Minister Shorten interview on 2GB Breakfast with Ben Fordham


SUBJECTS: Optus Outage, myGov Advisory Group

BEN FORDHAM, HOST: Well, Optus is under fire this morning and the Federal Government seems to have had enough. They've announced a review into the telecommunications giant following a disastrous 24 hours. Phone and Internet services stopped working for more than 10 million Australians. We learned today that Optus faces potential fines, compensation claims and even losing taxpayer funded government contracts. The network went offline at about 04:00 a.m yesterday. The company issued its first statement online at 06:45 a.m. So, 04:00 a.m. Is when it kicked off. Nothing. At 04:00 a.m. 05:00 a.m. 06:00 a.m. It wasn't until a quarter to seven and it wasn't until 10:30 a.m that the Optus boss, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, spoke publicly for the first time. She started calling a few radio stations, including Deb Knight here on 2GB. It took up to 14 hours for service to be restored and Optus say they still don't know what caused the whole thing. Bill Shorten is the Minister for Government Services and he's on the line. Bill, good morning.


FORDHAM: This is just unbelievable. The problems that were exasperated yesterday by a lack of action from Optus and a lack of communication.

SHORTEN: Yeah, you would have thought they would have learned after the last one. I mean, they're in a world of pain. But for me, the real losers here are the 10 million customers. And at one level, not having your phone working for a few hours sort of sounds harmless, but it really isn't, is it? You'll have small businesses who've got appointments and customers and they've got to say, we need cash thanks. So, they would have lost a lot of money, but you've also got the healthcare system, people making appointments, people needing to communicate. Imagine you're having to call a triple zero number and your phone doesn't work and it's a bad day. I don't know, but if you've got a problem, you've got to front foot it. You've got to be up there with the people showing a bit of, a bit of embarrassment. Just saying it's a technical issue…

FORDHAM: Anyway, let me just play this for you. You just mentioned hospitals. I want you to hear this. This was Rachel calling into my colleague Chris O'Keefe yesterday afternoon about what happened involving her mum.

RACHEL, CALLER: She was put into a ward where they said to us, look, you go home, we're ten minutes away. Any problems, we will call you. We went home, got no phone calls whatsoever. Realised our phones were down and Mum had passed away. I just think this is so sad when you rely so much on your phone. They've let us down. We cannot ever get that time back with our mum. I just feel like it's absolutely disgraceful. We didn't know Mum had passed away because no one could call us. We couldn't even after we found Mum had passed away, we could not even call our children, our family members, to call them.

FORDHAM: So, we're not just talking about people unable to process transactions, you're talking about families not knowing that their loved ones have passed away.

SHORTEN: That's heartbreaking to listen to that. That's just a disaster. And Michelle Rowland, who's the Minister for Communication, has said we're going to have an inquiry. They're knocking out the terms of reference right now. What we need to do is… this could happen again and we need to make sure it doesn't happen again. There's a lot of stuff to learn here, but my heart goes out to Rachel. That's just a disaster.

FORDHAM: Just on the inquiry, Optus has just released a statement saying it looks forward to fully cooperating with the proposed reviews by both the Department of Communications and ACMA into yesterday's network outage Bill Shorten. One of the problems here is that everything's tied up. So, much so that when one problem occurs with someone like Optus, you think of all of the other infrastructure that goes down. Does that need to be part of this review?

SHORTEN: Well, the terms of reference will be worked out. The point is, too often in Australia, we're a two company economy, except for the banks, and we're a four company economy. The reality is that there's some parts of our system which we sort of assume are too big to fail, and that clearly isn't the case. You know, there's a whole lot of stuff going on, like electric vehicles couldn't be charged, or as I said, the economy, the ability to communicate. Key parts of government might have had an Optus contract. None of them were working. I think even the media, the poor old Australian newspaper, you know, I don't always say that, but they couldn't even ring out or ring in.

FORDHAM: So, they weren't calling you to get your side of it? Now, what did you make of the performance of the Optus boss, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, who says today there's no point refunding people for one day, it'd probably be less than $2. Instead, she wants to reward people for their patience and loyalty. Surely the best way to reward people is to compensate them.

SHORTEN: Well, that'll be a question for Optus. You mentioned these inquiries, ACMA is an independent regulator. It's advised the government it’s going to commence a preliminary assessment to examine whether Optus complied with the rules around emergency calls. I won't pre-empt that, but that's one thing coming down the line for Optus. I've just got to explain what happened in terms of compensation. They said they would do something, but then they were vague on it. I'm not sure that's going to wash, I mean, the reality is that I don't know, if you were an Optus customer at the moment, what would you do? Would you stay with Optus? I don't know.

FORDHAM: I doubt it. What about all of the government work? Because Optus handles communications for the tax office and Service NSW and the Department of Home Affairs who handle terrorism. So, is that going to be under the microscope?

SHORTEN: Well, the government procurement decisions are generally made arm’s length from the politicians. But again, Optus's brand has taken a giant hit, hasn't it? I mean, when they say is, trust us, you'd be going, okay. So I think Optus need to explain what happened really quickly and they need to explain to us how it can never happen again and we'll get to the bottom of that. But this is not just a passing inconvenience. Mobile phones are not like scooters, they're not just a fad, dare I say. This is fundamental to how this nation functions and when a business serving 10 million people goes down in those crucial areas, it's not just another day at the office and you put out a press release saying, sorry.

FORDHAM: We’re talking to the Government Services Minister, Bill Shorten. Now on another matter. You've been reforming government services through myGov and I know that you have said that Services Australia are going to be getting more staff to improve wait times for welfare recipients. There's also an announcement today coming about scammers, but I'm being informed that there is going to be a familiar face that's going to be giving you a hand. Can you confirm that the former Liberal Minister in NSW, Victor Dominello, is getting a call up today?

SHORTEN: Yes, I can. I think Victor is a very talented politician and he did a good job, a really good job with Services NSW. Part of my vision for government services in Australia is put the human back in the middle. So, on Monday we announced 3000 extra people progressively soon to help try and attack the waiting list times for payments and phone calls. So, that's good. We've also got to make sure the government services system is designed for the future. I'm impressed by what he did, forget the fact that he was a Liberal Minister. I just look at what he accomplished. So, I'm setting up an advisory board to help be part of our roadmap to improve my Gov. And Victor has, I'm pleased to say, has agreed to chair it with a bunch of other smart people and we'll just talk to people outside our own bubble of government services and test ideas with Victor and his group. I think it's the way politics should be working together. Get the best people in the room and test ideas with them.

FORDHAM: Well, if you can learn anything from what he did with Service NSW, that'll be a winner because he did a great job with that platform and we appreciate you jumping on the line this morning.

SHORTEN: No. Good morning, Ben. Have a nice day.

FORDHAM: Good on you. Thank you very much. There's Bill Shorten. So, confirmation. Victor Dominello, the former coalition Minister in NSW, being hired by Bill Shorten for a new job in Canberra.