Prime Minister John Key says he is disappointed a planned split purchase age for alcohol was thrown out of Parliament last night.
The purchase age will remain at 18 after a colourful debate in Parliament ended in 68 votes to keep the alcohol purchase as it is and 53 backing a return to 20.
Speaking from Tonga, Key told ONE News he was surprised by the vote given the strong sentiment from the New Zealand public that there needed to be some moderation to the purchase age.
"I am a little disappointed," said Key.
"I think it may have made sense. It wasn't perfect having the situation where it was split but it was probably better than leaving everything at 18."
Key said he remained confident there were other options in the Alcohol Reform Bill that will curb binge drinking.
The Bill is proposing to give communities a greater say on the location of liquor stores, restricting the types of stores that can sell alcohol and introducing maximum trading hours.
It will also make it an offence to promote alcohol in a way that is appealing to minors.
Opposition parties say the Government is watering down the long awaited overhaul of New Zealand's drinking laws and plans to let the liquor industry self-regulate the alcoholic strength of RTDs have been questioned by the Labour Party.
"We felt like that was putting the fox in charge of the hen house because those sorts of drinks are what young people get completely wasted on because they just taste like fanta or coke," said Labour leader David Shearer.
The Alcohol Reform Bill is expected to pass into law later in the year.
Calls to raise the drinking age continue
Community groups are upset Parliament has chosen to keep the purchase age at 18 as they look for ways to combat problem drinking.
A ONE News poll revealed 18% of readers wanted to keep the purchase age at 18, 20% voted for a split purchase age while 62% wanted to raise the age to 20.
Manurewa Youth Council wanted the purchase age raised but will now have to use other options in the Alcohol Reform Bill to try to stop harmful binge drinking in their community.
"One of the key things that we want to see is the community being able to have their say on the number of liquor stores, how long they're open for and where they're located," said Manurewa Youth Council chair Simeon Brown.
However, many have supported Parliament's decision.
Young Nats president Sean Topham said the result was a "huge victory" for 18 and 19-year-olds after "months of misleading opposition".
"These young people, they can marry, they can go to war for our country, they can vote for politicians, and so why can't they not have a beer or a wine at the end of the day?"
Teenagers out and about in Wellington were relieved but philosophical at Parliament's decision to leave the drinking age at 18.
"I suppose I should say, yeah, let's go party, but that's the whole reason they were going to put it up in the first place," Tommy Mason said.
Mason, who has just turned 18, said he would have been disappointed if the drinking age was raised to 20.
"But I can see why they thought about it. A lot of people are getting injured through alcohol."
MPs debating the Alcohol Reform Bill yesterday were able to cast conscience votes on three choices: raising the alcohol purchase age to 20, splitting the age to 18 at on-licence purchases and 20 at off-licence premises, or keeping it at 18 for all.
In the first vote, the split age received 33 votes, 20 years got 38 votes and 18 years got 50 votes. As the lowest polled the split age was eliminated, leaving the final vote between 18 and 20.
- with Fairfax