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20 February 2008

Nice touches, NZ Army


The theft of a treasure trove of war decorations from the Army Museum at Waiouru has generated an overwhelming sense of loss among New Zealanders. So much so, the public has been muted in its anger about clearly inadequate security.

One good decision the NZ Army has made in its handling of the theft has been to allow Colonel Ray Seymour, the officer in charge of the museum, to front to the media. His undiplomatic, heartfelt turn of phrase and a persona vaguely reminiscent of Dad's Army has helped keep the issue at a human level.

Another nice touch has been the decision to run a diagonal banner across the big billboards promoting the museum to travellers on State Highway 1, with the message "Thank you for your understanding". The banners don't say what the understanding is for - we all know; New Zealand is like a village and to many of us the theft of the medals was like the theft of precious relics from the local church or hall.

Whether the Army can keep the issue so well controlled during the Court of Inquiry into what went wrong, will be an even bigger test of its public relations skills. So far it has stayed on message that the theft was "an assault on New Zealand's heritage".

But no doubt the public will be increasingly asking questions about the competence of the guardians of that heritage.


- Trevor Walton

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