Interview with Joel Spreadborough and Kelly Higgins-Devine, ABC Brisbane Breakfast

JOEL SPREADBOROUGH, HOST: Were you one of the 10 million Optus customers impacted by the outage earlier this month? I was. I was, I was mentioning earlier, Kel, got my 200 gig of data out of Optus. Eventually.

KELLY HIGGINS-DEVINE, HOST: The I'm sorry data.

SPREADBOROUGH: 14 hours.

HIGGINS-DEVINE: I know, it's a long time, isn't it? Millions of people couldn't use the internet, make calls, including disruptions to Triple Zero. And that's been a real point of contention with what happened, isn't it? And the Federal Government has announced a Review into the outage.

SPREADBOROUGH: Michelle Rowland is the Minister for Communications and joins us now. Good morning to you Minister.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning.
 
SPREADBOROUGH: What will be the main focuses of this Review? Obviously finding out what was going on with the AAA. How are you looking into that?
 
ROWLAND: There are three parts to describe in terms of the Terms of Reference of this Review. 

The first is in relation to Triple Zero and whether changes are needed to ensure continued access to Triple Zero during outages, as well as how industry participants and the Triple Zero service interact with one another. Exactly as you say. We know that it appeared that calls to Triple Zero for those affected Optus customers seemed to work because there are protocols in place for the mobiles, but it was a different story when it came to landlines.
 
The second is in terms of the resilience and the interdependence of different networks. This is instigated as a result of the Optus outage, but it is an opportunity for the entire industry to lift the bar, to examine what processes it has, particularly the way in which the national service outage impacted so many millions of people. It's appropriate to consider that.
 
And the third part is about customers: what sort of communications are appropriate during outages of this kind? How customer complaints [are handled] and what were the processes for compensation for consumers and small businesses following the outage.
 
So, it is a wide-ranging Review but at the same time it does have an important focus on what areas really need to be addressed. We need to do this proactively. I'm pleased that we've released the Terms of Reference today, effectively kicking off the Review that will be headed by a person named Richard Bean, he was the Deputy Chair of the Australian Communications and Media Authority for some time, very widely respected, has deep knowledge of the industry, and he will report to Government by 29th February.

HIGGINS-DEVINE: So, Minister, will this Review look at all retailers or just what happened with Optus?

ROWLAND: No, this will look right across the industry and I think that is necessary because we know that no network is immune. This happened to Optus in this instance, but it does provide an opportunity to examine the industry as a whole. It is a regulatory environment that has been operating well for many years, overall, and that's seen in relation to Australians being such early adopters of new technology, prices have generally been competitive, service offerings have been wide, and we want the industry as a whole to continue to succeed, because it is a key driver of productivity. So, this is a good opportunity to do that, and to provide a solid evidence base to Government about what changes need to be made going forward.

SPREADBOROUGH: Federal Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland on ABC Radio Brisbane. How is the Government looking at its own response to this outage and how it can handle these instances in the future?
 
ROWLAND: Well, we are certainly looking at what Government can do in future. That includes the adequacy of the regulatory framework. But really, the key thing here, if you had to name a top priority, is around Triple Zero. Australians need to have confidence in that system. The regulator is separately looking at the compliance by Optus with the relevant determination which sets out the tasks that need to be undertaken by telcos, when it comes to Triple Zero. They will perform their task in that respect. But it is important for this Review to look at what changes might be required to ensure continued access, because exactly as I said, keeping Australians safe is our top priority and Government needs to understand what went wrong in this instance, and what might need to change.

HIGGINS-DEVINE: Minister, did it come as a surprise to you that there were problems with Triple Zero? I thought that there was guaranteed service even during outages, that there were technologies in place to make sure that you had access to Triple Zero.

ROWLAND: I think that is a reasonable expectation, and certainly that is the expectation that is set out in the relevant legislative instrument. And I think that the scale of this outage, the fact that it was of a kind, and of a length, and the scope: it affected broadband, fixed-line services as well as mobile services. It was of a kind that really hadn't been seen at this scale before. But, again, we should not assume that any other network is immune from this. So, this is an important opportunity to take these steps to be proactive, to understand what went wrong in a technical sense. This comes down to Australians having confidence in Triple Zero and that is exactly what we need them to have. But also, of course, we need it to work and by examining this as a whole, those interactions between the different networks, we will find out what went wrong what needs to change in future.
 
HIGGINS-DEVINE: Minister, will you be adopting all the recommendations that are made by this Review?

ROWLAND: I expect that these will be a thorough list of recommendations; we will respond in due course. I know that Mr Bean is well respected across the industry; he's going to provide a solid evidence base. I don't want to pre-empt any of those outcomes or influence any decisions. This is being done independently, with support of the Department, and I want industry to have confidence also in participating in that as well. But we will respond expeditiously to this. And, also, there will be an opportunity for Australians, through the Department's website, to make comments as well.

SPREADBOROUGH: Finally, Minister, we're talking about compensation - the 200GB of sorry data - how's the Review looking into that, and what retailers should be providing customers in the event of disruptions?

ROWLAND: Well, there were some 10 million customers who were impacted. Some of those would have received compensation that was offered by Optus, and, for other customers, it may have been very different circumstances. So, for example, small businesses who might have suffered economic loss were encouraged to speak to their account managers. Customers, in the first instance, under the regulatory framework, should speak to their provider in the first instance, and, then, if they're dissatisfied, they can go to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. So, while it's not looking at individual cases of compensation, it is looking at the framework as a whole, and what may need to improve. Again, there are existing regulatory standards that are well understood across the industry, but we want to make sure that compliance with those, the adequacy of them in the first place is really fit for purpose. This outage has given an opportunity for the industry as a whole, for Government, for community, for small business to take a good look at the lessons from this, and that's what this Review is about.

SPREADBOROUGH: Michelle Rowland, Federal Minister for Communications. Thank you for your time. Really quickly on another topic, can I ask for your pick between Wake Me Up Before You Go Go by Wham and Take on Me by A-ha. If you had to choose one.

ROWLAND: It’s definitely A-ha. The film clip as well, was absolutely iconic. The structure of that song, I think, was like nothing else anyone had ever heard. And it's timeless! You can put that on today and it still hits all the right notes.

HIGGINS-DEVINE: Exactly, and that's why Michelle Rowland is Minister for Communications.
 
SPREADBOROUGH: It sure is. Hey, thank you very much Minister.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.