House debates

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Constituency Statements

Leichhardt Electorate: Helicopters

10:55 am

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to talk about a serious situation in my electorate that will, sadly and inevitably, cost someone their life on our Great Barrier Reef and damage our international reputation in the process. If the situation eventuates—and, let me tell you, it will—the Queensland Labor government and its Cairns based Minister for Fire and Emergency Services, Craig Crawford, will have blood on their hands. Mr Crawford has flatly refused to engage the services of a highly respected Cairns based helicopter company, Nautilus Aviation, during recent wet weather events, purely because the company had the hide to hold a media opportunity with the now opposition leader during a state election where they committed to using these machines.

The Queensland government would rather spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money tasking helicopters from Brisbane to Far North Queensland than use the privately owned Cairns based rescue helicopter. In fact, recently they tasked a government helicopter from Townsville for a medical emergency on the reef. The helicopter broke down mid rescue, and, instead of tasking the Nautilus rescue chopper sitting 20 minutes away, they made the doctor, the paramedic and the passenger travel more than two hours by boat back to the mainland.

On 21 March the government helicopter was tasked from Cairns to Mornington Island to look for the body of a person who had been attacked and killed by a crocodile. This was a 10-hour round trip that left Cairns without a rescue helicopter for that full day. Nautilus had a helicopter based in Normanton and would have completed the mission in less than two hours. What makes this matter even worse is the fact that, on 22 March, the government chopper was offline for maintenance, as it regularly is, and could not assist in a time-critical emergency patient transfer from Mossman Hospital. That person died as a result, very sadly. They weren't given the chance, because of Mr Crawford's refusal to engage with Nautilus Aviation.

Only on the weekend, the Labor government tasked three privately owned choppers from the Sunshine Coast to help the recovery efforts in Cape York. How much taxpayers' money was blown out on the decision due to Mr Crawford's petulance?

What makes the situation even more ridiculous is the fact that Nautilus Aviation is regularly engaged by other Queensland government departments. Its services are used by New South Wales Ambulance, New South Wales police, New South Wales emergency services, Fire & Rescue New South Wales, Surf Life Saving Australia and the SES. Nautilus choppers are fitted out with the latest state-of-the-art medical and rescue equipment. Its helicopters are also state-of-the-art machines and are the same as the Queensland government operates in Townsville. Serious questions need to be asked about Mr Crawford's conduct. Should we just let this body count continue to rise under his watch?