Letters February 4 2012

by Fiona Rae / 04 February, 2012
Kauri dieback; electoral reform; and fracking.


What was barely touched on in the article on kauri dieback (“Kauri killer”, January 28) was the main cause of this disaster … lack of biodiversity. Famed Scottish poet Robbie Burns wrote in 1786: “I’m truly sorry man’s dominion/Has broken Nature’s social union …”
Before colonisation, our forests were kept healthy by the myriad creatures (birds, invertebrates, insects, etc) that have now disappeared. Where is the dawn chorus? Where are the kiwi, huia, kakapo, weta, skinks and gecko?
The bacteria that flourish now are a result of this ecological neglect. Our beaches are also under threat for similar reasons. Dishing out money to scientists to research chemicals to use against bacteria is easy. Controlling the effects of introduced predators and ecological imbalance is unbelievably difficult. But that’s what must be done if we are to hand a healthy environment to future generations.
Julia Meek
(Waiheke Island)


In February, the Electoral Commission will call for submissions on the make-up of MMP. This follows the endorsement of MMP in last year’s referendum.
The commission will be obliged to follow narrow guidelines during its deliberations. It will investigate some matters that vex the electorate, such as party thresholds, coat-tail MPs and dual candidacy, but will not be able to look at MP numbers or the future of Maori seats.
Maori seats are certainly contentious, because when MMP was established the commission of the time recommended they be abolished. Labour has always favoured Maori seats as until recently it could rely on the Maori vote. National always opposed Maori seats, until recently when those MPs became valuable coalition partners.
John Key appears to have no opinion, and says the issue is “up to Maori”.
The results of the last election clearly demonstrate that Maori fail to support Maori seats. Within New Zealand, there are nearly 420,000 Maori eligible to vote, yet only 233,000 are on Maori rolls. Of those enrolled, only 122,000 voted. The two Maori parties attracted only 47,000 party votes.
Put into percentage terms, less than 30% of eligible Maori voted and only 11% voted for Maori parties. The three Maori Party members who made it into Parliament were supported by only 23,200 voters, yet chose to go into coalition with National and Act. Across all the Maori seats, Labour was by far the most popular in the party vote.
Common sense suggests the Electoral Commission should have the issue of separate Maori seats at the top of its agenda.
Murray Reid
(Howick, Auckland)


On reading the article (“Fracture friction”, January 14) explaining the fracking process and the production of oil and gas possible from it, I got the feeling that here was a resource that could provide New Zealand with enough fuel for all our needs for generations to come. The gas would generate reasonably clean electricity and the oil would fill our transport requirements, together giving an overall efficiency (ie, cleaner) that would be better than our present one. It is an exciting story, but the two correspondents (Letters, January 21) with their lists of things that can go wrong with oil production, the greedy overseas developers, all negative warnings of the “we know” variety – dear me. I hope there is not very much of this kind of thinking in the country.
The results of the fracking process are proving spectacular and positive in the US, but it is early days here. Undoubtedly, development will be strictly monitored; no one wants troubles of any sort, least of all the developers. It could be a bonanza. Let’s get on with it.
Brian Rowe
(St Heliers, Auckland)


The New Zealand On Air issue regarding the screening of programmes that have significant social comment with impact before a general election, and National wanting to explore stopping this type of programme, is a real concern. I say National because of the infiltration of National Party official Stephen McElrea into NZ On Air.
The ability to create a programme, write an article or protest about any given social issue informing the public morally and ethically is a fundamental democratic right. This is the hallmark of our society.
A confident Government delivering solid administration with competence and integrity does not need to worry when adverse issues are being explored as part of society’s right to be aware of inconvenient realities requiring our collective social and moral concern. So NZ On Air’s impartiality can never be compromised.
Richard Ghent
(Freemans Bay, Auckland)


Joanne Black accurately described the feeling of despondency on returning from holiday (The Black page, January 28). I think we all know what she means. I know I do. Working in mental health, I gave it a name: NSPVAD (Non-specific post-vacational affective disorder). It’s a bit like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but can occur at any time of the year. It helps to know you have a named condition, which, although uncomfortable, is not life-threatening and goes away in time.
Heather Levack


