Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On banning 18-19 year olds from bars (& cigarette tax)

April 29th, 2010

Girl Talk. See: Gordon Campbell IV’s Girl Talk, About Copyright

In what passes for a public debate here about the flow of young New Zealanders across the Tasman and beyond, the focus is always narrowly economic – on comparative wage levels, and on student debt levels. Far too little emphasis has been given to the fact that Australian cities like Melbourne are far more interesting and exciting places to live.

Well, thanks entirely to Sir Geoffrey Palmer and his Law Commission, that reality has just been underlined and Australia’s allure further enhanced. Because while Palmer can justify banning 18-19 year olds from access to liquor outlets, his decision to ban them from bars as well is the height of stupidity – and will virtually ensure the death of a music scene here that is already struggling to survive the recession.

Even the NZ Herald editorial slammed Palmer for not endorsing a split approach on this issue – ban 18-19 year olds from buying booze at outlets, but let them into licensed premises. Because guess what? The problem ones, once you kick them out of bars, won’t be going home to play backgammon with Grandma. They’ll be drinking vodka in public parks, while the vast majority of youth – and everyone else for that matter – will have lost a prime form of urban entertainment for good.

Let me explain. For the past ten years – starting with the heroic efforts of Xan Hamilton and the Mystery Girl firm she founded in Auckland – a small group of promoters have been bringing the best in new and emerging bands to New Zealand. Bands you would otherwise have needed to go to Portland or Montreal or London to see. While doing so, they gave a platform to a lot of Kiwi bands, and a chance to play alongside their musical heroes. I think the Ruby Suns enjoyed playing alongside Animal Collective in 2006, and I can remember the thrill and group hug when local band Collapsing Cities finally got the chance as an opening act to enter the fabled Green Room at the Kings Arms. Funny, touching stuff.

The promoters concerned – I’m talking about Matthew Crawley of Strangenews, Ben Howe who now runs Mystery Girl and Jim Rush (especially) and I with the Galesburg operation in Wellington were largely doing it for love of the music. There really wasn’t much money in it – mere survival was the goal. The point being, 18-19 year olds comprised about a third of our audience and with some shows like the Girl Talk show that Galesburg put on in Wellington, the 18-19 ratio was far higher.

So, with this one stupid recommendation, Palmer would wipe at least one third of a fledgling industry’s consumer base out of existence. Sure, his proposal says only that 18-19 years can’t buy alcohol in bars. Theoretically ( perhaps) that may not ban them from attendance on licensed premises since it could be possible for some bars – and for the Big Day Out and Laneways – to operate some sort of wristband system for buying booze of the sort that the Transmission Room employs, to differentiate between its customers. Clearly it would raise the security costs at concerts, and the net result would mean one third less in profits coming across the bar –and that shortfall could only be met by raising the cost of the venue hire for promoters, who are already battling to survive.

Boo hoo, you might say, for the promoters. Well, more like too bad for the sort of cities we’d all like to live in, where there is some alternative creative life going on. Ten years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that New Zealand needed to try and broaden its image – and show the world that we were not merely an outdoorsy, rugby loving, sheep loving kind of place. City life here will never pose much of a threat to Barcelona, but a café society of sorts did take root here, and started to grow. Palmer’s approach, if adopted by the government, would turn back the clock.

Largely thanks to the recession, both Strangenews and Galesburg are currently on the ropes. Together, they brought over 60 shows to this country in the last four years – including Animal Collective, Of Montreal, Jim White and John Doe, Vic Chestnutt, Dirty Projectors, Architecture in Helsinki etc etc…Banning 18-19 year olds from bars will virtually ensure they don’t revive, and that no one will fill their place. Urban life will be the poorer and local bands will miss out, and will find it that much harder to get the gigs and exposure they need.

Palmer, as mentioned, had an entirely valid option in front of him, but refused to take it. To repeat : he could and should have split the age restriction so that it barred purchases by 18-19 year olds from liquor outlets, but did not rule out their ability to have a drink and hear a band on licensed premises. That would have been a sane, intelligent option that treats young adults as adults, not children – and that didn’t, by way of collateral damage, destroy a key part of the urban culture that people have been trying to foster here, against the odds.

On his website, No Right Turn called the Palmer mindset “paedophobia” and he’s dead right. There’s a fear and resentment of the young at work here. New Zealand loves young people when they’re dead and glorified at Gallipoli, but it hates them in cars or in bars. Ironic really, when you think about how much my generation – the boomers – used to resent this sort of attitude. Back in the 1960s and 70s, a lot of boomers were proud to say they’d become the people their parents had warned them against. Now, many of them have simply become their parents. Australia must look very enticing.


The tax hike on cigarettes

So, the Maori Party have won a tax – and price – hike on cigarettes. No wonder the government felt tactically obliged this week to rule out a tax on alcohol as well – that really would have made them look like the fabled Black Budget crowd of the Nordmeyer era. But it highlights the hypocrisy of the entire process. Lets not do what will actually work ie by lifting the price on both of our socially approved dangerous drugs. That would be politically damaging. So lets see – who is expendable in this lifeboat, and who isn’t? The Maori Party are crucial. Can’t raise too many taxes at once though, because Rodney and his mates won’t like it. Nor would the lower and middle income voters that National has been successfully poaching from Labour.

