Defence Minister Ron Mark, returned recently from the sands of the Iraqi desert, fizzing the old cliches about our troops there punching above their weight. The speculation now is that Mark, a one-time major in the Sultan of Oman's army, will try to persuade his cabinet colleagues to extend and expand our military role in Iraq.

Let's hope his baggage was well searched on return to ensure he wasn't bringing in genuine threats to New Zealand's security like the brown marmorated stink bug. Because while our very own Lawrence of Arabia was off reliving his Omani past, this very real threat to our economic livelihood was massing at our borders lusting for the chance to destroy our horticulture industry.

Instead of adding to the $65 million we've already spent making up the numbers in America's ruinous Crusade half a world away, Mark should be seconding his troops and money to the aid of the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) very thin line along the Auckland waterfront.

At last count, four ship loads of second hand cars from Japan have been sent back to sea after the discovery of hundreds of live and presumably very hungry and thirsty stink bugs. The initial reports were dominated by car salesmen wailing about the effect on the tens of thousands of people employed to process and sell the 12,000 vehicles a month pouring into the country.


Horticulture New Zealand quickly put the other side, pointing out that if established, these bugs could destroy a wide range of crops, from grapes and kiwifruit to the household veggie garden, leading to a ruinous annual $4.2 billion fall in horticultural exports.

"If this stink bug arrives in New Zealand, it's going to devastate our horticulture, it's going to devastate our food production, it's going to devastate our rural communities, it's going to infest our homes across the country, and not just rural homes, urban homes," Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman told Radio New Zealand.

"It's going to take out people's vegetable gardens, it's going to attack their flower gardens. This is one really nasty bug."

It seems there are no natural predators here, and most insecticide sprays don't work.

Despite these dire warnings – and the devastation these Asian bugs are causing in the United States and Italy, where they've got across the border – we let the bug carrying boats back into our waters.

MPI's solution was that the vehicles had to be fumigated at sea, then a sample of vehicles will be unloaded and checked for live bugs. MPI has also introduced a heat treatment base in Auckland, but it can only handle a token 10 to 15 cars a day.

Ports of Auckland spokesman Matt Ball described it as a "giant container" in which you put in a couple of cars, turn up the heat and force the bugs out of their hiding places to die.

None of which sounds very reassuring given that late last year an Italian-made concrete plant, with a fumigation certificate, landed in Auckland, was checked by MPI inspectors and was then trucked by road all the way to Christchurch. There, a staff member of importers, Gough Industrial Solutions found 19 of the stink bugs, 15 of which were alive, including nine females.


Hopefully there were not others who took a toilet stop on the way through.
Over the summer I've been enjoying the outbreak of little skinks darting about on my deck and garden paths.

It reminds me of my brother's Sydney back deck. And, it seems for good reason. My new friends are apparently descendants from invaders from across the Ditch in the 1960s.

They're now through out the North Island. The Department of Conservation website tries to put me off them by labelling them plague skinks. Their common name is Rainbow skinks. It's illegal to sell them or breed them, but otherwise, officialdom has given up the hunt. Which is OK with me.

As invaders go, they are at the other end of the scale from the evil stink bugs, which has 300 or so other host fruit and vegetable crops on their voracious sap-sucking menu.

With an immediate enemy like this on our doorstep, let's get our priorities right and spend our Defence budget where it might do some good.