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Whose fault?

The British science magazine New Scientist (February 26) carried an important article, headlined “The unknown fault that caught out Christchurch”. The article quoted Roger Musson, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh as saying: “Christchurch has never been identified as a major earthquake zone, because no one knew this fault ran beneath …” The article also quoted him as saying that “it now appears likely that the Christchurch quake resulted from … the Alpine fault that remained unknown until last year”.

I joined the DSIR geophysics division in 1973 and spent my first week asking other scientists what they were working on. One showed me a series of beautifully made coloured contour maps of Christchurch and the surrounding area. He told me they were earthquake probability maps that indicated which areas were safer than others. I was very impressed and said so. Then he told me that unfortunately these maps had been recalled by the Government Printer, and he had been gathering up all the maps that morning so he could distribute the new version. I asked what the difference was, and was invited to compare them. I did so, and commented the first maps showed variable earthquake risk over the whole area, but the new ones showed the risk as all stopping at the edges of the built-up areas. He said, “Yes.”

We were both disgusted. I offered to take one of the maps as evidence, but he said the maps were all numbered and we could not do so. My new friend did not know the reason for the change, but thought it was perhaps to protect property values.
Stephen R Hicks


Thank you for the revealing and insightful article on stress (“Stressed to excess”, July 16). As a former caffeine addict, I’ve found substituting two cups a day of green tea contributes significantly to my management of normal stress levels.
E Carruthers
(Mt Albert, Auckland)


Thank you for the article on men’s sheds (“Sawdust & solutions”, July 23). We need the community to know more about us, and what we are trying to achieve.

Our shed is the Wellington City MenzShed. We are there for any man who wants to find companionship, revive past skills and learn new skills. We hold a Grumpy Old Men’s session where we can rail against the world while sipping tea and eating stale biscuits. That helps get rid of some of the frustration, but next day we’re repainting stools for the kindergarten, repairing furniture for refugees or putting up shelves at the medical centre.

That’s the good side of things, but there is a matter of concern. To operate we need a shed where we can meet, store our tools and work on projects. In Wellington an old workshop has been rented with grants from the Wellington City Council and the district health board. However, the building has an “earthquake risk” notice on the front door, and grants can never be guaranteed.

Every part of the community says they support what we’re doing. We are helping a growing section of our community – older men who’ve lost jobs, families and interest in life. At the men’s sheds they are revived and able to contribute again.
So this is the conundrum, and I have no doubt it applies to many other Men’s Sheds. None of us is paid; we give our labour and skills to help others. Since we are helping the more needy groups, the income from a shed’s activities will probably cover the operating cost of maintaining tools and buying milk and tea. We will never have enough money to buy a “shed”, and unless one of us is a professional fundraiser we’re unlikely to be able to raise the $15,000 a year for the rent. How can we ensure Men’s Sheds have a shed for as long as it is needed?
John Shrapnell
Secretary, Wellington City MenzShed


John Key’s statement about asylum seekers attracted criticism because it amounted to an unequivocal rejection of all “boat people”.

Your Editorial (July 23) suggests we should be cautious about accepting those who seek publicity for their plight.

But should that count against people? The Refugee Convention is clear all people have a right to seek safe asylum and receive a fair hearing.

Some 15 years ago, six young Timorese men breached the tight security of the New Zealand Embassy in Jakarta. They were pursued into the embassy compound, sovereign New Zealand territory, by an Indonesian soldier. All were part of the clandestine resistance to Indonesia’s brutal occupation of their homeland. There is no doubt their lives were in danger. New Zealand, concerned not to embarrass the Suharto regime of the day, managed to persuade Portugal to take the problem off its hands.

I know from my communication with the men at the time that they wanted to come here because they believed New Zealand had an independent approach to human rights and foreign policy. They were wrong, of course. New Zealand had long since betrayed the East Timorese, and our diplomacy up to that time was based on the dictum that the occupation was irreversible.

It is only two years since Tamil civilians were caught up in a violent conflict not of their making that cost tens of thousands of lives and ended with unimaginable atrocities. The UN says there is evidence both the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers committed war crimes.

Of course we should address the crises that lead to refugee flows. But do we? Apart from paying lip service, what are we doing to help bring about an impartial war crimes tribunal to address Sri Lanka’s past and help protect its future?
Maire Leadbeater
(Mt Albert, Auckland)

I welcome your editorial on asylum seekers and refugees but wish to correct the misstatement of Amnesty International’s position in this important and ongoing debate.

Amnesty International sought to make people aware that, contrary to the Prime Minister’s statement that 87 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were “not welcome in New Zealand”, our country has an international legal obligation to process the claims of any asylum seekers who reach our borders, and to provide protection to those found to be legitimate refugees.

Not only did the Prime Minister’s comments imply protection of refugees is somehow discretionary, his reference to asylum seekers as “queue jumpers” suggested those who seek asylum by boat act illegally. Although smuggling people is illegal, seeking asylum is not. The suggestion there is a queue to jump shows either a breathtaking lack of humanity or a complete ignorance of the horrific reality that refugees and asylum seekers face on a daily basis. When faced with the real risk of being brutalised, you do not “join a queue”, you run for your life.

When New Zealand voluntarily signed the Refugee Convention, we committed to an international responsibility-sharing mechanism to protect our fellow humans whose life, liberty and safety is at risk and whose own governments have failed them. Along with providing protection to refugees who seek asylum, solving this human tragedy requires a global solution that addresses the grave human-rights abuses that cause asylum seekers to flee in the first place. To that end, I call for a constructive, informed and rational debate that avoids inciting fear and instead seeks to promote understanding and protect the basic human rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Diana Pickard
Chair, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand


Isn’t it ironic that the New Zealand wine industry is affronted at being excluded from Australian wine shows, especially since it does not allow Aussie entries into its own shows (Wine, July 9)?

