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Medical Evacuation and Rescue Helicopter

MR WHITECROSS: Mr Speaker, my question is directed to Mr Humphries in his capacity as Minister for Emergency Services. I refer Mr Humphries to the generous offer by Dick Smith of a helicopter for the ACT and south-eastern region rescue services. I refer Mr Humphries to the comments of the former president of the ACT Liberal Party and president of the ACT Chamber of Commerce, John Louttit, that he is a little concerned at the practicality of the ACT business community being able to meet the running costs of the helicopter, as is proposed. He said that an examination of all the financial facts needed to be undertaken before we committed ourselves too far down the track. My question to Mr Humphries is: How much has the ACT business community actually pledged to support the helicopter? Can the Minister advise the Assembly which local councils in New South Wales have pledged financial support for the helicopter, and what is the nature of that support?

MR HUMPHRIES: I welcome this question because I hope that this is an indication that the Labor Opposition is at last prepared to start talking constructively about what is possible with respect to this proposal. I accept that there has been a mind-set about this in the past and that we have had a view from the then Government, now Opposition, that this was too expensive and could not be considered. I hope that they realise that there is now an enormous window of opportunity which has opened up for the Territory. It was made possible through the generous offer of Dick Smith to provide this kind of service for the ACT and its surrounding region. Therefore, this presents us with the chance to work together towards providing this kind of service. I say “together” not merely as a matter of rhetoric but because I believe that some in the chamber are continuing to send strong signals that this cannot happen; it is not a good idea; we do not want it; and we do not need it. It sends to those people who are thinking of getting behind the proposal and supporting it with their own money, non-taxpayer money, a message that there might be some danger in doing so. Therefore, it is important for us to be at least accepting the possibility that this could happen and that it is worth supporting.

I have made it clear that we will not be supporting, with any ACT Government dollars, any proposal which we do not believe is capable of being sustained on a permanent basis to keep the helicopter in the air. In other words, if we do not believe that we can see the capacity for the community's contribution to be strong enough and to remain strong enough to meet the cost of that service, we will not back it; it is as simple as that. That is a concern in a sense, because we have had a very generous offer. We do not want to have to say no, thank you, and hand it back; but, if we are not satisfied on those matters, that is exactly what we will do.

I am meeting with Mr Smith this evening and hope to be able to discuss with him the implications of his promise. I have had many contacts from members of the business community in the ACT, many media outlets, many companies involved with aviation, and many general companies in the ACT. All are very keen to help with this proposal.

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