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Weekend Today, 18 November 2023

Clint Stanaway: An embattled Optus CEO, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin has copped a real grilling from senators over the network meltdown that left 10 million Australians without service.

Jayne Azzopardi: Rosmarin admitted 228 emergency calls were unable to go through during the outage, but she dodged questions about whether she should resign and what sort of compensation would be forthcoming.

Clint Stanaway: Okay, so one of the politicians firing those questions was Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson, who joins us now from Canberra along with advertising executive, Dee Madigan, here in the studio. Sarah, you had plenty of questions yesterday. Were you happy with how she answered them?

Senator Henderson: Well, Clint and Jayne, good morning. Great to join you. And no, I wasn’t happy. I think there were lots of unanswered questions, including on why this failure occurred – because my colleague, Senator Ross Cadell, was actually asking some very good technical questions and getting messages like – we understand that there was an industry-standard safety mechanism that should have been deployed on the network that wasn’t deployed. And it gives rise to the question, why hasn’t the Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, been demanding these immediate answers? Because we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. This was absolutely catastrophic. There’s an estimate of some $400 million in losses. Of course, more than 200 Australians could not ring triple zero. It was a disaster and so many more questions need to be answered. And I really do feel that the government has got to step up here.

Jayne Azzopardi: On that issue of the triple zero calls which is arguably one of the most important aspects of this, Rosmarin seemed to be saying that, you know, it’s not really us that controls that, there are other systems to blame. Do you think that’s acceptable? Who do you think needs to take responsibility for that?

Senator Henderson: Well, no, Jayne, it’s not acceptable because the CEO actually blamed the system and the triple zero system. But we’ve also seen contradicting reports saying, no, this was very much Optus’ fault. But again, this is a matter for the government because the government needs to make sure that 10.2 million Australians who have an Optus account can connect to triple zero. So it’s not enough to wait for the Senate inquiry to hand down its report. Michelle Rowland needs to be acting right now to ensure that when Australians ring triple zero, someone will answer and they can get that connectivity. So, really concerning. I’m really pleased about the role the Senate inquiry is playing, including that we changed the terms of reference to make sure that we could hold the government to account. But as I say, I really do believe that the Albanese Government needs to step in very quickly to assure all Australians that this won’t happen again.

Clint Stanaway: Let’s get to Dee in the studio here. Dee, good morning. Thanks for your time. The CEO’s final admission that the response wasn’t acceptable. Too little too late, do you think?

Dee Madigan: Look, I think so. I think the fact that came out yesterday that they did not have a crisis plan for an outage when you’re a telecommunications company, you know, is pretty extraordinary. We also found out in the inquiry yesterday that they were outsourcing jobs to India. And this is the problem with actually the previous government allowing these loopholes. Now, Optus sacked 600 Australian workers and they’re allowed to outsource in Australia and outside Australia, and we need to stop companies doing this because they hurt their brand in the long term.

Jayne Azzopardi: You said they didn’t have a plan, they had a plan for their own phones, they had some Telstra sims to put in their own.

Dee Madigan: Except the problem with that is because it happened in 4 o’clock the morning, no one could call them to tell them to swap the phone over. They really needed a phone that had two sims in it, which apparently you can get or two phones. You know, that’s a fairly basic thing as well. And what they said was they said, well, it wasn’t expected. It’s like pilots when they’re taking off in a plane don’t expect trouble with the engine but they still trained for it, and that’s why you need a crisis plan. And we saw in Canada last year, almost the same thing happened, 12 million customers from a communications outage, so it does happen and they needed to be prepared.

Clint Stanaway: It’s not the first issue. First the hack and now this. What does Optus need to do and can they reclaim the public’s trust?

Dee Madigan: I think the cost of living crisis will help them a little bit in terms of retail customers, they’ll have to drop their prices though. Business customers are different because you weigh up the risks. They’re corporate brands, the one that’s really going to be hit because governments will be very reluctant to trust them again, and these are the big hospital contracts they’ve got in the transport contracts.

Clint Stanaway: Watch this space. Dee Madigan, Sarah Henderson, thanks so much for your time on the show.

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