Interview with Natalie Barr, Sunrise

NATALIE BARR, HOST: We're joined by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. Minister, good morning to you. The Government has just announced that a review will be held. Tell us, what will that involve?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Nat, this is essential considering that yesterday some 10 million Optus customers were affected by this mass outage and many millions on top of that; consumers and small businesses alike.

I have tasked my department to undertake a review into this. Primarily this is about the lessons learned and to ensure that the industry overall can make the improvements necessary to mitigate what has happened here from happening again in future, and what can be done better overall.

BARR: So, besides regular people, small businesses, we had hospitals, cancer clinics, people stuck at home, unable to access medical alerts. Should there be a better backup system if a big telco goes down like this?

ROWLAND: We know Nat, that some bigger corporations have what's called ‘redundancy’ built-in – so, some other forms of communications that's available to them. But that's not always the case with small businesses and consumers. I think overall, the principle here is that it is incumbent on these carriers, on the service providers, to ensure that they are doing everything necessary to keep their networks operating effectively because it is an essential part of our daily lives. That connectivity being lost for so many millions of Australians adversely affected people, made them frustrated but also caused economic loss in many cases for these people.

I think it is important for lessons to be learned right across the industry. What can be done better in future? I think the terms of reference here will be broad and yet, they will be very targeted so that any recommendations can be implemented right across the sector.

BARR: Minister how do you feel? You were left there trying to explain what a big company was doing, there was no sign of the CEO for many, many hours. Then when she did come up, she said "This was not unprecedented, no one's going to get a refund. Nothing to see here". It was all up to you.

ROWLAND: I think the most important thing here, Nat, is that we had the emergency services operating effectively and that people had confidence in that.

The top priority for the Government and for me as Minister responsible here is to keep Australians safe.

Knowing that the Triple Zero operator had arrangements in place for most mobile services on the Optus network, we knew that was working. But it was particularly concerning when we discovered that calls from Optus landlines were not working. That's why the regulator is conducting an independent investigation into compliance with that because that is the first priority of government.

Clearly, there is great concern to ensure this doesn't happen in future, but we always want to make sure that people are our top priority, keeping them safe. They have confidence in Triple Zero and that's our top priority.

BARR: How would you characterise the Optus response yesterday?

ROWLAND: I made it clear yesterday morning that I thought there needed to be a more timely response, and particularly considering so many people rely upon their phone services, their connectivity, to receive their media - not having that sort of connectivity meant that it was left to other channels, including broadcasting services, to get that message across.

I think it's important to recognise we need to utilise other forms of communication. People were desperate for information, so it's important to keep people updated. I think Australians do appreciate that sometimes you won't have all the answers, but they do need to be reassured.

Within all this as well, I will again reiterate our top priority was making sure about our emergency services functions and that they were operating properly, and that people knew what to do.

BARR: Michelle Rowland, thank you for joining us.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.