‘Don’t push me’: Chaos as Optus CEO flees

The Optus outage is the subject of a parliamentary hearing. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone

Flanked by the Australian Federal Police, an embattled Optus boss refused to answer media questions as she fled Parliament after a two-hour grilling.

Kelly Bayer Rosmarin appeared before a senate inquiry into the outage that left 10 million Aussies cut off from their service.

More than 200 customers were unable to make emergency calls to triple-0 during the 12 hour outage on November 8.

But despite apologising to customers and defending how she publicly responded to the crisis Ms Bayer Rosmarin remained silent as she made a dramatic exit from the building.

Instead, awaiting journalists found a silent Ms Bayer Rosmarin in the middle of a scrum of security officers.

At one point, Seven political reporter Isabelle Mullen was pushed out of the way as she attempted to put a couple of questions to the telco boss.

“Please don’t push me,” she asked the police officers.

“Well don’t get in my way,” he responded bluntly.

Flanked by the Australian Federal Police, an embattled Optus boss refused to answer media questions as she fled Parliament after a two-hour grilling. Picture: SkyNews
Flanked by the Australian Federal Police, an embattled Optus boss refused to answer media questions as she fled Parliament after a two-hour grilling. Picture: SkyNews

The scrum was following Ms Bayer Rosmarin as she exited via the public entrance into an awaiting white SUV.

Earlier, she dodged questions about whether she intends to resign following reports she could step down as chief executive as early as next week.

“It has not been a time to be thinking about myself,” she said.

“Could you address that question? Are you intending to resign?” Senator Sarah Henderson pressed back.

“I thought I answered the question. My focus is on the team, with customers, the community. My focus is not on myself,” the chief executive responded.

Asked again if the report in the Australian Financial Review was correct, the telco boss told the senator that she had not seen the article.

“I’ve been preparing for being here,” Ms Bayer Rosmarin said after a noticeable pause.

Optus doesn’t know what happened to triple-0 calls

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has begun an investigation into Optus’s compliance with the rules on emergency calls.

A total of 228 calls to triple-0 failed to connect during the outage, leaving Optus puzzled as to why.

The telco has conducted welfare checks on the people affected and “thankfully everybody is okay”, Ms Bayer Rosmarin said.

“We absolutely believe that the triple zero system should have worked and it’s critical for all Australians the system can be relied upon,” she said.

“We don’t manage the triple zero system. It’s a very complex system that involves all the carriers.

She said the system is supposed to be able to pick up the traffic when an outage occurs.

“If someone else has an outage, we should be picking up some of the calls. That’s how the system should work.”

“Sounds like you want to share the blame around,” committee chair and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young quipped back.

Optus CEO Senate Inquiry
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young unleashed on the Optus boss during the inquiry. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Performance ‘not acceptable’

Optus has been lashed in the wake of the outage for its handling of the crisis, as thousands were left without service and businesses, hospitals and train services impacted.

The 12-hour outage last Wednesday affected Optus’s entire telephone and internet network and prevented some calls to emergency numbers.

Optus had to perform a “hard reboot of the network” and the crisis was over for customers by 4pm.

Ms Bayer Rosmarin said it was “indisputable that on that day our performance was not acceptable”.

“We let you down, and for that I am deeply sorry. I want to make it clear that we have taken immediate and ongoing steps to rectify any shortcomings,” she said.

“We have communicated directly to every Optus customer and as you know offered them not just a heartfelt apology but additional data as a gesture of thanks for the ongoing support and patience and have committed to talking to any customer or small business who has special circumstances they would like us to consider.”

But while the outage was over for the customers, Ms Bayer Rosmarin said it took Optus days to determine what caused it.

Ultimately, it was found that key routers had disconnected from the network during a scheduled upgrade.

“The reality is that our network should have coped with this change, but on this occasion it did not,” she said.

Optus CEO Senate Inquiry
The Optus chief apologised to customers. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Boss lashed for not fronting media sooner

The chief executive also defended not appearing publicly sooner, telling the parliamentary inquiry her focus was on the company’s response to the outage.

