MPs have opted to keep the minimum age for the purchase of alcohol at 18.
MPs have been debating the Alcohol Reform Bill and 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.
It took two votes before keeping the age at 18 was agreed to with 69 votes, against 53 votes for age 20.
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.
In a debate of more than two hours, several MPs said a binge drinking culture is a problem in New Zealand, but raising the purchase age for alcohol was not the way to solve it.
Green MP Gareth Hughes supported keeping the age at 18, saying 92% of problem drinkers are over 20.
He said the real issues are price, availability, and advertising of alcohol.
Hughes said raising the age is not fair and would not address the real issues.
"It's scapegoating, discriminating [against] young New Zealanders."
Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson said binge drinking in New Zealand is a significant problem. But he said a difference will only be made when parents have conversations with their children about alcohol at a younger age and the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets is changed.
"We should keep the age of purchase at 18."
National's Anne Tolley, speaking as MP for East Coast, said a survey in her electorate showed more than 80% support for the age to go up.
"We should raise the drinking age to 20," she said.
But National's Nikki Kaye said raising the age to 20 would undermine the rest of the bill and the split age was confusing.
"I support keeping the purchase age at 18," she said.
Mana leader Hone Harawira said the age needs to be raised "until we know less people are going to be dying on our roads, dying from the damage done by alcohol abuse".
Labour's Phil Goff said he would vote for the split age because alcohol abuse is one of biggest social and economic problems in New Zealand.
He said he is no longer prepared "to tolerate the level of harm being done to our society", adding that his generation has been "very bad role models" on drinking for today's young people.
Lifting the age for off-licence purchases to 20 was not the only solution but would be a start in changing the drinking culture, Goff said.
The purchase age dropped from 20 to 18 in 1999 and a bill that would have returned the age to 20 was defeated in 2006.
The Alcohol Reform Bill also aims to give communities more control over where alcohol outlets are located, as well as the hours of sale in which it can be sold.
It sets out new national maximum trading hours of 7-11pm for
off-licences and 8am - 4am for on-licences.