fair, it will not be effective, and it will not address the real problem. We are missing the chance to take a bold, honest approach to the real issues facing our country, but, sadly, all we are doing is scapegoating and discriminating against young New Zealanders. It is not fair. It is not on.
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North)
: I have listened to the impassioned contributions that members have made this afternoon. I have watched members interject on one another with considerable passion. I have read the pages and pages of media articles on this issue of the purchase age. I have read the hundreds of emails that I have received on this issue. I still stand this afternoon to speak in this debate without any enthusiasm for any of the options that we have before us this afternoon.
Despite this vote on the purchase age, once we have completed it today, at the end of the day—this afternoon, when we have voted—we will be no closer to dealing with alcohol-related harm than we were at the beginning of the day. This aspect of the Alcohol Reform Bill will have the least impact on alcohol-related harm. In fact, I expect
that it will have almost no impact on alcohol-related harm. I have tried to figure out what the best approach is to this option. Knowing that it is going to have very little effect, I am tempted to vote for 18, because that is the status quo. I have listened to the evidence that people have offered for raising the age to 20. It is true that young people’s brains are developing. If we were going to work on that basis alone, maybe we should set the purchase age at 25, because that would be the appropriate age—when young people’s brains have fully developed. That is not going to happen. So whichever one of these options we choose is an arbitrary decision.
I have decided, though, that I am going to vote for the split age. The reason I am going to vote for the split age is not that I think 18 and 19-year-olds are the source of the problem. I appreciate that problem drinking occurs at all different ages. When the purchase age came down to 18 in 1999 I was 21 years old. I supported the drop to 18, because I thought it would be a good thing to make young people’s drinking legal—they would be purchasing in on-licences—and to try to create a more positive drinking culture. But the unintended consequence has been that very young teenagers are more able to get their hands on alcohol, because 18-year-olds whom they interact with at school are able to supply that alcohol to those very young teenagers. It is on that aspect alone that my first preference will be the split age. I think we need to put a gap between people who are able to purchase alcohol and those very young teenagers who are drinking more and more.
I would like to address this question of rural youngsters drinking. I do not think for an instant that this option is going to stop 18 and 19-year-olds being able to get their hands on alcohol purchased by someone who is 20 and older, and being able to drink it outside of an off-licence. I do not think that 18 and 19-year-old rural people are going to have any problem being able to drink at home, or at somebody else’s home, alcohol supplied by someone who is 20 or older. My concern is those very, very young teenagers and their ability to get their hands on alcohol.
I appreciate that the sources of alcohol for youngsters are many and varied, that 18 and 19-year-olds are just one source of alcohol for those youngsters, and that this option is by no means the silver bullet. There is no silver bullet in this alcohol reform legislation. But this issue is the weakest one, and it really has disappointed me that there has been so much passion, so much debate, and so much energy that has gone into this issue. I am aware that there are plans for tactical voting, to ensure that one of the options gets through. I am certainly aware of the very strong “keep it 18” lobby. My hope and passion is that we see this same amount of effort go into the issues in the Alcohol Reform Bill that will actually make a difference.
MIKE SABIN (National—Northland)
: In terms of the debate this afternoon on the purchase age, can I just, firstly, acknowledge the Minister in the chair, the Hon Judith Collins, in terms of the wider reforms in the Alcohol Reform Bill. I also acknowledge the member Tim Macindoe for his Supplementary Order Paper 280, which I will be supporting.
I have 17 years’ background in both policing and drug education and policy, and I believe that to some extent I have had some grassroots experience in understanding the context of the problems this nation is grappling with. I will be asking members to raise the purchase age to 20 for two core reasons: firstly, the biological and physiological side of the discussion and, secondly, in terms of culture change and empowering communities.
In terms of the biology, the adolescent brain is biologically quite different from that of a grown, mature adult. The human brain is the most complex tapestry in the known universe. We are born with 100 billion neurons, each capable of making around 10,000 connections with one another, and that is just as a baby. The changes in the brain are
dramatic over the course of the adolescent years. That is the time that most of the change is occurring. It is the time that, brain scientists will tell us, the brain is most susceptible to harm. It is also a time when the brain is absorbing drugs and alcohol—in particular, in terms of this discussion—eight times quicker and metabolising them some three times slower.
The problems that can occur in an adolescent brain can lead to a far higher probability of ongoing problems in adult life, not just with addiction but also in terms of overall brain function. Alcohol is a depressant in that it slows brain function. The first effect of alcohol is to impair judgment. The second is to lower inhibition and, alongside that, to stimulate dopamine and give a pleasure or reinforcement to that activity. Therefore, what we are talking about is the first thing that happens to an 18-year-old brain, which is that it is impaired, it slows, the judgment is altered, and the activity is reinforced. In my view there is a big difference between an 18-year-old brain and a 20-year-old brain, not just in terms of how it metabolises alcohol but also in terms of maturity of the individual, their judgment, their ability to make decisions, and the influence of their peers at that stage. I believe that there is a difference between an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old, and the long and short of it is that I believe the longer we can delay the uptake, or certainly the heavy abuse, of alcohol the better it will be for that individual.
As part of the studies that I did looking at drug policy, it was quite clear from examples in the United States since prohibition that as the purchase age rose the harm reduced, and as the purchase age reduced, so the harm increased.
Just in terms of culture change and empowerment, as a drug educator I spoke to some 150,000 people around the country, over 5 years. The overwhelming sentiment from the people whom I stood in front of was that the change to the purchase age that had occurred in 1999 was a major contributor to the drinking problems we have now. I do not necessarily agree that that is the case, but it is the perception, and that perception has become a very strong reality. Therefore, a change in the purchase age will indeed have a major impact in terms of sending a message that culture change must occur. I believe that that message is very important. In terms of sending a message and empowering our communities, by saying we acknowledge that this change has been a contributing factor—albeit I do not believe it is the only factor, but it is certainly one of the big ones—and by changing it we are empowering a community that we will rely on in the time moving forward, because the purchase age in itself is not the panacea.
We will grapple with this problem for a long time yet. We need the public’s support to do that, and they are looking to us in this Chamber today to give them the tools to say we acknowledge that this has been an issue, and that changing the age is sending that message that is so desperately needed. As I say, it will not solve all the problems, but we need the public on our side. I want members to consider both the physical and biological impacts of alcohol, and I want them to consider that we need parents and community on our side. I implore members—
Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill)
: I intend in this part of the Alcohol Reform Bill to vote to lift the purchase age from an off-licence to 20, and to maintain the purchase age in an on-licence at 18, and I will go into the reasons why I am differentiating between the two. But what I want to say is that this bill gives us, really, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address a problem that every member of this House understands is one of the biggest social and economic problems facing our country. You know, you can throw the statistics around. The Alcohol Advisory Council talks about $5 billion to $6 billion a year. The Ministry of Health talks about 1,000 unnecessary deaths each year being caused by alcohol. What other abuse of a product would we tolerate happening in our society with that sort of cost?
