Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

LISA MILLAR, HOST: Let's head to one of the other top stories we're following, because we've learned this morning that the probe into this month's Optus outage is going to focus on concerns about that access to Triple Zero and the fact that it was hampered at the time, which it's not supposed to be. Communications Minister Michelle Rowland joins us now from Canberra. Minister, good morning. Welcome to the programme.
MILLAR: That Triple Zero aspect is really worrying, isn't it? I mean, because what's supposed to happen is that it flicks through to another carrier. No one should be in a situation where they can't get onto Triple Zero.
MINISTER ROWLAND: It certainly is concerning and one of the top priorities here is to examine the Triple Zero service, the adequacy of arrangements. They, of course, are different for mobile services, as opposed to landline services. We want to ensure that the industry overall understands what those issues are, that we lift the bar when it comes to keeping Australians safe and making sure we have confidence in that Triple Zero service. So, that will certainly be a prime focus of this investigation.
MILLAR: Yeah. And it's not just Optus that's sort of in the spotlight here, is it? I mean, the government itself is going to have to come to grips with whether it could have done better.
ROWLAND: This is an issue that goes right across the industry, the regulatory framework, government, how this impacted on the community, and that's the reason why we're conducting this review. It's about being proactive and using this as an opportunity to identify potential failures in the system where things can be improved. And by appointing someone distinguished like Mr Richard Bean, who has a long history with the regulator, but also in the sector, this will ensure that we have a thorough evidence base for regulations going forward and lift the bar on how consumers can be better served in future.
MILLAR: Now, Kelly Bayer Rosmaren fell on a sword over this, but will her actions be part of the inquiry? Will that be examined as well?
ROWLAND: We are looking here at consumer issues. They include communications with customers, the adequacy of escalating those complaints and compensation processes. So, all of these aspects in terms of consumers and small businesses as part of that, will be examined in this review.
MILLAR: Why not then make compensation part of the review? I understand it doesn't get pulled into these terms of reference. The Optus customers were offered 200GB of free data. A lot of them said, that's not good enough. If this review doesn't look at what people should get in return for losing their carrier for a day, then who does? Who does stand up for them?
ROWLAND: There were some 10 million customers who were impacted by this outage and some of those customers have received some form of rebates or credits. Again, there's some 10 million of them. What we are going to do in this review is look at the adequacy of the framework as a whole. This has been long established by industry, but also, with regulatory oversight. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is the backstop for this and was actually saying from the outset that consumers should make sure they keep any records, for example, if they want to seek compensation.
But what's important here is the framework as a whole. We have a number of industry standards. They are overseen by the regulator. We want to ensure that the industry as a whole responds proactively in future. We’ll see what needs to be improved, and we'll use this as an evidence base going forward to do just that.
MILLAR: Right, can I ask you just a couple of other questions? We're looking at cost of living today “cozzie livs”. That's the word of the year from Macquarie University. I don't know if you use it in Macquarie Dictionary. I'm sorry. I don't know if you use it in your day to day language. The reality is so many Australians are feeling the weight of the cost of living. There's real pressure on the Government, isn't there, to be doing some more? Would you like to see further discussions with your Treasurer about targeted support for Australians?
ROWLAND: We certainly understand that Australians right across the board are doing it tough right now. I represent an area of North West Sydney which is mortgage belt central, and people are struggling with the cost of living. As a Government, we are doing everything we can in a responsible way, with over $20 billion of assistance going to a variety of measures, including cheaper medicines, cheaper childcare, fee free TAFE, making it easier to see a doctor.
But of course, we also don't want to unnecessarily add to inflation with that assistance. So, we are acting responsibly as a Government, delivering the first budget surplus in some 15 years or so, and making sure that we continue to identify ways that we can assist people with the cost of living. We’re acutely aware of this.
MILLAR: Minister, people are aware of this? Well, Minister, people are saying they feel way worse off than they did three years ago. Your Government's now been in for 18 months. There's a lot of commentary this morning suggesting that the Albanese Labor Government is starting to drift, that it hasn't got its head around the cost of living, that it actually isn't making a difference for people.
ROWLAND: I can assure all of your viewers that this is our number one priority. We understand that Australians are doing it tough. We are always looking for measures in every portfolio, including my own, where we have the School Student Broadband Initiative, providing free internet for up to a year for school students at home. All of these aspects go towards easing the cost of living, but we understand that inflation is not moderating downwards as quickly as we would like. But as a responsible government, we want to continue to do everything we can to assist people through this time.
MILLAR: All right, Minister, thanks for coming on the programme this morning. We'll look forward to the Optus review coming out end of February.
ROWLAND: My pleasure.