The new Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter operator has moved to explain how donations will be managed and spent.
The new Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter operator has moved to explain how donations will be managed and spent. Contributed

REVEALED: How your donations to the rescue chopper are spent

SPECULATION about where and how community-raised dollars are spent by the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter has been clarified by the new operator and the NSW Ambulance.

In April, the Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service began operations under a ten year contract with NSW Ambulance and its statewide medical helicopter retrieval network.

The new chopper operator was formed from scratch after amalgamating with Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter's Hunter, New England and North Coast counterparts to successfully win the contract in December 2014.

Three bases will operate 24/7 at Lismore, Tamworth and Newcastle to service the northern sector of the state.

Currently, the new operator has locked horns with the old operator in a Supreme Court battle over the allocation of previously raised funds totaling about $16 million.

That disputed money under law cannot be distributed until the court proceedings have been finalised.

With that being said, what is the new operator's plans to spend and manage future community money?

How does the $151 million State Government funding work?

THE money, according to NSW Ambulance, is to be divided up between the bases that fall under the northern and southern sector organisations contracted over the ten year period.

Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service chief executive, Richard Jones said the operational costs have increased with the roll out of new, $18 million Agusta Westland AW139 Helicopters as well as more advanced training for staff and crews.

The State Government has partnered with the service in a bid to bolster its operations and secure its future.

To keep the Lismore-based, North Coast service running costs about $10 million annually.

A NSW Ambulance spokeswoman broke that figure down and explained the government contributes about $7.5 million with about $2.5 million raised by individual and community donations, sponsorship as well as fundraisers.

The NSW Ambulance spokeswoman said there is some flexibility in the contract to allow for unexpected costs.

An example of this additional support, the spokeswoman said could involve money to help cover fuel costs if the service runs a higher than usual number of missions.

What is my donation to the Westpac chopper funding?

SO where does that $2.5 million of publicly raised money get invested into?

The NSW Ambulance spokeswoman said it mainly funds search and rescue missions, aircraft servicing and maintenance, training as well as costs to hire another aircraft if needed.

She said the ambulance service covers operational costs for critical missions the chopper undertakes such as serious road crashes that require specialised paramedics.

Why does the service still need donations if it gets government funding?

The short answer is it definitely still needs donations to carry out its work.

Mr Jones said fundraising efforts as well as business and community support also enables the helicopter to maintain a surplus to provide "a service that no one needs to pay for".

He said maintaining surplus is vital in making sure the chopper can operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

"We have to run this business at a significant surplus because we need to fight the good fight into the future and the next contract," he said.

"We want to be very responsible about how we run our money. We need to maintain and have money in case we blow an engine (for example).

"It's a very expensive business we run and not everything isn't covered by the contract".

Will my money be going down to Newcastle or other areas?

EVERY cent you put in a donation tin at the servo, every dollar you donate out of your wage, all donations given here on the Northern Rivers will be reinvested into this service.

That is a promise Mr Jones is obliged to keep.

"I can guarantee with my life that this business is run with the greatest integrity and not a cent leaves the area (in which it is donated)," he said.

To protect the community purse, he said the organisation has created an "an extra layer of scrutiny and extra layer of comfort" in the form of three regional advisory committees.

All three bases will have their own committees, comprising of a chairperson and eight members, who manage where the local funds will be directed to advance the service.

"They all have to be accounted for separately and that's what the regional advisory committee will stand over the top of and make sure it works properly," Mr Jones said.

Applications for the Lismore chairperson and committee members were being assessed. Mr Jones said the chairperson would be announced in the coming weeks.

Will my money be going to the government?

NSW Ambulance and Mr Jones have stressed that no money raised by the community would be redistributed back into State Government coffers.

The ambulance spokeswoman said tight legal regulations and the Charitable Trust Act stipulates strict rules about how community money is spent.

That means the more money raised by the community, the more money gets invested into facilities for the Northern Rivers helicopter from more training to new equipment.



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