I want to talk about the human cost, too. In part I draw on the report that we have from the Law Commission. We set up that report under a Labour Government, because we wanted an evidence-based approach to dealing with the problem of alcohol abuse and addiction. I ask what the point is of setting up a report if you do not intend to follow the recommendations that it makes. In voting to lift the purchase age I am very conscious of the dangers of doing that. The real danger of doing that is that we can be very sanctimonious and say: “Hey, we’ve dealt with the problem here. We’ve stopped those bad young people abusing alcohol, and everything will be all right.” Everybody in this Chamber knows as well that alcohol abuse is not the sole preserve of the young. And everybody in this Chamber knows that when it comes to role modelling, our generation have been very bad role models for those who are following through.
I am influenced by the evidence-based approach of the Law Commission. I am equally influenced by the experience of witnessing my generation and how we abused alcohol, and then of having kids who are now—thank God—safely in their mid-20s, and of watching the abuse of alcohol in their generation. I am not prepared as a member of Parliament to tolerate any longer the level of harm and damage that is being done to our society, when we have the opportunity to address that.
A few months back I took up an invitation of an incredibly angry and frustrated doctor at the accident and emergency department at Auckland City Hospital. He asked me to go up on a Saturday night, to get there about 10 and stay until about 5 in the morning, and I would see what hospital staff had to deal with every day. I have got to tell you that while I was up there, I saw that on a third of the admission forms that I looked at there were these large letters on the top, “ETOH”, which means it is an ethanol or alcohol-related illness or injury. I have to say that disproportionately they were young people who were coming in. We are witnessing the damage that is happening. We know the damage that is done to young people’s minds. I listened to my colleague Megan Woods, and I am sympathetic to some of her points. Yes, the brain continues to develop up to age 20—
Hon Members: 25.
Hon PHIL GOFF: —to 25—but the truth is, unless we do something to stop younger people in the lower echelons getting access to alcohol now, they are going to be damaged, and the cost is going to be permanent. I know, and my kids know from experience, that when they were 15 and 16 they got their 18-year-old mates to buy alcohol and to give it to them, if they could not get it out of their parents. Well, they went to their parents’ liquor cabinet, tipped out the gin, filled it up with water, and we discovered that some months later. You know, it is funny in one sense, but I saw some things with those kids there, putting their lives at risk, putting themselves at risk of violence and of sexual violation, which I do not want to see happening.
Lifting the age is not the only solution. If we think that is the only thing we are going to do, we are wasting our time in this House. We have to change the culture. But it is a place to start, and when the Law Commission says definitively to us, and I want to read out the section, that “one of the interventions with the greatest evidence of effectiveness is increasing the minimum purchase or drinking age.”, I am bound to pay attention to what it has told us on the basis of the extensive and analytical work that it has done. This is a start. It is not the only thing we need to do.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police)
: I am pleased to take a call and speak to Part 2 of the Alcohol Reform Bill. I want to make it very clear that I am standing here in this House speaking as the MP for the East Coast, not as the Minister of Police. I represent an area that runs from just south of Gisborne around to the end of the Matatā Straights. It is an area that has a population that is split 50:50 between Māori and Pākehā. It is an area that has a very young population. It has got the best surfing and the
best beaches in the whole of New Zealand, I reckon, but, unfortunately, it also shares some pretty bad statistics. When you look at the statistics in my area on things like youth crime, youth unemployment, family violence, drunk and disorderly behaviour, drink-driving and crashes, and injuries caused by alcohol, we are always either at the top or very nearly at the top.
I agree with the previous speaker, the Hon Phil Goff, that the debate here today on age is not going to solve, on its own, any of that—any of that.
Dr Jackie Blue: It’s a starting point.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: But it is a starting point, and there is a massive bill in front of this House that puts into play most of the Law Commission’s recommendations, which will start addressing some of those bad statistics.
As an electorate MP I have always maintained that I am the voice of the electorate. So with this very important issue I have canvassed my electorate and I am here, standing in the House today, and will vote in accordance with the will that I have ascertained from my electorate. I have done that in a variety of ways. I have surveyed. I have had little slips for people to fill in at A and P shows and craft fairs. I have been out and talked with groups at every opportunity. I have met and talked with young people in high schools and the Students Against Drunk Driving. I have talked to young people. I have talked to old people. I have talked to people wherever I can get hold of them. I have talked to them about alcohol and what they believe the law of the land should be doing to help them, as parents, as members of the community, or as students, address the issues around alcohol that cause so many of those bad statistics.
Of course, everyone has a view, and, almost united, they are all concerned at the predominance of alcohol in our community. They are concerned at the predominance of it in the damage that is done with binge drinking, and at the damage that binge drinking causes young people. They get into situations where they are unsafe for themselves and for others. People are concerned at the number of driving accidents that are caused by alcohol, the unwanted pregnancies that are caused by alcohol, our soaring sexually transmitted disease rates, which are, in part, caused by alcohol, and, of course, the assaults and family violence that are caused by alcohol.
So, overwhelmingly—in fact, I think the response to my survey was about 4,500-odd replies—80 to 85 percent of the respondents in my electorate have said “Please put the drinking age back to 20. Please put it back.” That includes, interestingly enough, young students who have said “Please help us. Please help us, because so many of our friends have been injured and are unable to manage themselves, and we rely on you as the lawmakers of this country to put into place laws that will protect us and our friends.” So I stand in this House today on behalf of the people in the electorate of the East Coast who have responded to me over these past 12 to 13 months that we have been talking about this issue to say, overwhelmingly, that the experiment of lowering the drinking age to 18 has not worked. It has not worked to save and protect our young people, in particular, and we should raise the drinking age to 20.
MOANA MACKEY (Labour)
: One of the extraordinary things about this debate on the Alcohol Reform Bill has been the extent to which, no matter how people are voting, everyone seems to agree that raising the age will not really make much of a difference, in and of itself. I agree because, in terms of the tools available, in my mind the age of purchase is the least effective and the least likely to make any difference, despite the fact that it overwhelmingly, disproportionately, gets most of the attention.
I want to read out an email that I got from a young woman whom I know very well, who said that she would hurt me if I mentioned her name in Parliament, so I will not. She said: “Moana, as you know, I don’t normally pay attention to politics, but this drinking-age debate has me really mad. I don’t drink. I’m 18. It’s not for any particular
reason that I don’t drink—I just don’t want to. I wish I could give a more scientific, insightful answer so politicians could clone me, but I can’t. But I am looking forward to graduating this year after 13 years of schooling with my friends. We’ve hired a beach house for the weekend and I was looking forward to my first glass of champagne with mates. Now, apparently, my elected representatives think that I need to be punished for the bad behaviour of others, and maybe after today I won’t be able to do that. What the hell did I do to you guys? My dad drinks way too much. Are you going to stop all 52-year-olds from buying alcohol, based on his behaviour? And you wonder why young people don’t engage in politics. Why would we, when the only time we hear from you guys is when we are constantly being blamed for all the world’s ills without anyone bothering to talk to us?”. That is from a young woman whom I am very proud of and whom I know very well.
