The Defence Force spent almost $35,000 on public relations advice - including news media training - for SAS soldier Willie Apiata to maximise coverage of him receiving the Victoria Cross, new figures reveal.
The spending included "between five and 20 hours of media training" for him with a public relations firm, figures obtained by The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act show.
Basic details of the contract, for which public relations firm Busby Ramshaw Grice was paid $34,698, were released yesterday by Defence chief Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae.
He defended the spending, saying consultants were needed as the Defence Force's public relations unit - its staff salary bill runs to $1.3 million a year - was not resourced to coordinate special events of national and international significance such as the award of a Victoria Cross.
Nor was the unit resourced to provide media training of the sort deemed necessary.
"Broadly, as Corporal Apiata had not previously been the centre of media attention, the training covered the purpose of the media, what to expect from the media, the interview process and interview skills," General Mateparae said.
"It would have been unreasonable to expect Corporal Apiata to contend with extraordinary media interest in his award without support."
The general refused to release briefs of advice on how Corporal Apiata should conduct himself and how he should respond to public and media inquiries.
That information was "a trade secret", he said.
The softly-spoken Corporal Apiata received the VC in June for heroics in Afghanistan in 2004. The award was announced at a news conference in June.
Corporal Apiata made other public appearances at the SAS headquarters at Papakura, when he was presented with his medal at Government House, and at a homecoming ceremony at Te Kaha on the East Coast.
Busby Ramshaw Grice director Anita Busby would not discuss the contract, saying the firm did not talk about work it did for clients.
The media training was provided by staffer Chris Wikaira, who also declined comment.
Defence spokesman Dave Courtney said yesterday that as a good employer the force needed to help Corporal Apiata deal with the huge media and public interest.
- The Dominion Post
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