Combined phone service suggested

NORTHERN Rivers councils should consider combining their phone services into a single combined contract that would consider local jobs and regional economic benefit, Ballina mayor Phillip Silver has suggested.

Cr Silver yesterday warned there might be legal barriers to a move by all councils to individually review their contracts with Telstra, as suggested by Lismore mayor and Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) president, Cr Jenny Dowell,after the telco announced it would axe more than 100 jobs from its Grafton call centre.

“We need to stand four square behind our Clarence colleagues,” Cr Silver said. “We can't have a situation where huge telcos can rip off the regions.

“However, I believe what mayor Dowell has asked for is an illegal secondary boycott under the Trade Practices Act and almost certainly against the tender procedures in local government.

“If we are serious, what is called foris not political rhetoric but, through NOROC, a call for a region-wide telecommunications service, where jobs and economic benefits are part of the tender process.”

Cr Dowell made her suggestion yesterday in support of a call from Clar-ence Valley mayor Richie Williamson. The two mayors were putting near-identical mayoral minutes to their next council meetings proposing the review, in their own councils and across the NOROC councils, and a letter of condemnation to Telstra chief executive David Thodey.

The next opportunity for the NOR-OC councils – Lismore, Clarence, Ballina, Richmond Valley, Byron, Kyogle, Tweed, Rous Water and Richmond River County Council – to formally discuss either idea will be at the group's meeting on November 26.

Cr Dowell's call won strong support from newly-elected Kyogle mayor Ernie Bennett, who said he planned a similar motion for his council's next meeting.

However, it got an ambivalent response from Richmond Valley mayor Col Sullivan.

Cr Dowell said Telstra's actions in Grafton could cost it the ‘loyalty' of all Northern Rivers councils.

“As soon as there's someone else around who is competitive you'll find there's no great loyalty to Telstra,” Cr Dowell said.

She conceded Telstra still employed more locals than other telcos, but said the reviews were a way of saying ‘if you want to rely on your name as aregional provider you have to show loyalty to the regions'.

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