I agree with all the concerns raised by people about the harm that alcohol does in terms of the brain development of young people, in terms of accidents and violence, and in terms of crime. But changing the age will not make a blind bit of difference to this. It will not, at all. I have read a lot of research. I have read research from people who say: “Yes, changing the age will make a difference. Here are two different case studies.” But what those case studies never mention is the different demographics of the communities that they are comparing, and whether or not there are public health campaigns that are going on in one area that are not going on in another area. And, overwhelmingly, they do not mention a trend. They all look at a snapshot in time, which does not show the overall trend in alcohol consumption and behaviour. This is a highly complex issue, and I urge members away from assuming a causal relationship between alcohol and other factors that they may see happening. It is simply not that easy.
But alcohol is more visible. There is no question about that. And should we be surprised, when we live in the age of video and photo-capable mobile phones, of YouTube, and of Facebook? It is no surprise. When I went to a party I could have taken any number of videos or photos of dangerous teenage binge drinking, but I would have had to carry my clunky camera with the clip-in flash, or one of those on-the-shoulder video cameras, and wait a week for the film to be processed. It hardly has the same immediacy that a mobile phone and Facebook have. So I urge members to take that into consideration when they think about how much more visible dangerous drinking is at the moment.
What we need to do is we need to change the attitudes. That will drive the behavioural change. That will change the culture. I understand that it is counter-intuitive, but the Alcohol Advisory Council’s own figures tell us that since the drinking age was lowered in 1999, when there was great concern that the number of young people drinking would increase because they would be able to get it from their 18-year-old mates, in fact the number of young people drinking has dramatically lowered. It has dropped from 80 percent of under-18-year-olds in 1996 to 32 percent in 2010. We are seeing a cultural shift in that younger age group, which has not been there before. Why are we not asking why that is happening and promoting that, instead of messing about with this distraction, which will not do anything except take our eyes off the ball?
Why did that culture shift happen? It was not because the age was lowered. It was because when the age was lowered the public concern mounted, suddenly a spotlight was put on an activity that before was ignored or tolerated, and suddenly public health campaigns were rolled out. When I was at high school, no one told me that we should not be binge drinking. No one told us that it was bad for us. There were no ads on TV. There were no public health campaigns. It was largely ignored, and binge drinking was tolerated. When the age was lowered to 18 in 1999, that changed. Suddenly the attitudes
shifted, and that is what has made the difference. Changing the law in terms of the age of purchase will not do anything, and I urge members to think about that seriously.
I say to my colleague the Hon Lianne Dalziel that I heard that she did not have pre-loading in her generation. We did in ours; we just did not have a word for it. We now know that it is called pre-loading, and we did it. It was around then and it was dangerous.
The most important point I want to make to members—and it is a very serious point—is about the message that we send to young people. Too often in this Chamber, young people are always the problem. We wonder why they do not vote.
Dr Cam Calder: We’re not saying that.
MOANA MACKEY: We wonder why voter turnout—that is the message that they are getting, Dr Calder. I really appreciate sincerely your views on this issue, but the reality is that of the 700,000 problem drinkers, less than 10 percent are under the age of 20.
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National)
: I would like to acknowledge Tim Macindoe for bringing his Supplementary Order Paper 280 on the Alcohol Reform Bill to the Committee. I am firmly behind raising the purchase age to 20 and 20. I would like to acknowledge the Minister in the chair, the Minister of Justice. Basically, since the purchase age was dropped in 1999, it has been a failed experiment. The Committee has a chance to reverse that today, and I sincerely hope that it does. It has been particularly harmful to youth, although young people are not the whole problem. I acknowledge that, and I will talk to that issue later on in my speech.
Research that shows how youth are being harmed, and the effect it has had, has been backed up by research from the national New Zealand Alcohol and Drug Use Survey, which analysed the data and the surveys since 1995. There has been a statistically significant increase in binge-drinking patterns, especially among youth, and especially among young women. There has been an increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents, although admittedly Safer Journeys is addressing that to a good degree. There has been an increase in hospitalisations with alcohol-use disorders, alcohol poisoning, and assaults. The recommendation was quite clear: increase the purchase age to 20, no excuses, because we have a youth-drinking, alcohol-related harm problem among young people, and it continues to increase.
The 20-20 option is supported by experts, by addiction experts, and by health experts. You go and ask your accident and emergency doctors—and I acknowledge what Phil Goff said. I absolutely support that. Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, our Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, supports the 20-20 option. The Law Commission initially supported a split-age option, but once it looked at the international evidence, talked to experts in New Zealand, and got the best data, it went to a 20-20 option. The public support is overwhelmingly 20-20—
Hon Simon Bridges: Overwhelming.
Dr JACKIE BLUE: Overwhelming.
Hon Simon Bridges: Every electorate.
Dr JACKIE BLUE: In every electorate. I have surveyed people in Mt Roskill, and it is 20-20. Everyone has got an opinion, and, my gosh, it is overwhelmingly in favour of 20-20.
Dr Cam Calder: Especially in Hunua. Big support in Hunua.
Dr JACKIE BLUE: Absolutely. The drinking age, set as it currently is at age 18, means that the default age of drinking is lower—a couple of years lower, and probably 16. All the health experts are absolutely adamant that the growing, developing adolescent brain is vulnerable to alcohol, and that is why an age of 20 is better than 18. There is no great science about it. Keep alcohol away from youth for as long as
possible. It is a drug. It is a drug. It is a dangerous, seductive drug. It alters the brain, it impairs judgment, it disinhibits, and people make poor choices when they are drunk.
Alcohol has been used from time immemorial, and that is why it is a legal drug. But if it was discovered for the first time in this century, it would be banned or severely restricted.
I agree that alcohol is not just a youth problem, but we know that heavy youth drinkers become heavy older drinkers. That is why we have to turn it round at the youth stage, because they become older drinkers. Although youth may think they are bulletproof and they can dodge health issues and not have an accident, they will not dodge it when they get older. We know alcohol use is linked to cancers, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Our health costs will increase and you, taxpayers, will have to pay for that. Yes, I have heard the human rights issues that when you are 18 you can go to war, you can vote, and you can get married. But let us not forget that alcohol is a drug, and it has been made equivalent to a class B drug in its effects, like morphine or Ecstasy. I repeat, if it was discovered for the first time this century it would be banned, we would not be having it, it would be restricted, and we certainly would not have the laws that we have now governing it.
The 20-20 option will not stop 18-year-olds drinking. Under adult supervision they will be able to do that, so it is not banning drinking for 18-year-olds. Raising the purchase age is not going to be a silver bullet; we all acknowledge that. But this is part of a suite of changes where it will change the direction and change the culture. Raising the age will be a starting point and we have to start somewhere. We cannot go back to where we were and where we have gone. We must go forward, and we have to increase the age.