She also said she wanted to make sure that the outage wasn’t a result of a “malicious or ongoing attack” before speaking.

Once that was ruled out about 10.20am, Ms Bayer Rosmarin said she began speaking publicly, giving 11 radio and TV interviews and four print journalist interviews.

Ms Bayer Rosmarin denied suggestions she should have fronted up earlier, claiming it was “very unusual” for a chief executive to appear in the media during an outage.

“It’s actually unusual for a CEO to appear at all during an outage because the public would expect that my focus is on working with the team to resolve the issue,” she said.

Millions of Aussies were left without phone or internet services for 12 hours. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone

“Our communications team was giving updates to the media fielding questions, and the team had the view at the time that this was being covered widely and all our customers knew what we knew, which is that the network was down, that we were working on it, and that we were very sorry.”

Ms Bayer Rosmarin outlined she didn’t know there was an issue with the network until she woke up on Wednesday morning and realised her phone wasn’t working. At that point she headed straight to the office before holding a 7.45am crisis meeting.

But Communications Minister Michelle Rowland was not contacted by the chief executive until four hours into the crisis at 8.30am.

“When I spoke to the minister, I shared all the information that I knew from the crisis management team and it was not very much because at that point we had no idea what had caused the issue,” she said.

“I know my team had contacted her office earlier so they also had some information and most importantly I assured her that we had everybody we needed to try and restore the network as quickly as we could and I would keep her updated throughout the day.”

Optus CEO Senate Inquiry
Ms Bayer Rosmarin defended not speaking to the media earlier. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Optus had no plan for large-scale outage

Mr Kanagaratnam conceded the telco had never held a crisis planning simulation for an outage of the scale it suffered last Wednesday.

He told the senate hearing that Optus believed the level of redundancy built into the system meant such a crisis was unlikely.

“We did do a network outage exercise in October, but it wasn’t for a full outage on the network,” Mr Kanagaratnam said.

“We didn’t have a plan in place for that specific scale of outage. I think it was unexpected.

“We have high levels of redundancy, and it’s not something that we expect to happen. It’s certainly something that we commit to learning from.”

Thousands demand compensation over outage

More than 8000 customers and small businesses have contacted Optus about compensation for losses amounting to $430,000 suffered during the outage.

So far, the company has already applied $36,000 in compensation but was unable to say whether that was in the form of cash payments or in-kind services like additional data.

“I can double check that,” Ms Bayer Rosmarin said.

Optus CEO Senate Inquiry
Senators grilled the telco boss about its performance on Friday morning. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

When she was asked about the figures by independent senator David Pocock, she said she had the numbers on her phone. As she reached down to collect her phone, one senator joked: “Let’s hope it’s working.”

“I’m confident it’s working,” Ms Bayer Rosmarin laughed in response.

Later, Senator Pocock returned to the hearing armed with questions about why Optus told his staff mid-hearing they were unable to lodge a claim over the phone for small business compensation.

Ms Bayer Rosmarin asked the ACT senator to pass the details of the engagement along for her to look into.

A ‘very strange coincidence’

Optus CEO Senate Inquiry
Lambo Kanagaratnam flanked the Optus boss during Friday’s hearing. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

The outage was the second major crisis for the telco in the last 12 months after a cybersecurity breach compromised the personal data of customers last year.

Ms Bayer Rosmarin told the hearing about a “very strange coincidence” involving the board of Optus’s parent company Singtel. They were in Australia last Wednesday, just as they were a year ago when the telco suffered the cyber attack.

“When we had the cyber incident, it was the last time the Singtel board was in town, and they were in town again … which was a strange coincidence,” she said.

“And so whilst they’ve ruled out the denial-of-service attack as one technical type of cyber attack, there were other vectors of cyber malicious activity and threat intelligence that we were chasing down, and it took the team until 10.20am to be able to confirm that.

“But it was a very serious concern for us in those hours up until 10.20am.”