09 November 2023


SUBJECTS: Optus Outage

SARAH ABO, HOST: Welcome back. Well, Optus is feeling the heat of 10 million customers this morning and we've been hearing from some of you at home who've been affected. Kimberly says, I own three businesses I was trying to operate with no internet. I couldn't even see this post. Nor could you call me. Stacey says, it's amazing how many businesses that normally refuse cash were suddenly happy to take it. While Huan says, I'm moving to Telstra, that probably says it. Joining us to discuss, Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten and 2GB's, Chris O'Keefe, both in the studio with me. Guys, I feel like I'm in the firing line here. I'm feeling very vulnerable. Bill, I want to start with you. The CEO didn't front any coverage, any media, yesterday for seven hours, and even then it was left wanting. We have more questions than answers.

MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES AND THE NDIS, BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, listen, I think they're not answering the media for seven hours, whilst maybe an issue, is probably down the list of issues. Just 10 million people inconvenienced, people can't get to see the doctor, triple zero, they couldn't ring triple zero. Small businesses, cash is king, cash is back because of Optus. It's sort of threw us back into the dark ages. It's unbelievable.

ABO: Well, it is hard to quantify, Chris, the extent of this damage, right, of this outage, because you've got people who simply cannot get by without these kinds of communications.


O’KEEFE: First thing yesterday morning, I went to the mechanic and Vic the Spanner King. G'day, Vic. He said, look, I can't help you because my EFTPOS is down, I can't take any transactions and he can't ring his customers because he's on Optus to tell them, can you bring cash or pick your car up tomorrow? Tomorrow. He's a small business owner, single operator. He was out for the day. Yesterday. I spoke to a lady on the radio by the name of Rachel and this just goes to show, look, it was largely just an annoyance for all of us around the country, but Rachel yesterday rang into the radio station and said she was told the night before last that her mum was crook but she was going to be okay. So, her mum's in hospital. Rachel then is trying to get a phone call from the hospital to desperately tell her, you've got to come, you've got to come and say goodbye to your mum. She's taking a downward turn. Rachel's on Optus. Rachel doesn't get a phone call from the hospital. Rachel's mum passes away without Rachel saying goodbye now, this is real world stuff. She can't get that time back with her mum. She forever and a day will remember the day that her mum passed away and the fact that she didn't get to say goodbye to her as the day that Optus went out.

ABO: Yeah, we heard that. Harrowing account. I mean, it's heartbreaking. This is a real person who's been affected by this, as you said, time they'll never get back. And then you've got the CEO of Qantas going, oh, well, we'll figure it out,

O’KEEFE: And I don't feel like they're like, oh, it was a technical outage. Don't worry, this thing's happened. Well, it's not really the case anymore. It's just like power, water. This is a basic utility now, mobile connectivity, Internet, this is a utility. And I think, to be honest with the Federal Government now, they need more government oversight and more regulation on their front, because if we've got two major players, Optus and Telstra, and one goes out and causes the carnage that it did yesterday, surely our federal government's got to do more than nothing.

ABO: Yeah, well, that's right. I mean, Bill, the Federal Government is committed now to investigating this properly.

SHORTEN: Yeah. Michelle Rowland's the Minister for Communications. We're going to review what's happened because if it can happen once, it can happen again.

ABO: Well, it's happened twice now.

SHORTEN: Oh, well, sure, Optus has got its own world of pain, but the reality is that, just saying that there's a technical problem, the punters have worked that out. We want to know how it could happen. We want to know how we make sure it doesn't happen again. Optus have said somewhat vaguely, they're going to provide compensation. There's an independent regulator, ACMA. They're going to look at whether or not Optus has followed all the rules. But there's no doubt the government's moved quickly. The Minister's put out a statement this morning about the review to find out what's happened. But punters cannot be put in this position again. And Chris goes to a really important point. The private sector says, trust us, trust us. We don't need the heavy handed government. That's a good theory on a blue sky day. But when the proverbial hits the fan, people deserve better from these key utilities.

O’KEEFE: We sold Telecom, didn't we? And telecom was a state owned asset until it wasn't. And in my mind, if we've got important infrastructure that we need, like telecommunications, like water, like electricity. Do we not have a conversation as a country to say, should this not be in government hands? Should it not be in public hands? If we can't trust the private sector, like we couldn't trust Optus yesterday, is that a conversation that's worth having?

SHORTEN: There's no doubt corporate Australia needs to be accountable.

O’KEEFE: What can you do? You can fine them, 10 million here, 100 million, they don't care.

Speaker B: I hope you're wrong.

ABO: Where does it – how do you make them accountable then?

SHORTEN: Well, I think this publicity doesn't help them.

ABO: It's the customers who make them accountable. It's the customers who walk away. And like Huan said, join Telstra.

SHORTEN: Real people have been affected here. This is not like a victimless problem. And as Chris says, you expect your technology to work. And what happens if Telstra had gone down? What happens if both had gone down, like, very quickly? The situation can cascade into a world of pain, as it already has for business, as it has for your caller yesterday and the passing of her mother.

ABO: How is it that a company gets away with this, though, Chris? I don't understand. The head of a telecommunications company can't communicate because there's only two of them.

O’KEEFE: Well, because there’s only two of them. There's Telstra and Optus. That's it. This weird situation, as Australia, our country, is so big, yet there are so few of us as a population that we don't have the scale to get more and more telcos coming in, building the infrastructure needed to take on Telstra and Optus. So, the only people that can take on Telstra and Optus are the federal government. And are they doing enough about it?

ABO: Yeah, perhaps not. We'll see how that plays.

SHORTEN: Well it was yesterday.

ABO: It was only yesterday. There's time to figure it out. Come on, lift your game Bill.

SHORTEN: I think Michelle has been out there, the Minister and yeah, I think Optus is in a world of hurt. The reality is, though, it's not about Optus. It's about the 10 million people who rely on Optus.

ABO: We'll be speaking with her as well later on the show, Communications Minister. Thank you both for joining us today. Could talk about this for hours.