- First, many proponents of raising the age point to a study on alcohol-related car crashes which, they say, concluded that these have increased amongst 18 and 19-year olds since the drinking age was lowered. The Select Committee report appears to note this report:
Some people consider that alcohol-related harm to young people has worsened since the purchase age was lowered to 18 years in 1999. ... Some people are particularly worried about the increase in alcohol-related car crashes involving youth, and cited national and international studies linking the trend with the lowering of the legal purchase age.However, if one cares to read the report, you will see that alcohol-related car crashes amongst 18 and 19-year olds have actually decreased in this period, not increased. The study bases its correlation with the lowering of the drinking age on a relative increase in alcohol-related car crashes. See my full analysis of the study when it was published earlier this year: > LAWS179 (13.01.2006): "Drinking Age" I think the distinction is important to note. The lowering of the drinking age was a package deal, associated with other measures to ameliorate any consequential harm - which, apparently, must have been effective. Ignoring the effect of those associated prophylactic measures is wrong in principle in my view.
- Secondly, the Bill undermines the principles underlying the Relationships (Statutory References) Act 2005 by drawing a distinction between married / civil union couples and de facto couples. The proposed exemptions only applies to underage people accompanied by their spouse or civil union partner, not their de facto couple. I guess the rationale for the distinction is one of proof. People can readily "prove" they are married or in a civil union by reference to their marriage / civil union certificate. However, otherwise there is no rational reason to say an underage person is more at risk if they are accompanied by a de facto partner, rather than spouse or civil union partner. This measure will undermine the harmonisation of benefits, protections, and responsibilities undertaken by the Relationships Act.
- Finally, the raising of the drinking age to 20-years is likely to have an adverse impact on gay and lesbian youth. The (arguably unfortunate) reality is that bars represent the predominant forum for gay and lesbian youth to connect with the gay and lesbian community. Most schools and other youth organisations are not the most welcoming places for gay and lesbian youth to come out or to come to terms with their sexuality. Gay and lesbian bars therefore play a major role in the coming out experience. It's been really interesting seeing the younger gay generations flourish over the last few years in gay bars. Raising the drinking age places that at risk because it will exclude gay and lesbian youth from a supportive gay environment at a critical time in their lives.