Trotter on drinking age

An excellent column by Chris Trotter:

THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE DEBATE on “What should we do about our drinking problem?” one very important issue has been consistently overlooked.

The constitutional, political and moral objections to “down-sizing” the rights of 18 to 20-year-olds.

Eighteen and nineteen-year-olds have the right to vote in local and general elections, perform jury service, join the armed forces, make a will, sign a contract, and purchase alcohol. …

When it comes to the other rights, responsibilities and duties of citizenship, however, 18 and 19-year-old New Zealanders are legally recognised as responsible adults.

This raises a couple of very serious question. Having admitted 18 and 19-year-olds to the ranks of adult New Zealanders, is it constitutionally, politically and morally justifiable to cast them back into the ranks of non-adults when it comes to purchasing alcohol?
That is the correct way to look at it. Can one justify stripping a right of adulthood from 18 and 19 year olds?
How can prohibiting their participation in a social activity in which all other New Zealand adults are free to engage without legal sanction possibly be right?

I would argue that it is neither right nor justifiable. Once specific political and social rights (like the right to vote or the right to purchase alcohol) have been given to a group of citizens they cannot be taken back without placing the rights of every other citizen in jeopardy.

Were the White Americans living in the Deep South justified in stripping their Black neighbours of their civil and political rights in the latter half of the 19th Century? Did the Nazi Government of Germany have the right to strip German Jews of their citizenship in the 1930s?

Both of these cases involved the persecution of a politically friendless minority whose morals, capabilities and behaviour were openly despised and derided by the majority.
While some of the comparisons used by Chris are extreme, he has hit on a key principle – you do not strip a minority of their rights.
It dismays me that so many MPs are saying they will decide this issue, based on the majority opinion of their electorate. It is an unprincipled cop out. As very few voters are still aged 18 and 19, of course the majority will say without hestitation they should lose the right to purchase alcohol. But MPs have a role to protect the rights of the minority.

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