I want to acknowledge the public activism and the different campaigns. Part of that change will come with public activism. I acknowledge the FebFast campaigns, which many of you in Parliament have taken part in. I would like to acknowledge the Hello Sunday Morning campaign in which high-profile New Zealanders took part, where they pledged not to drink for 3 months. It was all about waking up on Sunday morning without a hangover, clear in the mind, getting a lot more work done, and being more productive. Then there are the Dry July campaigns. There is a momentum out there, and that is why the public support 20-20. To the constituent MPs: if you want to get voted in again, vote 20-20.
KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana)
: As the member of Parliament for Mana, my electorate takes in the entire city of Porirua. It is a diverse city, and it is actually the youngest city in the country. Putting out that responsibility of making sure those youngsters get the best start in life is something I take very seriously. I do agree with all the members in this Committee that our drinking culture and our drinking attitude in New Zealand is a serious and complex issue, but I do not think we are going to solve it with just a simple answer of lifting the drinking age to 20.
Like most members of Parliament, I think it has been difficult to clear our emails over the last couple of weeks. We have been heavily lobbied on both the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill and the purchase age of alcohol in the Alcohol Reform Bill. I would like to thank people from both sides of the fence on this issue for making sure that they have let us know their opinions.
Many in my community share a collective concern about the harm that alcohol is doing in our streets, in our clubs, in our pubs, and especially in our homes. I am absolutely committed to reducing the harm that youth drinking is doing, and making sure our youngsters are as safe as possible. But I do not think that changing the purchase age will make a major headway into changing drinking culture.
I have canvassed my community and I have taken the opportunity to speak to our local police, our local public health specialists, other public representatives, pub owners, and, of course, members of the community. Although there is evidence within my community that youth drinking and the negative effects of that are a problem, I do believe we have to face up to the issue that there is also a problem for those in their 20s, those in their 30s, those in their 40s, those in their 50s, and those in their 60s. I think it would be unfair to disadvantage 18 and 19-year-olds solely because of the drinking culture that we all have in New Zealand.
I do not think that this issue alone—the purchase age of alcohol—addresses all of the complex issues that are before us when we look at alcohol consumption in New Zealand. I do think a lot of it will come down to changing our attitudes of personal responsibility as parents and as adults. Everyone in New Zealand will have to make sure that education is much better. What is acceptable in our streets, our homes, and our pubs and clubs must be better. Our expectations and, most of all, our attitudes must change. Our attitudes much change. Attitudes of people of all ages in New Zealand must change.
I am voting to keep the purchase age at 18, but I will be looking at tougher measures throughout the rest of the bill. I do not think the bill as it stands takes issues seriously enough. I do think this is an opportunity that we should not miss to toughen up all the alcohol issues that face New Zealand. But, most of all, our attitudes must change.
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First)
: First of all, Mr Chairman—[Interruption]
The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): Order! I know that he member has had a call before. He is the only spokesman for New Zealand First, and he will have this call. [Interruption] Order! I am keeping track of who has calls. It is Denis O’Rourke.
DENIS O’ROURKE: Could I begin by thanking other members for their various contributions, which I think for the most part have been good-natured. I have enjoyed listening to the debate, whatever people have said and whichever way they think.
I cannot accept that the 20-20 option for the purchasing age—and it is the purchasing age and not the drinking age as some people seem to think—would not make a contribution to reducing the youth binge-drinking culture. It is the youth binge-drinking culture that we are concerned about with the purchasing age, because that is what is relevant to youth—the purchasing age. Those members who keep talking about the problem amongst older people are simply not addressing the nexus of the issue.
The real issue is this: is a person more mature and able to handle alcohol at the age of 20 than at 18? The answer has to be yes. That is utterly undeniable and that is why I am voting for 20 and not 18. It is as simple as that in the end. Another thing is this: if there are many steps we need to take other than addressing the purchasing age, then we should do that, but that does not mean we should not address the purchasing age as well. That is what this debate is about.
I want to refer now to what has happened in the past, because I think we can learn from the past as well. First of all, in the period 1881 to 1904, a period of 23 years, the purchasing age was 16 years of age—in a period when there was high tolerance of the abuse of alcohol. In the following period of 6 years, from 1904 to 1910, the purchasing age was raised to 18 years. But it was found that that age did not work, so then in 1910 the age was increased to 21 years. That was maintained for 59 years until 1969—21 years of age was the purchasing age for that period of 59 years. It was not until 1999, after a period of 30 years, that it was reduced to 20 years of age, simply because that was the age of majority. In 1970, of course, the Age of Majority Act had been passed. Then in 1999 for some misguided reason it was reduced again to 18 years of age. So after 89 years it was reduced to 18 years of age, which has done nothing but cause harm since then.
So if we are going to learn anything from history it is that previous generations found that the appropriate age for purchasing, for most of that period by far, was either 21 or 20 years of age. The lesson is simply this: lower ages have never worked and never will. The appropriate age for purchasing—and it is the purchasing and not the drinking we are talking about—is 20 years of age. That is currently the age of majority. The issue of other ages for other duties and other rights is completely irrelevant. This is a matter of judgment for us all about what is the correct age, the most appropriate age, for the purchasing of alcohol.
I would remind some of those members who keep talking about evidence of one sort or another that the Law Commission in 2010 did, in fact, conclude that the reduction to 18 had resulted in greater harm to the young from alcohol. I know that my friends here in the Labour Party—some of them, anyway—deny that. They talk about evidence and they produce it, but that conclusion was made after a review of the evidence by people who knew how to do exactly that.
So, in my view and in the view of New Zealand First as a whole, 20-20 is the correct option, 20-18 is completely illogical and confusing, and 18 has never worked and never will, and we should not allow it to continue. However, like many other members, I do agree that addressing just the purchasing age alone is not enough. Many other things are needed, too. That is something we will debate later. It is not for debate here and now as some members have tried to do. We need to look at penalties.
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National)
: I purchased my first crate of beer out the back door of Heffs Hotel in King Edward Street, Dunedin—
Grant Robertson: Mine was at the Bay View.
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: —Bay View, was it—in September 1981. It was the day of the third test between the All Blacks and the Springboks, that famous flour bomb test. Mr Hague might have been there. I was watching the game at a mate’s place and it was my turn to buy the beer. Nikki Kaye was probably toddling around Auckland in nappies.
I expect most people born before 1975 have a similar story to tell, because in my adolescence it was easier, actually, to get alcohol from licensed premises, and it was really hard to get it from family or anyone other than close friends. I think what has changed since the purchase age went down is that it has now become harder to get alcohol from licensed premises, but easier for under-18s to get it from other sources. This is really important because in order to justify raising the age again, we need to be sure that lowering the age was, in fact, the cause of, rather than simply correlated with, the alcohol-related harm. The Law Commission referenced several studies on increases in things like emergency department presentations, violence, and motor vehicle accidents, but in most of those studies the data is for youth aged 15 to 19 or 15 to 24, so the studies include harm by those aged above 20, who are not affected by this change, and those below 18.
