THE ANNOUNCEMENT of Telstra's decision to close its call centre at Goonellabah next month, with the loss of 116 jobs, sent shockwaves through the Lismore community.
This week, political differences were put aside as Nationals' Lismore MP Thomas George joined with Labor's Page MP Janelle Saffin and Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell to call on Telstra to compensate this community by investing the $3.4 million extracted from the Lismore economy by the lost salaries, into digital infrastructure in the town.
The three took a community petition, condemning the imminent retrenchment of the workers and signed by almost 6000 local residents, to a meeting with Telstra executives Peter Jamieson and Sue Passmore at the call centre last Friday. Prior to the meeting, they met with staff to check on their welfare and see whether they needed help with redundancy, transfer or looking for another job.
In a joint statement, the politicians said: "First and foremost, our concerns remain very much with the affected staff and their families.
"The call centre has been operating for 20 years and the economic impact of its closure is the direct loss of 116 local jobs, amounting to $3.4 million in salaries annually," they said.
"Our proposal requests that Telstra ... invests an additional year's worth of salaries in a partnership with Lismore City Council to retrain affected workers, build new digital infrastructure to double or better broadband access speeds and improve local businesses' use of broadband."
They pointed to a recent council-funded study which found the Gold Coast had far higher ratios than Lismore of fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure, measured by population and land area.
"We are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters - major floods, storms and bushfires - (and rely) on critical infrastructure to coordinate emergency services responses and keep people in contact in times of crisis," they said.
"With so few towers in Lismore per head of population, the existing towers become congested easily and this is a matter of public safety and concern."
The infrastructure upgrades being sought are: 20 Telstra IP DSLAMS (Top Hats) to improve broadband access; a new 4G tower in the Clunes area; and upgrades of all other existing mobile broadband sites to 4G.
The council also plans to implement a two-year program designed to increase broadband use in local businesses, getting them up to speed and improving digital productivity.
Mr George, Ms Saffin and Ms Dowell also asked Telstra to leave the call centre's internal infrastructure intact "to reduce any start-up costs should Lismore Council be able to attract another business to the purpose-built location".
The politicians have requested a response from Telstra by Friday, October 5.