Alf could see this one coming: The Boss has stepped in to clean up a PR embarrassment over the way we treated a bunch of elderly war heroes.
The Herald at the weekend reported the veterans – some in their 90s – ended up paying to attend commemorations in Europe while the taxpayer funded the Defence Minister’s luxury travel, personal assistant and top hotels.
The treatment of the veterans on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete shocked observers, who had expected to see them treated as the centrepiece of the New Zealand contingent.
Defence Minister Wayne Mapp spent more than $26,000 on flights and top hotels for himself and a secretary, in luxurious suites overlooking the Bay of Chania.
But New Zealand’s war heroes were forced to pay out of their own pockets, arrange their own itineraries and stay in modest accommodation, with just $2000 Government support – less than a return airfare.
Australian veterans – in contrast – were flown over by their Government and cared for by provided doctors.
They stayed at the same upmarket lodgings as Australia’s defence and government officials.
The Herald talked with Malcolm Coughlan, a veteran who had travelled on his own savings. The Government grant had covered about 15 per cent of his expenses.
Another veteran, Arthur Midwood, 93, said he had gone fundraising to iwi groups to pay for his trip.
An astonished Australian documentary maker, John Lewis, said he had walked along the waterfront to find the New Zealand official party enjoying a lavish lunch on their own.
“There’s nothing wrong with going out and having a nice lunch, but meanwhile all the vets were being left on their own to be organised by their families,” he said.
“I thought the vets would have been the guests of honour. It was remarkably noticeable.”
Anything wrong with these arrangements?
Nothing that Mapp could see (until the PM wiped the crap out of his eyes).
“I ensured that the veterans who travelled to the 70th anniversary had access to a government grant of up to $2000 each.
“This grant was additional to the grant of $2000 that was given to veterans for travel to attend the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Crete,” Dr Mapp said.
But Alf sensed Mapp had some explaining to do when John Key said he had spoken to the Defence Minister, and they would take a closer look at the level of support veterans receive.
Mr Key said the level of support New Zealand veterans had received would not seem right to most people. “It raises a legitimate point in terms of what level of support and compensation we give particularly to these old returned servicemen, people who have fought in these battles, these Diggers,” Mr Key told RadioLive.
“Are we giving them the right level of support? … I’ve had a discussion with Wayne about it, and I think going forward we will have to have a closer look. It didn’t sit that well,” the Prime Minister said.
Mind you, The Boss didn’t necessarily get everything quite right.
He said Mapp was a “really sensitive bloke” and his itinerary would have been based on what was done previously.
“I can tell you as a minister those things sort of happen around you.
“I went to Gallipoli and I didn’t have a choice on where I stayed or how it worked, it was just a well-trodden path that Helen Clark had been on and many before her.”
Similarly sensitive, but obliged to follow orders, were the military types who found themselves having to do what had to be done.
Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Rhys Jones also attended the ceremonies in Crete, with nine other defence personnel.
Seven of the soldiers were flown from their stations in London to act as honour guards, and the Chief of Defence flew business class from New Zealand with his personal staff officer and a warrant officer.
General Jones’ wife, who has loved ones buried in Crete, also attended but travelled at her own expense, and the couple had some of their accommodation paid for by the Hellenic Defence Force.
Alf can now report that the ageing war veterans are likely have their airfare and accommodation costs covered by the government.
Wayne Mapp says so.
This morning, Dr Mapp said New Zealand had to take lessons from Australia, flown over by their Government for the same 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and were cared for by provided doctors. They stayed at the same upmarket lodgings as Australia’s defence and government officials.
“For the future I think the goal would be to cover their airfares and accommodation”, Dr Mapp said this morning.
“For future 70th commemorations – and there is a number coming up in 2012 2013 and beyond – we need to be able to do that.
So it has all come right in the end, eh?
But if Alf had been appointed Minister of Defence (as he had hoped) this would not have happened.
First, Alf misread a Herald report and wrongly assumed compensation would be paid to the veterans who went to Crete. Not so, as Mapp reaffirmed later in the week.
Second, but Cabinet will be looking at the issue and Mapp has apologised.