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States compete for call centres

CALL centres have been one of Australia’s fast growing industries over the past decade and State governments have competed vigorously to get their share.

Industry players have described the competition between States as a ‘bidding war’, with South Australia and Tasmania at the forefront.

They also agree the West Australian Government has been relatively restrained in its approach.

The WA Government has provided financial assistance to four call centre operators.

These include Westpac, which officially opened its Joondalup call centre last week.

Subject to meeting employment targets (450 jobs), it will obtain $4.6 million in payroll tax refunds over the next 10 years.

State Development Minister Clive Brown said the government assistance was “a strategic investment aimed at bringing much-needed jobs to Perth’s northern suburbs, as part of our overall corridor development strategy”.

The Westpac call centre is in a purpose-built facility originally developed by Ansett, which had received $2 million of State government assistance.

Westpac did the same thing in Adelaide and Launceston, taking over state-of-the-art Ansett call centres and getting financial support from the respective State govern-ments. Meanwhile it has been cutting staff numbers at its Sydney and Melbourne call centres, so the net result for Australia has been minimal jobs growth.

Another group still operating at Joondalup is Stellar Call Centres, a 50:50 joint venture owned by Telstra and US company Excell Global Services.

Its 184-seat call centre operates 24-7 and employs nearly 500 people, which is substantially higher than had been expected four years ago when it negotiated a $1.35 million assistance package.

The latest call centre operator to negotiate an assistance package is locally owned group Synergy Regional, which has secured a $1.8 million grant.

In return, it has agreed to establish call centres in Albany, Bunbury and Collie.

Premier Geoff Gallop said these call centres would provide much-needed jobs, including in areas adversely affected by cuts in the forestry industry.

“Our economy is growing strongly and we are keen to ensure regional communities share the benefits,” Dr Gallop said.

The Federal Government has also used call centres to boost regional communities.

It provided assistance to the Royal Life Saving Society to establish 50-seat call centres in Manjimup and Bridgetown. (The State Government also provided in-kind support.)

In addition, Centrelink has about 25 call centres scattered across Australia, including a 300-seat call centre in Bunbury.

Synergy managing director John Van Der Ende said it was important to recognise the limits on the number of call centre jobs country towns could support.  Synergy will employ 75 people in Albany and Bunbury and 35 in Collie.

“We think that is the size those towns can support,” he said.

Synergy opened its first call centre last July (without government assistance) to fill a gap left by the departure from WA of Link Communications and Hutchinson.

Link’s closure highlighted the perverse impact of government incentives. It closed in Perth so that it could employ extra staff in Adelaide, to ensure it remained eligible for government assistance in that State.

p Call centre awards, page 27

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