So my question is this: what benefit, if any, will a change in the purchase age for 18 and 19-year-olds have on our drinking culture? The studies do show that although the harm to 18 and 19-year-olds went up after 1999, it also went up in other age groups at the same time as other changes were being made, like the introduction of beer in supermarkets. Correlation is not cause.
Regardless of how I vote on this part, I want to endorse the other policies in the bill that focus on youth harm, and the most important one of those, I think, is the express permission that parents will need to get in order to allow young people to drink in their homes. I do not think that change has been given anything like the credit it deserves. I get the point young people make when they say that they are not the only age group that experience excessive drinking. But older drinkers with problems start as younger
drinkers with problems, and younger drinkers definitely seem to drink more, and more regularly, than a generation ago.
If we are to make meaningful change, we need to start with the young, but I am convinced that the law changes will not do that. What we need is an attitude change and a culture change, and I want to see our young leaders bringing about that culture change. We see it in smoking and in drink-driving and in a plethora of other youth issues. What I do not yet see is young leaders taking the lead in developing and driving that responsible drinking culture. I hear lots of platitudes about individual rights and harm minimisation, and so on. Students at Otago University plead the case to enable 5,000 of them to go to Hyde Street every year and get completely trolleyed. As long as they clean up after themselves, they think that is all right. There are TV ads that say that getting completely smashed but not driving home is OK, not that getting smashed in the first place is not OK.
Our Young Nats have led the Keep it 18 campaign. I get their arguments about being old enough to fight, fornicate, vote, etc., but not old enough to buy a beer at the end of a hard day’s study. They have reminded us about the National Party value of individual freedom. I want to remind them of that other National Party value: personal responsibility. So I say to Young Nats president, Sean Topham, and the other regional chairs: you are the future leaders of our party, possibly of our country. Take leadership on this issue. Lead the change in the discourse amongst our young. Actively promote the message that alcohol consumption is normal but excessive consumption is not, that getting trashed is dumb in the same way that smoking or drink-driving is dumb, that messages on campus should be that the taxpayer is entitled to expect that their hard-earned taxpayer money, which is funding students’ education, is not thrown up against the wall of the Captain Cook Tavern every Thursday to Sunday. Show that sort of leadership, and I will show support and vote to Keep it 18.
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central)
: I also grew up in the same city as Michael Woodhouse, although he was a little older than me—
Andrew Little: When did you buy your first beer?
GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, I bought my first beer, Mr Little, from a pub in Dunedin. I probably should not name it, but I will. It was called the Waterloo Hotel in South Dunedin, and I was a bit younger than Mr Woodhouse when I purchased that. At that point in life the purchase age was 20, as it was I think for Mr Little, when he was probably growing up then, and I was significantly younger than 20 when I was purchasing alcohol from that pub.
Hon Tau Henare: What? You broke the law?
GRANT ROBERTSON: I have privilege, Tau, so I can say that in here. But the point that I am making is that, regardless of whatever the age is, we are not actually going to be able to address the problems that arise from alcohol consumption with a focus on just the age.
Binge drinking in New Zealand is a significant problem. I spent a period of time as the Labour Party’s health spokesperson last year, and around the country I met many people who have to deal with the downstream effects of alcohol and of binge drinking. It is an enormously serious health issue and social issue for this country to face up to. And that is why I think that when we come to the other far more significant parts of this bill, the Alcohol Reform Bill, where we focus on the price of alcohol, when we talk about the availability and accessibility of it through supermarkets, and when we talk about advertising and sponsorship, they will be the issues that we should be debating in depth, in the detail, and with the passion that we seem to be debating today the purchasing age, because they are the issues that will make—all the evidence tells us—the biggest difference in terms of the way that people treat alcohol and in the way that people use alcohol in the future.
It is not to say that the age has no impact whatsoever, but I do not believe that by moving it from 18 back to 20 we will make the difference that members of this House seem to think. Those differences will be made by families and parents actually having sensible conversations at a younger age with their children about alcohol. That kind of difference will be made when we are honest about the effects of alcohol, when we do not glorify it through the advertising and sponsorship arrangements that we have now, and when we do have a serious conversation about minimum pricing, rather than politicising the issue or trying to make it into some kind of nanny State, taxation-type issue by saying that this is how we will make the biggest difference.
When I talk to somebody like Dr Geoffrey Robinson, who runs the detox unit at Kenepuru Hospital—who, in fairness, would support increasing the purchase age, I am sure—what he also says, though, is that the most significant change in the 30 years that he has worked there is the availability of alcohol through supermarkets. That is the biggest change—the availability of cheap, low-priced, loss-leading alcohol sales in supermarkets. That is where I believe the focus should be. I think we should back young people in New Zealand to be able to take the decisions they take with the right information around them. I believe that we should keep the age of purchase at 18. It is a decision that we can support our young people in, rather than sitting here in Parliament dictating to them in a way that—I am not allowed to use a word, but if I were to vote to see this age raised, given my experience at the Waterloo Hotel, I would be that word, and that would be a hypocrite. I am not prepared to be that, and I will be supporting retaining the purchase age at 18.
HOLLY WALKER (Green)
: As I rise to speak today, I have not had a drink for 30 days. At the beginning of August I undertook to spend a month alcohol-free as part of a programme called Hello Sunday Morning; it was referred to in the Chamber earlier. The aim of Hello Sunday Morning and other similar initiatives like Febfast and Dry July is to encourage us to check our relationship with alcohol, and to be reminded that we do not need it in order to live a fun, social, and fulfilled life by putting it aside for a while. Such movements are a direct challenge to the unhealthy drinking culture that we undoubtedly have in New Zealand. I believe they are the kinds of initiatives that, with great leadership from our role models and our young leaders, will help change that culture.
And that culture does urgently need to change. We need to learn that we can celebrate, and express love and joy, and grieve, and watch sport, and go on holiday, and relieve stress, and come of age, and bond with friends and strangers, and dance, and listen to music, and stay out late, and get to sleep, and generally live happy fulfilled lives without drinking to excess and, indeed, without drinking at all, if we prefer.
Generations of young people are growing up in New Zealand learning the exact opposite from their parents, from their friends, from their communities, from their sports clubs, and from their heroes. We have an unhealthy harmful binge drinking culture in New Zealand, which affects all age groups and all income levels. Young people learn to drink from their families and their communities, and they learn very harmful habits. We need to change this culture, but raising the purchase age will not achieve that change. In fact, I think it will make it less likely that we will see measures to change that culture, because the implication will be that we have dealt with the problem of youth binge drinking, we have dealt with the problem of alcohol-related harm, and we can all have a glass of wine and quietly forget about the problem.
But that is not what will happen. Changing the age will send a message that problem drinking is just a young person’s problem when, in fact, 92 percent of problem drinkers
are over the age of 20. It will punish young people, especially those aged 18 and 19, for a problem that is not of their making. These are people whom we consider to be adults in our society. They can vote, stand for Parliament, serve in the armed forces, get married, have children, hold a firearms licence, and sell and manage the purchase of alcohol. Yet we may say to them that, no, they cannot buy a beer, and that simply is not fair.