Congratulations on your sensible proposal to shift the summer holiday period to February (Editorial, January 28). In two stints as a nationwide weekly newspaper columnist, first in the late 1980s and again a decade later, I floated the same suggestion. Normally I had a reaction, sometimes sizeable, on each column, but with that proposal there was none. Even allowing for the well-known public reticence to change, this was surprising.
You referred to the possible difficulties to accountants and companies meeting a March 31 reporting deadline. In fact, such a holiday shift would provide opportunity for an equally sensible change to make June 30 the end of the financial year, as in Australia and elsewhere.
Sir Robert Jones


I’m so sick at heart over the rate of child abuse, rape, torture and murder in New Zealand that it keeps me awake at night. There’s no point writing to politicians (I’ve tried), but I believe someone like John Campbell is in a position to make a difference. Unlike TVNZ and Radio NZ, TV3 is free of Government interference or restraint.
My suggestions are:
1. Form a project and call it something like Kea – Kiwis Ending Abuse.
2. Invite a number of known New Zealanders with good ideas to a brainstorming session (off-camera) and have public panel discussions (on-camera). Do not invite politicians, social workers or any other government employees; they have had their chance.
3. Approach someone like Piri Weepu to be ambassador for the project. He is a New Zealand hero, he clearly loves his daughters, and he is Maori.
4. Encourage people to send in ideas via email, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
5. Sift the rational from the rabid and let’s see where we go from there.
My choice for the initial brainstorm group would be: Nigel Latta (sensible ideas, clear thinker); Pat Booth (he has kept the memory of murdered children alive in his column for decades); a respected “auntie” from Maori TV; Sir Ray Avery (who was himself abused); a teacher (if you can find one not muzzled by the Government); Norm Hewitt (since he has already put his hand up).
This could be the most important thing any of us does to help New Zealand. Let’s make 2012 the year no more children die at the hands of their families.
Karen Goa
(Chatswood, Auckland)

The only way to ensure children get fed is to reintroduce daily school lunches and free milk in all state schools. If we can find the money for sports like the Rugby World Cup and the America’s Cup, why not the money to feed our future generation? Charity, we are reminded, begins at home. We need to persuade the Government this is a priority if it is serious about solving child hunger. In reality, it is not child “poverty” but “child abuse” by starvation that we are dealing with.
Mary Baylis
(Ponsonby, Auckland)


I am at a loss to understand what Ian Cross is on about in his letter (January 28) concerning my review of William Renwick’s biography of Colin Scrimgeour: Scrim: The Man with a Mike. Cross devotes much of his letter to summarising, more or less accurately, the content of the review. He then writes: “As well as that, [Edwards] says Fraser ‘did not need to send Scrim to the front to silence him’, as Scrim was ‘justifiably sacked because he was unable to separate his far-left-wing political convictions from his obligation as a public-service broadcaster to be impartial … He would have suffered the same fate today as an employee of Radio New Zealand.’
“How strange that Edwards, given his extensive feelings about Scrimgeour, could casually confirm without comment that a Labour Prime Minister sent off a broadcaster to the ‘front’ of a world war ‘to silence him’.”
Nowhere in the review did I offer such confirmation, “casual” or otherwise. Indeed my point was that such a drastic and contemptible act would have been unnecessary, since Fraser could justifiably have got Scrim off the air with the stroke of a pen – and eventually did.
Cross seems to confuse reporting someone else’s viewpoint with holding that viewpoint oneself. Scrim may well have interpreted his call-up in 1944 as an attempt to railroad him, half-trained, to active service in the Middle East. His son Gary clearly did. As I mentioned in my review, his eulogy at his father’s funeral in 1987 began: “In 1944, a Prime Minister sought to have my father killed because he was the best-loved man in New Zealand. The Prime Minister was Peter Fraser.”
I hold no firm opinion on the matter.
Brian Edwards
(Herne Bay, Auckland)


