This week a conscience vote in Parliament. 121 MPs will vote on
three options for alcohol: keep it as it is, the 18-20 split or
raise it back
to 20. To discuss this, I'm joined now by two National MPs - Nikki Kaye and Tim Macindoe. You're both on opposite sides of the fence to
what appears to be- First of all, Nikki, why are you wanting to keep it as is?
NIKKI KAYE - National MP
Well, firstly I think we have actually seen a drop in youth drinking. That doesn't mean we don't need to do a lot more. So a lot of surveys show since 2006 about a 40% drop in youth drinking. So what we need to do is target supply and also target greater parental responsibility, and we're doing that through the Alcohol Reform Bill - express-consent provisions, restrictions around the sale of alcohol at off-licences, a range of provisions around penalties in terms of falsification of IDs. But my concern is that if we just tinker with the age, then we're going to set back a culture of shared responsibility, and that's what we need in New Zealand.
GREG I can hear a chorus of emergency front-line people singing in three-part harmony saying that's absolute rubbish; you've got it completely wrong. What do you say to that, and what do you say to the figures?
KAYE Well, look, I've been in Auckland Hospital. I've observed them over the night. And what I'd say is there's binge drinking right across the age groups, and my concern is if we unfairly target 18- and 19-year-olds, then we don't actually accept that there's a problem right across New Zealand. And the question that I'd say is where do you think young people learn to drink from? A lot of young people, they get supply via their parents and people over the age of 20, and all the ALAC surveys confirm that.
GREG Tim Macindoe, you're on the other side of the fence on this. You want it all raised back up to 20, as it was pre-1999.
TIM MACINDOE - National MP
That's, right, yes.
MACINDOE Well, I think that actually the parental responsibility part is a very important factor. What we're trying to do is to ensure that parents have more control at the moment over teaching their young people how to drink responsibly, and part of the problem is, of course, 18-year-olds in many cases are still at school. We know that a large number of them are heading into town, having a huge amount to drink at the weekends. Often it's happening when their parents and grandparents are in bed, and we're not seeing it until we see the clips that we've seen on your news programmes in recent times, which are really pretty disturbing - vomiting and all sorts of things happening. They're ending up in the emergency departments. They're ending up causing huge problems for law-enforcement agencies.
GREG To borrow a word you used before, Nikki - tinkering. It appears to be tinkering, anyway. We should be looking at the price, according to the experts. We should be looking at where alcohol is sold. Is this going to make any difference, whichever way it goes?
KAYE Oh, look, I think that's completely wrong. I think this is the most significant reform that we've seen since 1989. You look at all of the provisions within the bill - restrictions around off-licences, we've got massive provisions in terms of the restrictions of promotion to young people, we've got provisions, as I said before, around falsification of IDs. You know, there are a range of provisions within this bill - national closing times - that add up to a very significant reform. But if we look at the issue around RTDs, I mean, I'm very surprised that Phil Goff, as a former minister of trade, is proposing the clause that he's proposing. We've said, look, we'll give the minister regulation power, but at the moment we're going to say let's give industry the chance to do this, because it would breach our free trade.
GREG Are you team-bashing here, Tim Macindoe?
MACINDOE No, Nikki and I are actually on the same page on 95% of the issues. We're both really strong advocates for the Alcohol Reform Bill. We believe there's a huge amount in it that's really important. This is just one issue where there's traditionally been a conscience vote. I believe that it is an important aspect in the equation. We both want to see a minimisation of harm to young people. I guess we just have slightly different perspectives as to how to achieve that.
GREG The split option doesn't really appear to achieve a lot. It's not going to- But that appears to be the one that's going to end up going ahead, is it not?
MACINDOE Well, it's the default position in the bill, and a lot of MPs probably will favour it. My concern is that it won't prevent young people from pre-loading - this is this big problem binge drinking - and then heading into town. In fact, they don't spend a lot of money in the pubs, because they can't afford to if they're students. But they are heavily intoxicated outside the pubs. We've got to try to stop them all going into town, because that's where most of the problems are happening.
KAYE The other concern that I have with the split age is that it's saying to rural young people that they need to go into town, but a lot of them won't have transport to get home. So there is a risk with that in terms of drink-driving.
GREG But to be fair, though - wait two years. You're not saying, "Well, you live in the country, so-" It's a couple of years.
KAYE Well, what I would say to you is when you look at when the drinking age was 20, we knew there were a whole lot of 18- and 19-year-olds that were supplied, and that's my other concern with tinkering with the age is that all the rest of the reform targets people who cause harm, who are irresponsible, who supply to people who shouldn't have alcohol who are minors. The issue with, I think, the split age and raising it to 20 - you're putting people in a situation whereby you're saying 18- and 19-year olds can't drink, and I think that's naïve. I think the rest of our reforms are very targeted at targeting those people that cause harm. They're targeting supply. They're targeting the overall culture. But disproportionately blaming 18- and 19-year-olds I think is actually quite sad, because I think there are binge drinkers right across the age groups-
MACINDOE Well, I don't see it as a blame issue, and nor do I think that they won't be able to drink. 18- and 19-year-olds will still be able to get hold of alcohol. It's just going to be under greater supervision if the age is raised to 20.
GREG Alright, Tim Macindoe and Nikki Kaye, thank you so much for
joining. We will see how it all turns out this week.