I know that many members of this House believe strongly in equality before the law, and I ask those members to apply that principle to this debate just as many of them did last night. As long as our harmful binge drinking culture remains at all levels of society, young people will look for ways to drink to excess, and we tell them all the time in our glorification of alcohol that that is what they need to do to have a good time. Raising the age will inevitably see greater supply to minors and people who cannot legally purchase alcohol by themselves.
On the other hand, there is no evidence that lowering the purchase age to 18, as we did in 1999, has increased under-age drinking and supply. In 1997 the Alcohol Advisory Council’s annual alcohol monitor survey showed that 80 percent of 14 to 18-year-olds identified themselves as drinkers. In 2010 only 32 percent of the comparable age bracket of 12 to 17-year-olds were drinkers. That is a massive decrease. That same survey shows that the age at which young people start drinking has been increasing. In 2006, 35 percent of young drinkers said they started drinking before they turned 14. In 2010, it was just 21 percent.
Many members of this House believe strongly in evidence-based policy. We should listen to the evidence that the majority of problem drinkers are over 20 and that youth drinking has not been increasing since the purchase age was lowered, and we should focus on measures that can change the culture of harmful drinking in New Zealand rather than simply be seen to do so.
I want to turn now to the so-called compromise option that is on the table in this debate—the split purchase age of 18 for on-licence and 20 for off-licence. On first glance this might seem like a sensible compromise, but, in fact, I believe it will only create further harms that will affect not only 18 and 19-year-old drinkers but also the rest of us.
HONE HARAWIRA (Leader—Mana)
: Kia ora, Mr Chair. Kia ora tātou katoa e te Whare. I will come back to Mr Tau Henare and Mr Simon Bridges a little bit later. I know that some of this stuff has been said before, but I want to reiterate that I want to support it. Thirteen years ago the purchase age for alcohol in this country was reduced from 20 to 18. Within a few years it became obvious that although the new freedom was very popular amongst teenagers and the alcohol industry, alcohol-related harm to teenagers had increased.
In 2006 Matt Robson introduced a bill to put the purchase age back up to 20, but it was defeated following a last-minute announcement that the Government would hold a review of the sale and supply of liquor to minors. That review was very low profile and achieved nothing. Since then, however, alcohol-related harm to teenagers has continued and become increasingly alarming to many people, particularly parents, doctors, nurses, police, hospital emergency department staff, the judiciary, and virtually all other health and social agency workers, along with the majority of the general public.
In 2010 the Law Commission initially supported the split age proposal, so 18-year-olds could buy alcohol in pubs but you had to be 20 to buy it from liquor stores and supermarkets. However, after a comprehensive review of all the evidence about harm to teenagers from alcohol, the commission’s final recommendation was to return the purchase age to 20 across the board. Why? Because that review showed that the consumption of alcohol by teenagers was a significant problem for the well-being of all
New Zealand youth, and a contributing factor in rates of educational problems, depression, self-harm, suicide, vehicle accidents, injuries, falls, drowning, fire, physical and sexual assaults, reckless and unwanted sexual behaviour, pregnancy, and termination of pregnancy. On top of all that, there was also evidence that since the purchase age was lowered from 20 to 18 there had been a greater level of binge drinking not just by 18 to 20-year-olds but also in younger age groups, a greater level of public disobedience associated with alcohol consumption amongst youth, and more young people killed and maimed on our roads as a direct result of alcohol abuse.
A few months ago I did a tour around my electorate and other parts of the country, seeking Māori views on this issue. What I found was that amongst rangatahi Māori, only one 18-year-old thought it would be a good idea to raise the purchase age back up to 20. Mind you, when I asked a number of 16-year-olds whether the purchase age should be kept at 18 or lowered to 16, funnily enough 80 percent of them thought it should be lowered to 16. But this decision is ours to make.
Our first priority should not be the profits of the booze barons, generated from the expensive television ads developed and specifically targeted at the younger drinker and from the sale of alcopops specifically brewed, packaged, and marketed to teenagers. Nor indeed should it be the votes of the 18 to 20-year-olds. It should be the health and well-being of our young people. Returning the minimum purchase age to 20 in both licensed premises and off-licences is certainly not the answer to all of the alcohol problems this country faces, but it is definitely part of the answer.
I would just like to go back to some work that the Hon Tau Henare, the Hon Simon Bridges, and I were engaged in in terms of the tobacco inquiry. That was about another issue, another product, but we were very concerned about the impact of tobacco on Māori and, in particular, on young Māori. One of the things we went after was tobacco companies, in terms of the packaging and the display, and the reason why was that we wanted to try to reduce tobacco’s impact on young people. Well, no moves are being made against alcopops and the kind of advertising that is targeted totally at young people. Until those things are done we need to raise the age to a point where we know that fewer of our young people are going to be dying on the roads and dying from the damage done by alcohol abuse. And, at some time in the future, once we are old enough and mature enough to deal with all the other issues in terms of access, price, and availability, we can come back to the issue of age. Until then, kia kaha tātou ki te tautoko i te kaupapa. Kia ora tātou katoa.
[We must be strong in supporting the matter. Thanks to us all.]
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Consumer Affairs)
: I was on the Justice and Electoral Committee for all of the last term and into this term, and I sat through all of the hearings on alcohol that we heard. I heard hundreds of submitters as deputy chairman, I listened intently, and I am absolutely convinced, there is not a single doubt in my mind, that we should raise the age to 20. I agree with the members in this Chamber who have spoken. I do not always agree with the Rt Hon Winston Peters, but I agreed with him when he said lowering it was the silliest thing we ever did. It was the silliest thing, and one of the silliest things this House has ever done.
I will come back to the evidence, because it is a great irony that the other side of this Chamber likes to talk about evidence when it suits them, but actually the evidence here is completely for raising it, in total. I want to say this first: raising the age to 20 across the board is by far and away the most popular thing across the country, electorate by electorate. Other than maybe Chris Hipkins, Nikki Kaye, Gareth Hughes, and a few pimply Young Nats, that is what the vast majority of New Zealanders want. That is what the vast majority of New Zealanders want. This is not—
The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Order! Order!
Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I take offence at being referred to as a pimply-faced Young Nat.
The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): I do not believe the member was.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I was saying, this is not a liberal or conservative issue. If you go into central Auckland or central Wellington, let alone to the East Coast or Tauranga, the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders support 20, across the board. That is because they have common sense, and that is because they are right. The evidence backs them. The evidence backs them entirely.
I defy the other side of this Chamber and the members who are voting for other options to point to evidence that goes against my proposition that 20/20 is the way to go. Let me cite just a couple of things that stood out to me as I was on the select committee. First, the No. 1 expert on this in the world, a man by the name of Professor Babor, who came along to our select committee from America—and he is the cited expert in the world on alcohol and alcohol-related harms—made it very clear that they could deduce that when they raised the age of drinking to 21 in America, state by state, suddenly the levels of harm and the deaths on the roads for 12, 13, 14, and 15-year-olds dropped entirely away. That is a very strong reason indeed for changing this. It is not about 18 and 19-year-olds, as much as it is actually about 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, and 11-year-olds and the alcohol that they drink. I am not saying this will solve the world’s problems, but it will make a difference.