RM Ridley-Smith (Letters, January 28) is quite correct to show how the outcome of Daniel Kahneman’s theories could lead to the “nudge” practice where we will be thought to “have little insight or self-control. Before long a society will emerge composed of fudgers, smudgers, bludgers and nudgers.”
However, as it is possible to use some of his ideas to actually increase an individual’s self-control of his or her autonomic nervous system, and use this awareness to process the emotional impacts that occur around us each day – some say up to a million a day – then it’s possible to use this process to enable individuals to have emotional detachment, and clarity about themselves, and be able to make clear and rational decisions about their lives without the state having too much control over the individual.
This process then enables individuals to have mastery over their actions and through the powerful reflective process, or “introspection”as Kahneman calls it, individuals can grow their Fast Thinking exponentially.
This process has been operating in New Zealand for over 10 years.
Bruce Nicol
(Kelburn, Wellington)

Is Ridley-Smith aware of the word “irony”? To accuse academics of hiding in their ivory towers and failing to engage with “the people” is a bit rich coming from someone writing from the rarefied heights of Khandallah who has apparently never met, or sought to engage with, any academics. In his own words, “They need to go into private houses [or academic institutions perhaps?], where they might be able to match what goes on there against what they have been told goes on.” Sound advice indeed.
He writes further that “academics develop theories that frequently contradict other theories, and it is then a question of who is right”. Er … isn’t that the whole point of analysis? You come up with alternative ideas, then run tests, if you can, to see which idea best explains what you see or measure. This is called “reasoning” and “debate”.
He then wants academics to use less jargon. What is the intended audience for specialist articles? Other specialists. At least psychologists use recognisable words; if you want real jargon, try reading some specialist papers on physics or chemistry. If you want public dissemination of specialist knowledge, try reading the excellent Listener article or listen to a specialist speak to a general audience. Ridley-Smith might be surprised, since specialists are often real people, too.
Dr David Hirst


Screen Directors Guild president Peter Bell ends his letter (January 21) with the hope that new Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss will take on “the big job … [of restoring] public broadcasting to television”.
That hasn’t a chance in hell of coming about. As Dame Anne Salmond has pointed out elsewhere, New Zealand has already lost its core West European “public good” values to American, then global, “business values”.
No government since the mid-1980s has had the slightest intention of rebuilding our national identity through the public service broadcasting process, and they don’t have it now. Why? Because there isn’t the political will-power to make it happen. Why? Because New Zealand is becoming Australianised by stealth and will be an actual or virtual Australian state by about 2025.
This may be a good or bad thing, but the frightening thing is that there has never been any debate – let alone a properly structured public debate – about whether that is the desired objective of most of the citizens as voters, or even the needs of people as consumers. Successive governments have been in breach of their own Bill of Rights Act 1991 in their failure to consider public broadcasting – and the exchange of views that radio, at least, offers – as a democratic institution.
Mainstream New Zealand broadcasting has been allowed to slip down the slope of commercialism since 1987, when the then ostensibly Labour Minister (later Act leader) Richard Prebble invited me to hear Treasury officials describe his plan to make TVNZ legally obliged to put a financial return to the Government ahead of broad-interest programming content. I told them the result would be “crap television”. I always remember the Treasury official’s reply: “So what?”
Bell’s only realistic hope is that Foss will sell TVNZ and scrap New Zealand On Air, then transfer their funds to set up a broader version of Maori Tele­vision – our only public broadcaster as internationally defined. Maori TV is based on aspects of many prize-winning small broadcasters, all of which have been brought to the attention of prime ministers and broadcasting ministers over the past 25 years – sadly, with no effect whatsoever.
After years of trying to keep public-broadcasting options on the political agenda, I think that really is my last word on the matter. But I’ve been proud to have been part of Western democracy, and democratic institutions have to be fought for.
Geoffrey Whitehead


Why did you feel so impelled to embarrass Edmund de Waal that his inability to speak decent English was emblazoned on page 36 of the January 7 Arts & Books: “The main criteria was delight”. Delight is the opposite of my feeling on seeing this horrible grammatical solecism. I doubt he would have minded the substitution with the correct word.
Alma Rae
(Southshore, Christchurch)


