Press conference - Blacktown

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: This has been a frustrating morning for Optus customers right across Australia and we appreciate that this frustration is not only in terms of inconvenience, but in some cases it is economic frustration as well. I want to speak to you this morning to update you on what we do know and that what we as a government and I as Minister have been doing in order to better understand this situation.

From the outset, I reiterate that it is vital for Optus to be transparent and timely in the updates that it is giving to its customers about the nature of the fault, its impacts and its possible rectification. It is essential that we have that timeliness and that transparency to give consumers confidence in what is a vital part of our infrastructure and services in this country. That is access to telecommunications, mobile, broadband, as well as fixed line services. So, what we do know is that this is a deep fault, it has occurred deep within the network, it has wide ramifications across mobile, fixed and broadband services for Optus customers. It also means that for those customers they are being impacted by the inability to make calls or use their services.

Secondly, we now understand, and this has been confirmed, that calls to Triple Zero, the emergency service, cannot be made from Optus landline services. In relation to Optus mobiles and the ability to make Triple Zero calls that is operating as per the protocol that is in place, which is commonly known as camping on other networks. So, where one network is not available, the mobile device will camp onto another network. I have spoken to the Triple Zero operator and they have confirmed that this camping mechanism is working. One of the reasons they know that is that they have compared time period from yesterday and the number of camps with today's, and it shows a marked increase in the amount of camping that is going on. I've also directly spoken to the chair of the regulator, the ACMA, who will continue to work with Optus, the other carriers and with the Triple Zero operator.

And thirdly, in relation to customers who've been affected and what their recourse may be. I note the comments by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman that at this time it is probably too early to be discussing or giving definitive views about compensation or other consumer rights. But I do reiterate the TIO's statement that it's important, especially for small businesses, to keep receipts so that any recourse and any redress that may be available to them has that evidentiary base. Lastly, I want to assure all Australians that the top priority of this government is keeping Australians safe. That particularly encompasses access to emergency services and Triple Zero. That is why I've engaged directly with the other carriers, with the emergency services operator who is Telstra, with the regulator, and with other relevant entities, including my department, to make sure that we have a whole of government view across these impacts and ensure that this is also a whole of industry view as well.