We have already heard much from a number of members about the neurology and the evidence, but it is abundantly clear that adolescents cannot take alcohol and it has a much more harmful effect on their brains than it does for older New Zealanders. I say again to this Committee that this is popular, this is what the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders in every single electorate in this country want, and the evidence backs 20/20 all the way.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour)
: Alcohol was not a big feature of my growing up. My parents drank very sparingly, and when they did drink they were terribly careful, because they did drink very sparingly. I was not in Parliament when this issue was last raised and put to the vote. As an outsider at that time, watching parliamentarians vote on the issue, I was firmly of the view that what was needed was education around drinking. Education was required, and I thought that a lowering of the drinking age would provide the opportunity for that education so that we could get away from what used to be the 6 o’clock swill, so that we could get away from immoderate drinking, and so that we could learn to drink as other countries drink. I thought that this, with a bit of time and a bit of education over time, would alter our attitude towards drinking.
I still believe in education as a critical component of addressing alcohol-related harm. I still consider education to be a critical component in turning round our dreadful behaviour in relation to alcohol consumption. I would love to think that education programmes could bring about more sensible drinking, and somewhere inside me, because I was an educator to begin with, I still believe that. So my first preference in this instance is a split vote. I reject the argument that says it sends mixed messages to young people. Young people are entirely sophisticated enough to discern the difference between messages. So I do not accept the mixed message argument.
What I do think is that licensed premises are more controlled environments, or ought to be more controlled environments. We should be able to police them better, we should be able to enforce the law better, and we should be able to ensure that publicans and people who run cafes and nightclubs and so on do what is required of them as responsible hosts under the law. It is with pleasure that I have seen public restaurants and bars and so on punished in Nelson for serving under-age drinkers, or for serving people who are intoxicated. It hurts them when they are punished, and it does tune them
up. If they lose 1 or 2 days’ income it hurts them. So when the law is enforced, it can work. So I still prefer a split age as my first preference. However, I have had to think long and hard about what I would do if that option failed.
As the health spokesperson for the Labour Party, I have been wrestling with this quite substantially. I cannot find a health professional or a health organisation that recommends anything other than raising the age to 20. I want to quote from a letter that the Royal Australasian College of Physicians sent to every member of the Health Committee: “Voting to raise the purchase age to 20 could, in conjunction with other evidence-informed decisions regarding alcohol reform, make a significant contribution to changing the culture of alcohol consumption in New Zealand.”
On the basis of health reasons—and health reasons alone—should the split age fail, I will vote for 20. I think that if I were to become the Minister of Health I could not look any health practitioner in the eye and say that I did not do everything I could to curb the harm that alcohol does.
I do not think this is an anti - young person position to take; quite the contrary, I think it is a pro - young person position to take. I could not, in all conscience, take on the health portfolio, regardless of what the current Minister says—his conscience is not my problem; my conscience is my problem—look any health practitioner in the eye, and say that I had not done everything I could.
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua)
: I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this bill, the Alcohol Reform Bill. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge all those organisations throughout the country that have spent so much time on agonising over and providing information on the purchase age, and on the wider issue of minimising alcohol harm in New Zealand, including the Law Commission. Secondly, I acknowledge the good people of Hunua, who have answered my surveys and given me their views, which, funnily enough, have been a spectrum of views.
Thirdly, I would like to mention the unrelenting efforts of Professor Doug Sellman, who reminds us that this is a public health issue and that it will take a suite of initiatives to sustainably reduce harm. He particularly reminds us that the human brain is susceptible to excessive alcohol right up to the age of 25, and probably beyond, but that certainly younger ages are more susceptible. Indeed, we have a very, very worrying issue in this country, where something like 60 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, and we have a high rate of foetal alcohol syndrome. Nevertheless, Professor Sellman’s five-point general policy direction that is included in that suite includes recommendations on the price of alcohol, increasing the purchase age, decreasing the availability of alcohol, decreasing marketing and advertising of alcohol, increasing drink-drive measures, and increased treatment opportunities for heavy drinkers. Over time, they need to be addressed, like the tobacco campaign. But it will take time, and it needs to be accomplished progressively, and where there is acceptance.
When it comes to the purchase age, in my view the first thing that we should be doing is enforcing the law, so that those who are under age now are strongly prohibited from purchasing alcohol in the pub or the off-licence. When I spoke to a class of high school students recently, my hair literally stood on end as I heard them say that increasing the purchase age by law would make no difference whatsoever in reality, and that they are drinking from the age of 13 and 14, throughout New Zealand. They said that they would be absolutely reactive if the law was being enforced more stringently than it is right now. They also said that the example set by adults is absolutely awful, that adults need to clean up their own act, and that they are very prepared and assiduous to demand zero tolerance on drink-driving, but would like to see adults do the same. I note that the Law Commission suggested that the split-age option simply would not work.
Finally, another reason why I will be voting to retain the age of 18 is that I cannot see the fairness in the proposal that an 18-year-old might be required to serve their country in the theatre of war, yet might not be allowed to have a drink at the local pub or purchase a dozen cans from a local store. This is a fundamental human rights issue, and it was vividly brought home to me when I was a medical student and was arrested at the age of 18. The purchase age happened to be 20—and there were lots of other 18-year-olds—and I was taken home in a Black Maria. But it just seemed to me so profoundly wrong, when at the same time I was also being required to go into a ballot to enlist for the army that could have led me to the Viet Nam War, as happened to many of my colleagues.
So I do not accept that increasing the purchase age alone is the factor that will make the big difference to minimise harm. Minimising harm will require a suite of initiatives, and that is something that is going to have to happen progressively.
TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua)
: I am concerned about harm that is done by the use of alcohol in all aspects of our community, but particularly harm that is done to young people. For me, this is not an issue of rights, fairness, or equality. It is about changing attitudes, about being responsible, and about protecting people of all ages from harm, but, importantly, protecting young people from harm.
I do not believe that at the age of 18 you are too young to be able to purchase alcohol or too young to be able to prove that you are responsible enough to consume alcohol. But what I do believe happens in our society is that far too many people of the age of 18 who are associating with those who are younger are not the role models that we need. Indeed, we have heard from other speakers that their parents and those around them are not providing the right role models, the right direction that they should have.
Therefore, I am a supporter of the split age, for the following reasons. I have run a youth advisory committee in my electorate over the last 3 years. A group of outstanding young school people, aged 17 and 18, have come together each year to talk about issues of importance to them. I have asked them to challenge me about some of my views in this area. Indeed, I asked them about some of the things they see with their friends when they are out and about in our suburbs at night-time. What they have told me has concerned me greatly about some of the messages around alcohol that we are sending to young people. I accept what others who have spoken in this debate have said—that it is not just those of a younger age who are being harmed or causing harm with alcohol; it is people of many ages. But I do believe that many of the messages that we send reinforce the behaviour that develops and that has an effect upon New Zealanders as they grow into adults.
