Previous Governments also paid for opportunities to promote New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said today, defending the cost of his appearance on David Letterman's United States television show two years ago.

Mr Key, who is Tourism Minister, went on the prime time show to promote New Zealand as a destination while visiting the US. His appearance was organised by a public relations company, rather than being by invitation.

Radio New Zealand reported this morning American public relations firm Hill & Knowlton was paid a $20,000-$30,000 a month retainer to promote New Zealand in the US.

Tourism New Zealand said the company was paid up to $10,000 to lobby for Mr Key's appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, negotiate any terms and conditions, and undertake preparations for his appearance.


Mr Key this morning said the practice was nothing out of the ordinary.

"It's not new, actually when (former Labour Prime Minister) Helen Clark went on Discovery Channel we paid those people as a country $250,000 to put Helen Clark on that show and to have it here in New Zealand.

"That is nothing new, we didn't pay to go on the show, the only person that got paid was me. The reason I got paid by Letterman is that everyone in the US is required under the actor's guild to be paid."

He donated the $250 payment to charity.

Mr Key said someone at Tourism New Zealand thought of trying to get him on the show when Letterman made a comment about loving New Zealand. They put together a tape and sent it to the show.

That was how these things worked, he said.

"This is showbiz and there's a whole lot of people who work through that, but in the end, New Zealanders have to ask themselves, `did they get value for money?', but my understanding is, that we would have paid that firm a retainer anyway."