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Medical Evacuation and Rescue Helicopter

MR HIRD: I would like to direct a question to Mr Humphries in his capacity as Minister for Emergency Services. Can the Minister tell the Assembly how Dick Smith's offer to donate a helicopter to Canberra will affect the Government's commitment to establish a regional medical and rescue helicopter based in Canberra?

MR HUMPHRIES: I thank Mr Hird for his question. I am very delighted to confirm, as his question implies, that businessman and adventurer Dick Smith has indeed offered to donate a Sikorsky F76A mark 2 twin-engine helicopter to Canberra and our region for use as a medical and rescue aircraft. I have to say that my view is that this is a very exciting development for the people of this region, in that we have now a very real opportunity to develop in our region an emergency rescue and medical evacuation helicopter service. The helicopter itself is worth approximately $2m and was previously owned by the King of Jordan. Mr Smith's offer is conditional on the appropriate level of support from the region's community. Mr Speaker, I might indicate that, if we had not had that condition imposed upon us, we would certainly have imposed it upon ourselves. It is very important that, before we take on any project as important and as costly as this, we ensure that we have the ability to provide the ongoing capacity for that service to remain in the air. Mr Speaker, when I say “we” in that context I mean not just the people of the ACT or the ACT Government; I mean the people of this region.

If it is operational under these terms, the service will place some 108,000 square kilometres, or an area 70 times the size of the ACT, within one hour's flying time of the base in Canberra. It will get intensive-care medical support to a patient faster than in any other way possible. Seven hundred thousand people in our region will thus be within 90 minutes' flying time of the aircraft. That is a very significant upgrade in the quality of care we can offer people in all sorts of situations where they need that assistance, from industrial accidents to boating mishaps to road accidents. Major roads pass through our region, and they account for a great many accidents each year, particularly some in our region. There are snowfields and bushwalking and rock climbing areas in this region. There are, unfortunately, many sources from which these sorts of accidents can arise. A service of this kind would provide an immense upgrade in the quality of that service. At the moment, Canberra is a minimum of 90 minutes' flying time from Sydney, which means that, particularly south of Canberra, people experience a very long wait for that service to arrive.

Mr Speaker, the Government is committed to evaluating Mr Smith's offer seriously. I repeat the condition that attaches to our receiving this gift from Mr Smith, which is that we have the ongoing capacity to keep it in the air. We are not intent on taking on a white elephant, as Mr Connolly has called it. I assure the house and the people of Canberra that, if we accept this gift, it will be on the basis that we believe that there is a reasonable capacity to continue to provide the service to the people of this region. I hope that that would be a goal worth working towards on the part not just of the Government but of all members of this place.

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