Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – ABC RN Drive with Andy Park

Subject: Optus outage



Andy Park: What are the pressing questions about this outage today?

David Coleman: Well, the number one question is what exactly happened? And Optus needs to communicate that very clearly.

Andy Park: Have they so far, in your view?

David Coleman: No, they haven’t. I think that the company does need to do a better job of communicating what’s occurred here. This is a very, very serious outage. And one of your earlier callers said that we have outages regularly, but I mean, this is on a different scale. For about 10 million people to be out of services for many, many hours is an extremely serious incident. And it’s very important that Optus comes forward and clearly explains what’s happened here- importantly, so that Optus customers and the broader community can have confidence that it won’t happen again. But yeah, I do think it is very important that Optus clearly communicates what’s occurred here.

Andy Park: The Communication Workers Union today says the outage comes just after Optus announced the slashing of over 200 jobs in the last two months, impacting various parts of their network across the country. This brings the total job cuts announced at Optus in the last 12 months to over 600. I’m sure you’d find that concerning in light of today’s events?

David Coleman: Well, I wouldn’t make any particular links between those kinds of issues and this outage, because the fact is that we don’t know what has caused this outage. And until we do that, it’s very difficult to say it’s because of X, Y or Z. And that’s why communication is so important, particularly given that many of the customers here will be people who have both mobile and internet with Optus because obviously people are encouraged to buy services in a bundle. And what that means is, if you’re a small business and you’re reliant on Optus for both your mobile and your broadband service, you’re left with basically nothing. So I think we would’ve seen today undoubtedly, a large number of small businesses unable to take payments and unable to do business and that would have had a huge impact. And of course, we’ve also seen, very disturbingly, the impact on emergency services. We’ve seen things like hospitals unable to receive phone calls and so on.

Andy Park: So I do want to ask you about that, particularly in the state of Victoria, appears to be most affected. Its trains went running, ambulances and hospitals weren’t able to communicate. Fire and Rescue Victoria was also impacted. Do you have concerns that the Victorian State Government appears to be overly reliant on Optus for much of its communications?

David Coleman: I think the Governments, both state and federal, need to be thinking through these issues and how to respond in this sort of a situation. Particularly with those very essential services such as hospitals, and we’ve seen a number of Federal Government departments today effectively go down and the communication from the Federal Government has been very lacking, as has any alternative, for people needing to access those services. So I do think it’s important that government addresses that issue, particularly with those very essential services.

Andy Park: I mean, essential services, you say, should they remain in the public domain? I mean, isn’t it true that the privatisation of telecommunications companies began under the Coalition and that you effectively removed guardrails that would have forced Optus to have contingencies in place to deal with these sorts of outages?

David Coleman: No, I don’t think that’s correct at all. And I think that if you look at our telecommunications sector overall, the services that are provided today compared to 20 or 30 years ago are far better. You think about the amount of data that we use, the volume of usage, the availability in more remote parts of Australia, and there’s been an immense amount of investment. So no, I don’t think it’s correct to make that conclusion. What’s happened here is one of the three companies or broadly three companies in our telecommunications sector has suffered a catastrophic outage. That’s what’s happened. I don’t think that’s because of private investment in the sector. And I think private investment in the sector has been a positive thing.

Andy Park: If this can happen when we’re not at the peak of some natural disaster, flood and bushfire, you must hold concerns about the systems integrity particularly Optus’s in this case when those events do happen?

David Coleman: Well, I think there’s a very strong argument for seeking to look at roaming services across telco networks, in natural disasters and during bushfires and so on. And so I’m pleased that the Government recently announced that it’s looking at that. I think that’s the right thing to do. We already effectively have roaming for 000 services and we’ve seen that in action on the mobile network today, but around natural disasters and emergencies and so on I think that looking very closely at that, how that would work technically is a sensible thing to do.

Andy Park: David Coleman, the Shadow Minister for Communications, thanks for time. Good afternoon to you.

David Coleman: Thanks Andy.