Kate Scott’s comment (Letters, January 21) on Jennifer Bowden’s excellent article (“Weighty problem”, January 7) confuses the role of behaviour and physiology in obesity, and misrepresents the evidence for both. I take this opportunity to explain what the protein leverage hypothesis is, to briefly summarise the supporting evidence and to evaluate the counter-evidence presented by Scott.
The protein leverage hypothesis (PLH) is about the influence of diet composition (% of energy from protein) on energy intake – ie, about behaviour. The hypothesis states that when our diet is based on foods with a low proportion of protein, we will overeat non-protein energy (carbohydrates and fat) to avoid a protein shortage.
Several lines of evidence support PLH. First, it has been shown in three experimental studies that under controlled conditions, reducing the proportion of protein in the foods of humans results in an increase in energy intake. In the most recent study, to which Bowden referred, a decrease from 15% to 10% protein resulted in a 12% increase in energy intake. If sustained, this is enough to cause an increase in body fat of 1kg a month. Second, our analysis of 23 previously published studies (meta-analysis) shows a similar association between dietary protein and energy intake.
Third, the large Diogenes study (also referred to in Bowden’s article) showed that, outside of the experimental laboratory, high-protein foods were associated with the long-term success of weight-loss programmes.
Fourth, a recent large population survey (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) has shown the rise of the epidemic of obesity in the US is associated with a reduction in the percentage of protein in the national diet. There is other evidence, including several studies showing that, as would be expected if the PLH is true, the human appetite for protein is particularly strong. There are also studies of non-humans, including monkeys, and evidence that humans evolved (and are therefore presumably adapted to) diets high in protein relative to carbohydrate and fat.
Rather than expand on the supporting evidence, I will briefly consider the study presented by Scott as evidence against PLH. The participants in that study were deliberately overfed to a fixed energy intake of diets with either 5%, 15% or 25% of protein. The question asked was whether the composition (% protein) of the energy surplus had any effect on obesity – ie, a physiological question.
Since PLH is a hypothesis about the effects of dietary protein on energy intake (behaviour), a study in which energy intake is experimentally fixed cannot be taken as a test of the hypothesis. But it is worth considering, nonetheless, whether low-protein diets (at fixed energy intakes) are associated with adverse or favourable physiological responses.
Scott suggests the best outcome was associated with low protein, because the experimental group on the 5% protein diet put on less weight than those who had 15% or 25% dietary protein. What she fails to point out is that the difference in weight gain was due to poor lean (muscle) growth on the low-protein diets – no doubt an effect of protein shortage. In fact, the high-protein diet was associated with a greater ability to get rid of the excess energy that was eaten, and a trend towards low-protein subjects ­accumulating more fat.
Studies have therefore associated low-protein diets with increased energy intake, reduced ability to get rid of energy excesses, and reduced lean growth. There is no doubt obesity has complex causes and the final word is not in; but in the meantime I will not be putting my money on low-protein diets as the solution to the obesity epidemic.
David Raubenheimer
(Belmont, Auckland)


A small but important correction regarding the article “Past present future” (January 21): Rekohu is the Moriori name for the Chatham Islands, not the Maori name. The word “Rekohu” might be disputed by some as the primary indigenous name for the Chathams (the Maori name is “Wharekauri”). Hence the draft title of my novel situates Moriori as the first language of the Chatham Islands. In addition, I’m not sure I put together such a coherent sentence about following in anyone’s footsteps (let alone Grace and Ihimaera’s), which I wouldn’t presume to claim. However, I can understand how such a sentence might reflect the gist of the conversation.
Tina Makereti
(Raumati Sth, Paraparaumu)

The article accurately reflects my understanding of the conversation Tina Makereti and I had. I apologise if it doesn’t reflect her understanding. – Siobhan Harvey

Letters to the editor: letters@listener.co.nz; or writer to The Editor, Listener, PO Box 90783, Victoria Street West, Auckland 1142.
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