A civil dispute is playing out in the Supreme Court between the old and new Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter operators.
A civil dispute is playing out in the Supreme Court between the old and new Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter operators. Marc Stapelberg

Multi-million dollar battle over rescue chopper funds

DETAILS of a multi-million dollar dispute between two charities operating the Westpac Life Saver Helicopter have been revealed in the lead up to their Supreme Court clash.

Northern NSW Helicopter CEO Richard Jones said its communications with the Northern SLSA Helicopter Service broke down.

Earlier this year, Northern NSW Helicopter won a government tender to operate as the region's only aero medical provider when NSW Health rationalised its emergency services.

Northern NSW Helicopter took over Northern SLSA's service with a new Lismore-airport based operation and 10-year contract with NSW Ambulance, on April 27.

"Up until that moment we had no control over assets, we started fresh, with zero in the bank, took out a $10 million loan and purchased a new helicopter," Mr Jones said.

Northern SLSA is in possession of Westpac Life Saver Helicopter Service assets including cash raised by volunteers, op shops, raffles, community donations, the sale of two helicopters and a base in Lismore.

"As distribution of the assets appeared to be imminent we felt we had no option but to preserve the status quo by informing the Attorney General in his capacity as the 'protector' of charitable trusts and commencing proceedings to freeze the distribution while the correct legal position was determined," Mr Jones said.

Mr Jones believes any funds raised locally for the Westpac Life Saver Helicopter Service should be redistributed to the new Northern NSW Helicopter service.

"The most important thing here is that the money is distributed in accordance with Charitable Trust Law," Mr Jones said.

"We believe the funds should be retained for the purpose intended when donated by the community, and this was the ongoing operation of the local helicopter emergency medical services."

"The funds should be retained within the specific geographic region they were raised.

"Our staff, volunteers and community have given passionately, tirelessly and generously in fundraising and these funds should be retained for the purpose they were raised.

"That is the Lismore based rescue helicopter service and the funds should not be distributed in any other way.

"Naturally we will respect any determination by the court."

Mr Jones said the court proceedings do not concern or affect the current helicopter service or any assets used in the region to deliver its services under the new contract with NSW Ambulance.

"While these proceedings are very important, they do not affect the helicopter itself or the vital service we continue to provide," Mr Jones said.

Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service Ltd and Northern SLSLA Helicopter Service will appear in the NSW Supreme Court on September 5, 2017, for a directions hearing.

Northern SLSLA Helicopter Service was contacted by The Northern Star for comment in relation to this story last week.

*Correction: The Northern Star's front page inferred NSW Ambulance was involved in the legal proceedings, which is incorrect. The Court proceeding was initiated by Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service Ltd against the Northern SLSA Helicopter Service, and NSW Ambulance is not a party to the case. No current assets are subject to the proceedings.

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