When I challenged these young people on my youth advisory committee to say what is the No. 1 thing that we can do to protect younger people, under the age of 18, from the harm of alcohol they said to me to put the age up. But at the same time they said they did not believe it was fair for them to be not trusted enough to go out and prove that they can be responsible. For that reason I believe a system where we have a split age, where they can purchase and consume alcohol in an environment where there will be others who will be able to take some responsibility for them and to keep an eye on them, is a very important way forward. It also means that at the age of 20 they can choose, should they want to, to purchase alcohol in a licensed establishment and those under the age of 18 will not be able to choose to accompany them.
Having said that, this is an issue, as I said earlier, about harm. I have consulted widely in my electorate of Rotorua and have received more than 4,500 responses, advertisements from newspapers, and surveys about the views that my electorate has. Resoundingly, as the Minister Simon Bridges said, I have been sent a message that New Zealanders in provincial New Zealand, in rural areas of New Zealand, and in the cities
and towns of my electorate are concerned about young people and alcohol and they want the age to rise. For this reason, should the split age not come through, it is my intention to shelter as many young people as we can of the age of 18, 17, 16, and 15 from the harm that alcohol does, to help them to be more responsible, and to help them to learn about alcohol so that they can be good citizens when they are older and not feature in some of the statistics we are so worried about. I will be voting for the age to rise to 20.
I will not take the rest of my time, because we have moments left and other members have not spoken. But can I finally just say to all those who have fought a campaign that it is worthwhile for them to have done so, but they should be respectful of others’ views. This is an important issue to others. As the father of four children I have decided that what I want to do is have more responsibility for them. Thank you.
The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): This debate will conclude at 5.30 p.m.
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts)
: Thank you for the opportunity to take this final call. It was my privilege to be part of the Justice and Electoral Committee that considered this legislation, the Alcohol Reform Bill, when it came before the House last term. It was interesting to watch the history unfold as for the first time over a period of about 80 years the obvious traction from the public was to seek to constrain the supply and the sale of alcohol—something we definitely had not seen before.
The number of propositions before that committee was very interesting to behold. One of them, of course, was around the drinking age of 18—the purchase age of 18, which, of course, we did confuse with the drinking age. The point was made, as has been made by a number of people in the Chamber tonight, that you can do so many things from younger ages than 18. People talked about, for instance, the age of consent for sexual intercourse being 16, being able to vote at the age of 18, being able to join the army at 18, and being able to purchase tobacco at a young age. The point that really needs to be made is this: most of the decisions that young people make at those young ages are the wrong ones. Would anyone in the Chamber really think that it is a really good idea to seek consent and go off and get married at 16, or to get married at 18; or to start having sex at an early age, at 16; or to start smoking tobacco at 16? The trouble is, of course, that when those 18-year-olds go off and vote they all go and vote for the wrong party, so those decisions are not good decisions that are made.
The absolute claptrap that my until now good friend Tau Henare was talking about—well, I do not know whether he was pleased to see me or whether he was trying to deal with a bit of crusty vomit. But that is the point about this. The decisions made around alcohol are incredibly emotive and not always based on a whole lot of experience.
Those of us who were not in the House back when the laws were liberalised in 1998-99 are wondering just what on earth those members of Parliament thought they were doing. Apparently, what they were trying to do was say that we could all go off and start drinking like the French. Well, apparently the French are pretty good at drinking, and their alcoholism statistics would tend to lead you along that line. But that is not the way that we deal with drinking within our culture—not that we have got anything to be proud of. And when you go to those hospitals, those accident and emergency departments, late at night, or when you are working in the streets—no matter what your occupation may be—late at night, what do you see? You do see, increasingly, numbers of young people who are the worse for wear for alcohol, and it is increasingly earlier in the night that that happens.
That does not mean that we did not go out and get drunk when we were young or when we were under 18. It was more difficult to do. It is very difficult too to think back on our times, when we were young, to the way we were drinking, and try to compare it
with today—not just the products that are available but the liberalisation of that law. When John Banks and Peter Dunne were out drinking, and it was illegal to have liquor in the vicinity of a dance, was there liquor in the vicinity of a dance? Of course there was. There were 50 guys sharing a crate of flagons out of the back of an old Vauxhall. It probably belonged to Phil Goff or Trevor Mallard. It is a totally—[Interruption] You drank his beer for nothing. You were skiting about it. In any event, we cannot put on—
The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Order! The time for this debate has concluded. An election will be held to agree the age for the sale and purchase of alcohol from licensed premises. Ring the bells. Members will go to the Noes lobby and give their vote to the Clerk for age 18 years, 20 years, or split age—on-licence 18 years and off-licence 20 years. Abstentions will also be recorded by the Clerk in the lobby. Proxy votes must be marked as such. Tellers for the election will be the clerks.
Lock the doors! Lock the doors! Let me restate the issue. An election is being held to agree the age for the sale and purchase of alcohol from licensed premises.
18 years: 50
Bennett D (P)
Smith L (P)
Bennett P (P)
20 years: 38
King A (P)
Robertson R (P)
Split Age: 33
O’Connor D (P)
The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Members, I have the result. The option with the most votes is 18 years. That option has not attained a clear majority of votes cast. A second vote will now be held. Unlock the doors.
KEVIN HAGUE (Green)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. The method we are using to determine this decision involves the exclusion of the least popular option. So I think members will need to know what—
The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): I have a script. There is a chronology of events that take place. The doors have now been unlocked. Members will now vote between two options. The option with the fewest votes was the split age. That option is eliminated. A second vote will now be taken between age 18 and age 20. Ring the bells. [Interruption] Order! I have a script. Members will go to the Ayes lobby to give their votes to 18. I need a teller for the 18s—the Hon Tau Henare. Members will go to the Noes lobby to vote for 20. I need a teller for the 20s—Louise Upston. Abstentions will be recorded by the Clerk. Proxy votes must be marked as such. Lock the doors. Let me restate the issue. A second vote is being held. In the Ayes lobby is the vote for 18. In the Noes lobby is the vote for 20.
18 years: 68
Smith L (P)
Smith N (P)
Bennett D (P)
Bennett P (P)
20 years: 53
O’Connor D (P)
King A (P)
Robertson R (P)
The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Members, in the face of some interruptions, I neglected to announce the numbers in relation to the first vote, and I am sure they are of interest to the Committee. The option of 18 years of age received 50 votes, 20 years received 38, and the split age, 33. Hence the split age option dropped off.
We now have had the vote on 18 or 20. The option for 18 has 69 votes. The option for 20 has 53 votes. The age of 18 is agreed to. Unlock the doors.
Members, that concludes our debate on the age for the sale and purchase of alcohol from licensed premises, and I will report progress. Would members retain their seats till I have done that.