In this scenario, its always easier to beat up on the young. It’s the ‘shoot the cabin boy’ approach to making policy.


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    1. 20 Responses to “On banning 18-19 year olds from bars (& cigarette tax)”

    2. By Mike on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      “The problem ones, once you kick them out of bars, won’t be going home to play backgammon with Grandma. They’ll be drinking vodka in public parks…”

      Er… if they cannnot legally buy from outlets, where exactly will they be getting this vodka from? And they would also be in breach of the liquor bans already in place in most urban centres. And no bar I know of would let anyone – old or young – in with a bottle of vodka in their posession anyway.

    3. By Shane Gallagher on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      I suppose the same place the 15 -17 year olds get their drinks from…

    4. By David - Northland on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      Totally agree with this article – there is a persistant theme of destroying anything that resembles fun for youth in this country at present- perhaps reflective of an aging population. But know this, whilst many older residents not enjoy loud music and shake and frown at youthful antics, they need to remember that electricians, mechanics, engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, builders, planners, architects and delivery drivers may like loud music. At this junction in NZ social, cultural, environmental and economic history, there is an extreme risk that NZ will increase the exodus of young people.
      A decreasing taxpayer base as a proportion of the population, a focus on industries (e.g. mining, aquaculture, other primary industries) that are capital intensive (e.g. equipment bought overseas) rather than people intensive, the ongoing avoidence of real guts in promoting research and development, are all conspring to provide gloomy future prospects.

    5. By RJL on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      “Er… if they cannnot legally buy from outlets, where exactly will they be getting this vodka from?”

      Where do you think?

      Parents, siblings, and friends.

    6. By Karen on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      “Where will they be getting their liquor from?” They will be getting older friends to buy it as they always have done. No age limit of any kind stops this happening. Better to let the 18 and 19 year olds into the bars where consumption can be monitored, rather than drinking a litre of vodka out of sight and safety in a dark park. As for the liquor bans – they are rarely policed except at New year and the kids know that. After every weekend, my local park is littered with broken alco pop bottles.
      I say laws need to be directed at the liquor industry who make sweet fizzy alco pops, and also stop advertising aimed at younger people.

    7. By Clarke on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      The hypocrisy between the action on tobacco and the inaction on alcohol simply underlines the venal and expedient approach to politics from the National Party. In both cases, the sole motivation was the pay-off required by a support base, either the Maori Party (tobacco) or the Party’s business donors (alcohol). Clearly no principle was invoked in the making of either policy, other than “stay in power”.

    8. By Tom Semmens on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      Listening to Plamer’s arrogant, condescending certitude forcefully reminded me why I loath him and every other one of those patronising technocrats that made up the so-called Labour government of 1984-90.

    9. By Joanne on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      Gordon, while I agree with you that the music scene is to be nurtured and and supported, I find it depressing that the music scene world wide is all about selling alcohol. Period. Ironic, considering how many musicians choose to go to AA and get sober. I question why music and alcohol are inseparable.
      Not everyone wants to be soaked in beer or witness a fight while they watch a band. It’s happened to me many times and I’m over it.
      There are plenty of under-18 musos who gig and listen to live music even though they’re not allowed into bars.
      We have a serious social problem in New Zealand and I’m glad the government is doing something about it. Please don’t turn this into “they’re trying to spoil our fun”.

    10. By Laura on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      What annoys me about all this new legislation, is it basically puts all the blame on 18 and 19 year olds. So, take away any alcohol from 18 and 19 year olds. Is this going to solve alcohol abuse? Is it going to make people 20, 32, 49 or even 60 years of age not binge drink? Is it going to stop domestic violence, car accidents that would lead to death or extensive rehabilitation which would cost the tax payer, fights in bars, accidental pregnancy’s or damage to public parks/buildings and peoples own private property. The simple answer is no. It is not going to stop people buying too much alcohol and consuming that in their own homes. It is not going to stop abuse, or people taking the choice to drink drive and kill innocent people. At the end of the day, it is one person’s choice. Your choice. And if you want to drink 5 standard drinks or 30, no law is going to be able control how much you decide to drink. Changing the age is going to fix binge drinking.

    11. By Stuart Munro on Apr 29, 2010 | Reply

      It would be more in line with Palmer’s pretentions to public consultation and democracy if he’d bothered to depart at all from his ingoing script that liquor was too cheap. Notice another 10% is going direct to the evil little monsters in Wellington to drink themselves to death – and maybe funds like those raised from the draconian increase in tobacco prices ought to be closely and continuously audited.

      Where I live now, beer is about $1 a can, and I see less public drunkeness,and considerably less violence. But this is a healthy, united, democratic society with a growing economy (in part due to import restrictions), not a failing state staggering under the weight of its non-performing leaders.

      If I were in NZ,I might ask just who the hell Palmer is to be making law anyway, since he’s neither an MP nor a civil servant. Who died and made him god?

