Question Time Response - 3G network switchover

Federal Member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell MP:

Question: What steps is the Albanese Labor Government taking to ensure the switch-over of the 3G network is done in a safer way? And how is the Government supporting a resilient, safe and modern communications network?

Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Member for his Question.

Members may be aware that Australian 3G networks are being switched over this year and this impacts different devices in different ways.

There are devices which rely solely on 3G, including 3G-only handsets, some Eftpos machines and medical alarms.

3G-only handsets won’t be able to make any calls after the switchover, and that will be apparent to users.

The industry has been identifying and contacting customers with these devices.

However, there’s also a subset of 4G handsets which use 4G for voice and data, but are configured by the manufacturer to use 3G for Triple Zero calls.

This category of handset is of more concern because it won’t be apparent to users their handset can’t call Triple Zero after the switch over; they would only discover this during an emergency.

My Department has been seeking information this issue to determine the scale, the scope and the actions being taken by industry. I was recently briefed and learnt that up to 740,000 devices may be impacted.

Based on this advice, and particularly the scale, I am not satisfied that adequate efforts have been made by industry to identify and inform their impacted customers.

Immediate action is needed and that’s why I have tasked mobile operators to establish a new Working Group so industry collectively acts to improve their customer and handset identification, and public information on this matter.

I have asked Telstra, Optus and TPG to give me their action plans by the 25th March, and fortnightly updates. And I told CEO’s directly that consumers must have easier ways to check if their handset is affected. 

Mr Speaker, the Government takes this issue extremely seriously and will continue to monitor the switchovers and note that options exist in law, including potential proposals to delay planned 3G switchovers, if that is in the public interest, and subject to consultation processes.

Mr Speaker, Australians rightly expect the Triple Zero service can be relied on when they need it; it’s one of the most critical public interest requirements for mobile carriers. The industry is now on notice to resolve this as an absolute priority.

Telecommunications should enrich peoples’ lives and support public safety. 

That’s why we are investing over $2.2 billion to strengthen our networks, including mobile network resilience and much needed technology upgrades to the NBN – enabling speed boosts and helping ensure Australians get more for what they pay on their telco bills.

The Government understands that telecommunications services are vital, and we are making it a priority to keep Australians safe, connected and informed.