Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin has sidestepped questions about whether she will resign as she fronted a Senate inquiry today following last week’s catastrophic complete network outage.
A report in the Australian Financial Review said she has been considering stepping down after two major crises under her watch – the data breach in September 2022 and last week’s outage.
Ms Bayer Rosmarin came under fire on both occasions for her lack of visibility and for taking too long to come out to talk directly to Optus customers through the media.
The Optus CEO addressed the issue of her possible resignation when asked by Liberal senator Sarah Henderson during the inquiry.
“I’m sure you can appreciate that my entire focus has been on restoring the outage issue – it has not been a time to be thinking about myself,” Ms Bayer Rosmarin replied.
She was pressed on the question. “Are you intending to resign?” Senator Henderson asked.
“I thought I answered the question,” the Optus CEO responded.
“My focus is on the team, with customers, the community. The focus is not on myself.”
Ms Bayer Rosmarin admitted in her opening statement the company’s performance after the outage was not acceptable.
The chair of the Senate inquiry, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said: “One of the biggest problems that members of the public have raised with us… that the communication with Australians in the midst of this was appalling.”
To which the Optus CEO replied: “There are always opportunities for us to do better.
“I wholeheartedly believe the team did the best that they could with the information they had at the time and the channels available.”
“Questions that we do press conferences versus one on one interviews, that our messages are a bit different in tone.
“We will be taking that feedback on board and make sure that we do better in the future.”
The Senate inquiry questioning also established a timeline with Ms Bayer Rosmarin waking on the morning of the outage to her phone not working and arriving at Optus headquarters at 7:30am ahead of a crisis meeting which took place between 7:45am and 8:30am.
She also revealed she spoke to communication minister Michelle Rowland just after 8:30am – four and a half hours after the outage began.
The inquiry also heard the outage was caused by an unsuccessful software upgrade on the Singtel Internet exchange with routers unable to cope with the new routing information and self-isolating to protect themselves from an overload.
This incident was identified as the cause of the complete network outage and required more than 100 devices to be restored and rebooted in 14 sites around the country.
In total, more than 400 engineers and field technicians we’re working on resolving the issue.
It was also revealed that by mid-morning, the incident was an internal issue rather than the result of a cyber-attack.
Optus Managing Director Lambo Kanagaratnam said the company didn’t have a plan in place to deal with an outage of this scale.
“The outage was the result of our defences, but it was not working as it should have been and is something we’ve addressed,” he told the inquiry.
Senator Hansen-Young says she was “flabbergasted” why people couldn’t simply roam to Telstra or Vodafone during the outage.
Ms Bayer Rosmarin patiently explained that Optus and other networks wouldn’t have the capacity to cater for that many customers simultaneously.
“So there are a lot of considerations if we go down this path about investment capacity, and how that all works to make sure that you don’t inadvertently, if one goes down, bring down another network,” the Optus CEO said.
We also found put Optus had paid out $36,000 in compensation after receiving more than 8,500 claims which were after $430,000 in compensation.
Ms Bayer Rosmarin said they were looking at the claims on a case by case basis.
But the Optus CEO also pointed out outage are an “inherent risk” with a telecommunications network whether it’s hardware or software issues or a result of human error.
“We understand there are calls by some for Optus to go further, including providing compensation for consequential impacts for business customers,” Optus said in a submission.
“However, there is no precedent for compensation being paid by telecommunications providers to all business customers who suffer a loss of business as a result of an outage of the kind that occurred on November 8, either here or overseas.”
The Optus submission also went on to say: “On the question of extending financial compensation for consequential losses, we understand that this would create a new precedent that would extend far beyond Optus and apply to all other telecommunications providers, as well as other providers of essential services, critical infrastructure and public services.
“This makes it a much broader policy question for government that would have far-reaching implications across many sectors of the economy and the cost of these services for Australian consumers.”