    12. By fad on Apr 30, 2010 | Reply

      This is ridiculous. Just look at the US to see the outcomes of laws such as these. They are entirely ineffective and only take up law enforcement resources.

    13. By Was 18 not that long ago on Apr 30, 2010 | Reply

      “Er… if they cannnot legally buy from outlets, where exactly will they be getting this vodka from? And they would also be in breach of the liquor bans already in place in most urban centres. And no bar I know of would let anyone – old or young – in with a bottle of vodka in their posession anyway.” – Mike

      And yet, Mike, I made it all through my pre-18 teens drinking in parks and at friends houses. Teenagers will drink. They will find a way. We got it from older friends, from older siblings, from older men who were responsive to our charms.

      I’m 22 now, and I’m part of the music scene Gordon describes. I was part of it when I was 18 and 19 too, and I cant imagine what it would have been like to have been excluded from that. Cut out the under-20s, and the scene will suffer hugely.

      Attitudes to alcohol in New Zealand are messed up and deeply ingrained. It’s a society-wide problem. Scapegoating young people is unfair, and ineffective.

    14. By AAMC on Apr 30, 2010 | Reply

      It’s not only the young who would depart our cities for more progressive and dynamic pastures. I’ll be heading off with them. The promoters you’ve tipped your hat to have made me much less inclined to leave the last few years, feeling privileged to live in a city which felt that, as you say- against the odds- was beginning to grow up. I believe the research shows that an increase in price will decrease the consumption, but surely it is a cultural problem which results in the Viaduct/Courtney place syndrome, which prohibition and law enforcement has little chance of solving.
      And Mark, please! I never found much difficulty in accessing alcohol as a 16 year old when the drinking age was 20, it’s not a period in most peoples lives defined by accepting authority.

    15. By mike on Apr 30, 2010 | Reply


      I think Palmer has long anticipated being the first President of New Zealand and is just getting on with “the job”. He strikes as something of a Kissinger figure.

      BTW, where is this paradise you speaketh of and reside ineth?


    16. By mike on Apr 30, 2010 | Reply


      I think Palmer has long anticipated being the first President of New Zealand and is just getting on with “the job”. He strikes me as something of a Kissinger figure.

      BTW, where is this paradise you speaketh of and reside ineth?


    17. By JCL on Apr 30, 2010 | Reply

      I disagree with the suggestion that it’s pure hypocrisy to differentiate between alcohol and nicotine, for taxation purposes. (Not that I’m starry-eyed about the integrity of those involved, but setting that aside…) At risk of stating the obvious, the fundamental difference between them is that nicotine is always damaging: there is no such thing as socially responsible smoking. Alcohol, on the other hand, is used safely and responsibly by quite a lot of NZers (though not all, of course). I think it is legitimate to distinguish between the two.

    18. By Barnaby Bennett on May 1, 2010 | Reply

      As much as I detest smoking I’m not so sure that raising the price of them is a endless cure-all to the social problems it causes. The reality is that a certain segment of the population will continue to smoke and spend money on smoking, and a certain section of this section will be taking money away from their families to do this, money that would otherwise be spent on lunches, fees, power bills etc. On an individual level the disincentive caused is a good one, but on family and social level I’m not entirely convinced. But I guess its just a revenue raising strategy anyway.

    19. By Pete Fowler on May 2, 2010 | Reply

      Where will they get the vodka from? Think back to your youth, Mike. Neither you, me or anybody else ever had any trouble getting illicit booze, and I lived in the Arabian Gulf for nearly 2 years. Only a handful of countries have more restrictive liquor laws than NZ. We’re a nation of wowsers.

    20. By Les Gee on May 4, 2010 | Reply

      I agree entirely with what Gordon has written here as it is similar to the comments I have been making about the drinking age for years. Any problems caused by youth are going to be done by a small minority as is the same with any group. The hysteria presented over youth drinking is frankly disgusting and when I was a teenager in the 1970s I saw a lot of teenagers 14-17 getting drunk every weekend. As for the binge drinking aspect I remember and still hear the absurd comment only older people can handle their alcohol. My father was an alcoholic and he fell off the wagon. He got drunk very quickly and definitely did not handle his alcohol at all.

    21. By David on May 9, 2010 | Reply

      The issue with excise duty is one that has bugged me since the 1980’s. Tobacco related illnesses costs the country $320M ( Annette King as Health Minister) $250M (Harawira 2008 – Campbell live) Now the publishe figure is $1.9B (Dompost last week) Who employs all these creative accountants? Let us have the TRUE figures and the full amount of excise duty collected published in the local media. Surely alcohol contributes to a very high health cost – probably moreso than tobacco, therefore should be taxed by at least the same percentage. I realise that Arnold had to tax both products in the late 50’s to prevent NZ from bankruptcy, but is our national financial position that much more secure at the present time? Equal excise duty on both tobacco and alcohol would simply be a tax on luxuries that are not essential. I make these comments as both a smoker and drinker, retailer of tobacco and as a publican.

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