Many Hamilton families enjoy regular holidays and visits to the beautiful beaches, bushwalks and other attractions of the Coromandel Peninsula, and are familiar with the area’s winding, hilly roads that make driving a challenge, especially for larger vehicles, so I know there is concern in our city at the threat to the continued operation of the rescue helicopter service that currently operates out of Whitianga.
That’s why, in my capacity as National’s ACC spokesperson, I was pleased to join my colleague, Coromandel MP Scott Simpson, at a huge public meeting outside the rescue helicopter base in Whitianga on Saturday 5 May.
It was the largest public meeting I have attended in my decade as an MP, and there was an overwhelming message from those present that the current service is essential and must be retained. Many spoke of lives that have been saved thanks to the ability of the helicopter to reach inaccessible areas quickly during emergencies. We never know when it might be ourselves or those we love who need that assistance.
Similar threats hang over the current Rotorua and Taupo rescue helicopter services, which are also popular destinations for my constituents, so it is important for Hamiltonians to make their views known on the current secretive and worrying process that excludes all three bases as locations for the future.
Under the Official Information Act, I attempted to obtain the Business Case for the Air Ambulance Services Procurement Process last month. Although the Business Case was approved by the Labour / New Zealand First Cabinet on 19 March, my request was declined so as not to “prejudice or disadvantage commercial negotiations”. National MPs’ questions in Parliament seeking commitments from the government to safeguard the services have met with similarly unhelpful responses, adding to the concern we share with our constituents that the bases are at risk.
It’s important to remember that rescue helicopter services attract significant donations from local people and generous philanthropists. At Saturday’s meeting, it was nice to hear the appreciation of several speakers for the generosity of Bernie and Kaye Crosby of Hamilton in that regard. Local people aren’t just demanding a service, they’re prepared to dig into their own pockets to help sustain it, and I commend them for doing so.
This is another sign of many we’ve seen in recent weeks that the claim of the new government to be “championing the regions” is absolute nonsense. I urge my constituents to join Coromandel, Rotorua and Taupo residents in making your support for continued rescue helicopter services in our neighbouring regions known to the Ministers of Health and ACC as soon as possible.