DISGRUNTLED community members wanting to see winching capabilities of the local rescue helicopter service reinstated no longer have to sit idle, with the launch of a region-wide petition outside Tamworth Regional Council yesterday.
Deputy mayor Russell Webb was impelled to organise the petition to reinstate the service after being inundated by calls and letters from concerned locals wondering how they could help.
He’d hoped the state government would have reversed its decision by now, but said a community petition would bolster negotiations.
“The message we have to get across is that we in country NSW are entitled to the same level of service that they are east of the divide, and at the moment, that level of service has been taken away from us,” Cr Webb said.
“We have had a service, incident free, for 13 years, and they’ve taken it away.”
The state government put a halt to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter winching operations out of Tamworth last month as part of sweeping reforms to aeromedical services, citing safety concerns.
But while Tamworth was singled out, Lismore and Newcastle were given the green light to continue winching, prompting many to suggest the government’s safety argument was flawed.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson and Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service general manager Richard Jones will meet with Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Ambulance NSW at Parliament House on Wednesday, August 28 for a brief 15-minute discussion on the reforms.
If no traction is made, a petition of 10,000 or more signatures can’t be ignored – and will be discussed on the floor of parliament.
Just under an hour after the petition was launched it had already garnered 150 signatures.
Two Tamworth locals who were more than happy to add their autographs to the list were Bev Godley and Kevin Baker.
Mrs Godley said she was “absolutely shocked” when she first heard the news.
“We’re in a flood area, mountainous terrain, why would they want to take it away?,” she asked.
“Kids are getting bitten by snakes – you need it, we need it.”
Mr Baker questioned the thought process behind the decision. “What happens if some of those fellas who want to get rid of it, if they get caught out in the middle of the scrub in the middle of the night and they can’t get out? It’s a different kettle of fish then,” Mr Baker said.
Cr Webb was confident it wouldn’t take long to reach the 10,000 target, with a host of local councils getting on board.
“The petition will be going across the New England and across the North West, so councils in the Namoi council group are all taking carriage of the petition and they’ll be distributing it within their own communities,” Cr Webb said.
Tamworth Business Chamber president Tim Coates said the community couldn’t afford to lose the winching service, saying the town had to remain competitive if it wanted to retain the likes of BAE Systems and Defence Force tenders.
Mr Coates will do his part for the cause, assembling business support through the local chamber alliance.
Those wanting to sign the petition can download the form from northerndailyleader.com.au and return it to the office of any participating council.