Chopper fight hots up

WOLLONGONG ADVERTISER

Illawarra Rotary clubs have vowed to fight to keep a medical rescue helicopter in the region and will launch a community campaign with the backing of unions, business, MPs and others.

The combined Rotary Clubs of the Illawarra, representing 11 clubs from Bulli to Kiama, last week threw their support behind the retention of a round-the-clock rescue helicopter in the Illawarra.

The NSW Ambulance Service chopper service is based at Albion Park Rail, but an independent review has suggested the NSW government could save millions of dollars by moving the helicopter to Sydney and cutting helicopters at other bases, without ‘‘significantly affecting’’ patient response times.

Rotary Club of Wollongong president Leigh Robinson said the clubs called on the NSW government to retain the world-class aerial retrieval service in the Illawarra.

‘‘We are seeking the support of other stakeholders in the community together with local politicians, local government, the business community and sporting groups to ensure that the service remains,’’ he said.

Former Wollongong Rotary president Phil Buckland, who died in 2009, successfully spearheaded a campaign for a 24/7 medical rescue helicopter in the Illawarra and the club is ready to fight again.

‘‘I’m sure if he was here now he’d be doing what I’m doing. We feel that we did it last time and it’s our duty to continue ... to make this thing happen and keep it [the chopper] here,’’ Mr Robinson said.

‘‘It’s critically important – the 20 minutes for a chopper to come from Bankstown – a lot of people can die in 20 minutes.’’

Mr Robinson said they had the support of the South Coast Labour Council and he planned to meet Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery and Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba to gain their support. Labour council secretary Arthur Rorris would also lobby Kiama MP Gareth Ward.

‘‘It’s going to be a concerted apolitical campaign. Politics doesn’t come into this – it’s about the safety of our community and the saving of lives that are at risk of being lost in that 20-minute time frame,’’ Mr Robinson said.

Submissions on the helicopter review close this month, after which the government should respond.

Mr Rorris said Rotary clubs played a fantastic role in securing an Illawarra 24/7 medical chopper in 2008.

‘‘It was successful because that’s what you get ... when union, business and community organisations combine for a very worthwhile cause. We’re going to get the same again,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t think it will end there, we’re just warming up.’’

If you want to help the campaign, call Mr Robinson on 0418 400 090 or  email president@wollongongrotary.org.au.

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