The drinking age debate – hopefully now over

This has been the third vote on the so called drinking (actually purchase) age in 13 years. Hopefully it is the last one, so we can focus on changes which will (in my opinion) make more of an impact on reducing harm from alcohol.

I want to blog why this has been such a big issue for me, and for so long. And no it is not as Damien Christie suggested so I can pick up drunk 18 year old girls in bars (that falls into the coincidental side-effects category 🙂 – note I am kidding).

I regularly get inspired by young adults who have such obviously huge potential and greatness. They literally represent our future – as a country, and as a species.

I spent many years as a venturer leader, working with 14 to 19 year olds. In the absence of being a parent, it is a great experience to see a young person become an young adult, who has their whole life ahead of them, and has so much to contribute.

Just two weekends ago I was blown away by the attitudes and skills of the 750 students at The Big Sing. Awesome. It made me positive about NZ.

In my own business, I’ve had several students work for me in a management and supervisory role. Despite being just 20, 19 and even once 18 they have done great jobs. They think of ways to improve the business I would have never thought of. They come up with great ideas, they do business process improvements without even checking with me. People such as Anna, Kerry, Malia, Jess, Mitch and Steffi actually inspire me. I wish I was that good at their age.

Being involved with Keep It 18 a couple of years ago, I was blown away by the maturity and political skills of Nicola Wood who was just 19, yet had such great passion and determination.

How can you not be inspired by Sam Johnson and the Student Volunteer Army? They did it all by a simple message on Facebook.

While I have not met her, I find Brittany Trilford, who addressed the Rio Earth summit, an inspiring person. I don’t agree with her political views, but she spoke so well.

In the Young Nats, I meet such awesome people who care so much about their country – and will make such a contribution. And despite their age I see people such as Daniel, Sean, Shaun and Megan turn into smooth effective lobbyists on issues that if they formed a company they could probably charge $300/hr 🙂

I am a big fan of the student media. Holly Walker stood out a great Critic Editor, and she is now a Green MP. Callum Federic at Critic  has managed to do one of the best interviews of a controversial I have seen. Elle Hunt, formerly of Salient, oozes talent and I have no doubt will become one of New Zealand’s best feature writers.

So when I see young adults I see so many awesome people, and that they represent a great future.

And what I have always hated about having a drinking age of 20, is the awful awful message it sends to 18 and 19 year olds. It is telling them they can not be trusted. That they are not deemed adults. That they should not inspire to greatness, because hell we can’t even trust you to buy a bottle of wine.

That is what has motivated me on this issue. It isn’t for me an alcohol issue or a health issue. It is an issue about allowing young 18 and 19 year old New Zealanders to achieve greatness.

Let me finish with a very pertinent story related to this.

I worked in the late 1990s for PM Jenny Shipley. As part of that job, I traveled with her to all the National Party Regional Conferences. At the Otago/Southland Regional Conference I saw that there was a remit put up by the Young Nationals on lowering the drinking age from 20 to 18.

When I was myself a Young Nat, I had advocated for lowering the drinking age, and was delighted to see the Young Nats were still fighting the good fight. So I went up to them, introduced myself to them and said I was happy to help them with their speeches. The Young Nat moving the remit identified herself and said that would be great. I made a few suggestions about lines to use, and recall as an 18 year old she was unusually stubborn as she refused to use what I thought was the best line (which was fine).

Anyway she successfully persuaded the quite conservative region to vote for lowering the drinking age to 18. And as it happens within 12 months Parliament did vote to lower the drinking age.

That 18 year old Young Nat is now the MP for Auckland Central, who just successfully moved the amendment in Parliament to keep the drinking age at 18.

That reinforces for me why it was and is so important not to treat 18 and 19 year olds as if they are all out of control untrustworthy alcohol abusers. So many of them go on to become awesome people, and do awesome things.

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