As a permanent resident, I also find this exclusion exists in the area of New Zealand literature. Most competitions and opportunities are not open to residents unless they have lived here for five years. This is significant, especially because most awards and prizes internationally, especially in the UK and Ireland, are open to New Zealanders, irrespective of residence.

If New Zealand wants the Australians, or anyone else, to open their doors to us, then perhaps it should begin by dismantling its own barriers.
Majella Cullinane
(Paekakariki, Kapiti Coast)


I inherited restless legs syndrome over 30 years ago (Health, July 16). Luckily, about 20 years ago I read in a magazine that taking magnesium tablets helps a lot, but that they take a month or so to kick in.

One tablet a day made a huge difference until I had a knee replacement three years ago. Now I need to take three tablets daily. This is preferable to taking drugs meant for Parkinson’s. Sport-style stretching of my legs before bed also helps alleviate the problem.
Christine Facer


The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand supports discussion on Advance Care Planning (“Going gentle into that good night”, July 9) but suggests it needs to go further – into full acceptance by the medical profession and the public of legal Advance Care Directives.

Advance Care Planning holds mainly to a medically focused model, where the patient discusses end-of-life issues of treatment and care.

An Advance Care Directive legally requires the medical fraternity to accept the patient has the right to determine when they die, not just where or under what care.

Euthanasia is carried out by a doctor, not always with the patient’s knowledge (Mitchell & Owens, 2004). Voluntary euthanasia is where a doctor complies with the legally expressed wishes of the patient and carries out the action of euthanasia for the patient.

Prime Minister John Key supports new legislation going to a select committee – that will require public debate. Debate only occurs when both sides of the ­argument are heard.
Janet M Marsland
Chair, Wellington VESNZ


Has there ever been a more misrepresented event in our history than the absurdly romanticised 1981 Springbok Tour protest? Redmer Yska’s account of the now released police files adds to the nonsense surrounding it (“The Tour Files”, July 9).

Contrary to received thinking, the Government strenuously opposed the tour, with Deputy Prime Minister Brian Talboys hammering the rugby union to call it off. When his efforts failed, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon went on television in a special broadcast, appealing to the union to cancel the tour. But Muldoon, a libertarian in all but economic issues, was not prepared to renege on an election promise and, more commendably, was not prepared to bow to the mob.

Again, contrary to entrenched opinion, as Professor Barry Gustafson revealed in his Muldoon biography, Muldoon held the view the tour would harm his re-election prospects later that year. As it transpired, it did not.

I was one of four television panellists on election night. After the early results showed a strong swing for Labour, we were asked for our predictions, and the other three all forecast a change of government. I then caused puzzlement by predicting the Government would hang on as it would pick up Taupo. That duly occurred, but it is why that is salient.

On the Monday following the aborted Hamilton game, I had driven through Tokoroa (in the Taupo electorate) and witnessed seemingly the entire population, predominantly Maori, march in anger against the anti-tour campaign. Yet, to my astonishment, radio, television and the press chose not to report this. Labour had firmly associated itself with the anti-tour movement and thus lost Tokoroa and with it the Taupo seat.

The 1981 tour protest was a massive exercise in hypocrisy and fashionable behaviour, but this was not peculiar to New Zealand, as reflected also by the wrecked 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, in which large numbers of nations for differing so-called “moral” reasons boycotted the three Games.

If there was any immorality in the events of 1981 it was that by the protesters, endeavouring to impose their morality on others through intimidation and mob behaviour. It was, in short, a disgraceful episode in our history. Romanticising it as a virtuous, popular uprising is shallow thinking.
Sir Robert Jones

USING 1080

Having spent 40 years investigating dieback and death affecting native trees throughout the country, excepting by natural processes such as storms, drought and natural decline of very old forests, I can say there is no doubt possums are the major cause of tree death.

Northern rata, one of the most important components of Central North Island forests, has been largely eliminated throughout much of its range. In the Ikawhenua Range, east of Minginui, in the 1980s thousands of very large rata died, their dead crowns peppering a canopy of which they were a dominant component. We collected crown samples from a helicopter as well as leaves from litter traps at ground level to conclusively show the sole cause was possum defoliation. The animal harvesting the new shoots led initially to twig death, and after two to three years of damage, to whole tree death.

I was also involved in the investigation of pohutukawa decline and death throughout the northern half of the North Island, initially thought to be insect-related. Apart from humans and their domestic stock, the only significant impact was that of possums, which could defoliate and kill a mature pohutukawa in two years. Although the most obvious damage was seen in chewing of the foliage, the study showed it was the harvesting and damage of new buds that was the primary cause of crown dieback, and that possum control timed to protect these buds was the key to improved health.

Our work on pohutukawa led to the formation of the Project Crimson Trust, dedicated to reversing the decline of this national treasure.

New Zealand’s podocarp/hardwood forests have suffered a massive transformation through the depredations of this introduced pest, and will continue to decline unless we use every tool available, including 1080, to control possum numbers.
Gordon Hosking

The letter (July 23) from the Animal Health Board’s Dr Paul Livingstone was edited to read, “Possums (and, to a lesser extent, ferrets) are also a major source of TB infection in livestock. In fact, the disease is endemic in about 38% of wild animals across New Zealand.” It should have read: “Possums (and, to a lesser extent, ferrets) are also a major source of TB infection in livestock. In fact, the disease is endemic in wild animals across about 38% of New Zealand.” The error is regretted.


In her Radio Week listings (July 16) Diana Balham has me as an “expat, piano-playing Michael”. Now, I know it is something of a national sport to diss the Manawatu, but to go the distance and move us offshore … that’s a bit rough!
Michael Houstoun