Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service Ltd (Northern NSW Helicopter) has turned to the Supreme Court to prevent its predecessor, Northern SLSA Helicopter, from reallocating funds donated for helicopter rescue to local surf clubs, among other potential beneficiaries.
Northern NSW Helicopter CEO Richard Jones said the new organisation also had concerns that money might be donated for use outside of the old service’s area of operation.
While no figure was made available for the funds, it is estimated to run into tens of millions of dollars, and includes income from the sale of old helicopters as well as money specifically raised by volunteers in the Northern Rivers region.
Mr Jones said that the assets of Northern SLSA Helicopter ‘should be applied for continuing provision of helicopter emergency medical services for the benefit of local communities in the Northern Rivers, North Coast and Northern Inland region.’
‘The most important thing here is that the money is distributed in accordance with Charitable Trust Law,’ Jones said.
‘We believe the funds should be retained for the purpose intended when donated by the community, and this was the ongoing operation of the local helicopter emergency medical services.’
‘Further, the funds should be retained within the specific geographic region they were raised.’
On April 27 this year Northern NSW Helicopter took over the running of helicopter rescue services in the Northern Rivers, operating new aircraft from a new base at Lismore Airport and taking over the 25 staff previously employed by Northern SLSA Helicopter under a ten-year contract with NSW Ambulance.
Mr Jones said that on July 3, he received a letter from Northern SLSA Helicopter ‘explaining the basis on which they proposed to distribute surplus assets on the winding up of their Company.’
‘We also heard informally of a proposal to provide funds from the distribution to certain surf clubs in the northern region. It appears to us that this promise of funds to the surf clubs may in fact be contrary to the law of charitable trusts,’ he said in a statement.
‘We were therefore concerned to ensure that any distribution of assets would be legal.
‘As distribution of the assets appeared to be imminent we felt we had no option but to preserve the status quo by informing the Attorney General (in his capacity as the ‘protector’ of charitable trusts) and commencing proceedings to freeze the distribution while the correct legal position was determined.’
‘Our staff, volunteers and community have given passionately, tirelessly and generously in fundraising and these funds should be retained for the purpose they were raised. That is the Lismore based rescue helicopter service and the funds should not be distributed in any other way.’
‘Naturally we will respect any determination by the court.’
Mr Jones emphasised that while the proceedings were very important, they do not affect the helicopter itself or the service it provides.
‘Our crews continue to be on standby 24/7 to be when and where our community needs us,’ he said.