LOOMING: The legal stoush over funding for the rescue helicopter service continues.
LOOMING: The legal stoush over funding for the rescue helicopter service continues. Marc Stapelberg

Taking flight: Helicopter battle brewing for months

SUPREME Court documents obtained by the Northern Star reveal the battle between the old and new operators of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter over funds has played out in court for longer than the past two weeks.

The court papers state the first hearing was held on August 8.

On September 5, legal counsel for new operator Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service Limited and the old operator, Northern Region S.L.S.A Helicopter Rescue Service fronted the Supreme Court in Sydney for a directions hearing.

The new operator, also the plaintiff, filed the action in the Supreme Court on July 7.

That's four days after the new operator's chief executive Richard Jones said in a statement that they received a letter from the old operator "explaining the basis on which they proposed to distribute surplus assets on the winding up of their company."

It is understood two new parties have joined the dispute, which is set to go before the court again next Tuesday.

Mr Jones and former chairman of the old operator's board of directors, Warren Tozer acknowledged community money would be used to fund their separate Supreme Court proceedings.

Both said at this stage they don't know how much the legal costs may be at this stage.

Filing fees stated by the Supreme Court reveal lodging a summons or statement of claim cost upward of $1000.

However, both Mr Jones and Mr Tozer said they would be willing to engage in mediation.

Since the September 5 court proceedings, Mr Jones said he has spoken to the barrister twice with the prospect of mediation raised several weeks ago.

"It hasn't really progressed anywhere but I mean I'll still say that if we could get in a room and resolve this, I think that's a good thing," Mr Jones said.

But Mr Tozer said they had tried to seek mediation with the new operators.

"We are disappointed because all the way along we've said if the other party wanted to have an opportunity of talking to us then we'd be very open about that," Mr Tozer said.

"But they didn't, they immediately went and filed a lawsuit."

Similarly to Mr Jones, Mr Tozer believed there was still scope for mediation and the "opportunity for both parties to put their cases on the table".

Mr Tozer said he would be "very interested" to know why the new operator wants to contest their constitution.

Their constitution states upon dissolution, 50% of funds would go to Surf Life-Saving Australia while the other half would go to selected charities related to search and rescue or areomedical services.

Mr Tozer said an example of those services would be a donation to upgrade the Maclean Hospital helipad.

Meanwhile, the new operator's constitution states funds would go to Hunter Surf and other institutions similar to the rescue helicopter upon dissolution.

Mr Jones said the organisation applied to the Attorney General in March to amend the constitution to remove the reference to the Hunter.



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