So, once again, I reiterate that the government stands ready to do everything we can to assist Optus at this time, but in particular to assist consumers in understanding what the current situation is, but particularly ensuring that we have access to those emergency services that people have confidence in the Triple Zero service, which is so vitally important for all Australians. I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, a deep fault, that points to technical issues?
ROWLAND: My understanding is that this is a fault deep in the core. The core network basically encompasses everything from routing to electronics. So, it is a fault that is quite fundamental to the network. But my understanding, having just recently spoken again to the CEO, is that a number of problems have been identified and that Optus continues to work on this. I don't have any information to confirm that this was caused by a cyberattack.
JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that this was not caused by a cyber attack?
ROWLAND: I don’t have any information to confirm that this was caused by a cyber attack.
JOURNALIST: How long does it take to fix a deep fault?
ROWLAND: Optus has not given a precise timeframe. They have assured they're working as quickly as possible. But again, I reiterate that it's important for Optus to keep customers updated and in a timely way, because this is precisely the questions that customers are asking.
JOURNALIST: There are some reports that this could go on for eleven hours. What do you think about that?
ROWLAND: Customers expect that their services will be working and they expect that given the necessity of communications, particularly mobile communications in our lives, that they will be functioning. And this fault, I think there is a strong expectation should be resolved as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with the way officers communicated with customers? The CEO was just on ABC and didn't give much away. Are you satisfied with the way they're providing information about what's going on?
ROWLAND: I'll make this clear again, and I said this from the first thing this morning, I think Optus needs to make sure they step up and communicate with people, because as I understand it, this started in the early hours of this morning. We're now at 11 o’clock and for a lot of people who are trying to get on with their day and their businesses, this is absolutely vital that they get back to normality. So, again, I would urge Optus to utilise every channel available, including the broadcast media, to make sure that these messages get across. We rely so much on our telecommunications devices, including for consuming our media, and when that's not available, that is noticeable. So, I think it is important for Optus to continue to step up. I think customers expect this. Customers are clearly frustrated about it and Optus should respond to that accordingly.
JOURNALIST: It’s been seven hours since this outage took place, we’ve only just heard from the CEO of Optus speaking to one media outlet, no all in press conference or anything like that. Is that acceptable in your view?
ROWLAND: In my view, the most important thing here is consumers, and consumers are hungry for information, they really need to know how to plan their days and get on with their lives. I see my role here as Minister and the role of the government here to do everything we can to assist Optus, particularly ensuring that our Triple Zero emergency services are operating as they should at times like this. But also reiterate that the government stands ready to provide any assistance that is necessary and I note that in my discussions with other carriers, with the regulator, with the department, everyone is standing ready to assist as Optus may require.
JOURNALIST: Well what can you do?
ROWLAND: I think the most important thing from a government perspective is twofold. Firstly, to ensure that we are doing everything necessary with regards to Triple Zero services, and secondly, to keep consumers updated about what their rights could be under existing laws and regulations, and the fact that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is there to assist as well. They are the two primary areas in which government can provide assistance, where I also see my role as someone who represents a diverse electorate, many people who have been affected and I've been out and about in the electorate today, the need to clearly communicate with customers is important. I've stressed this from the outset and I urge Optus to continue to take that on board.
JOURNALIST: After the Optus cyber attack last year, the telco was planned for lack of communication with customers and with the government in the wake of the attack. Has the telco learned anything?
ROWLAND: I think that is a matter for Optus to answer. I think the most important thing here is that consumers will be making judgments about the quality of service that they receive in a competitive market and I think it is important at this time that people have their services restored as soon as possible. Optus has said that they are working on that. It's important to communicate that to customers because there is a high level of anxiety and frustration at the moment.
JOURNALIST: What infrastructure has been hardest hit by this outage? What services have been hit?
ROWLAND: That would be a matter for Optus to answer, but I do note that Optus has a very wide mobile network, so their mobile customers will be impacted. They also have fixed line services and broadband services. To that end, my understanding from engagement with NBN Co is that the NBN Co as a wholesaler is working correctly, but Optus broadband to its retail customers is impacted. So, I think just by understanding the level of customers that they have at each of those levels, you would probably deduce that the highest impact would be on mobile services.
JOURNALIST: Is there any backup connectivity plan if it continues for another few hours or days?
ROWLAND: The backup connectivity is probably best explained as twofold. Firstly, in terms of Triple Zero and that protocol that goes into place when a mobile network is down or is unavailable for a device, there are mechanisms in place for another network to be camped on. But secondly, in terms of individual arrangements that the carriers might have with Optus, including Telstra and TPG, for example, my office has been in touch with these carriers. At this stage my best understanding is that they are monitoring the situation. But in terms of further technical details for what Optus may be planning, I don't have details on that that's best directed to Optus.
JOURNALIST: Do you have an update on exactly how many people are impacted and how much this will cost Australians?
ROWLAND: I don't have an update on that. That would be best directed to Optus.
JOURNALIST: Doesn't this demonstrate how vulnerable Australia's telcos, or critical infrastructure is?
ROWLAND: It demonstrates how essential our telco infrastructure is to our everyday lives that it's absolutely critical. And we know from previous experience that when this occurs, this is highly detrimental to consumers. It causes a wide degree of angst, but it also does have those economic impacts. It does underscore how essential telecommunications are to our everyday lives. And I think that is all the more reason why it's important to have the most timely information available to customers because they need to go about their business as consumers, they need to go about their lives and they rely on these services so much.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you aware that Medicare services have been affected by this outage?
ROWLAND: My understanding is that there are a number of government agencies that are being monitored for the impact on them. They include state and federal agencies. My understanding that is being monitored at the moment. Thank you.