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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7000

Telecommunications


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:53): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Abetz. Is the Prime Minister aware that his captain's pick as CEO of the NBN, Mr Bill Morrow, started as CEO of Vodafone Australia in March 2012? Is the Prime Minister aware that in June 2012, during Mr Morrow's tenure as CEO, Vodafone Australia uncovered the illegal hacking of a journalist's phone records and texts and identified that it was a criminal breach of the Telecommunications Act? Is the Prime Minister also aware that Vodafone then hired KPMG to investigate this criminal act and that KPMG then produced a report for Vodafone confirming the criminal act took place?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:54): I am advised that the Prime Minister was aware of claims that a Vodafone employee accessed the phone records of a Fairfax reporter. The Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Privacy Act 1988 provide strong protections prohibiting unauthorised access to a person's telecommunications information. It is also an offence under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 for anyone to access stored communications without a warrant. This includes the content of text messages.

It is understood that Vodafone has issued a statement about the matter, advising that it commissioned an independent investigation. It is also understood that it reported the matter to the Australian Federal Police. It is understood that Vodafone has also taken action, as a result of this incident, to strengthen its internal privacy arrangements and has appointed a dedicated privacy officer. Both the ACMA and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner have been in contact with Vodafone regarding this matter.


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:55): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. When did the Prime Minister know, as you have indicated that he did know? Is the Prime Minister aware that the Australian Communications and Media Authority has stated that it has never investigated the claims? Is the Prime Minister also aware that Mr Morrow stated at a Senate select committee hearing on Monday that he could not recall any of the specific details and reported nothing to the police, yet the current Vodafone CEO has now apologised to the journalist and reported it to the police?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:56): As to the exact time, I will see if the Prime Minister has any information to assist the honourable senator. In relation to what ACMA did or did not do, that is a matter for ACMA, which I understand is an independent authority. In relation to Mr Morrow, Mr Morrow has given his evidence and, unless Senator Conroy is suggesting that that evidence is somehow false, that evidence should remain and be accepted. We know that Senator Conroy has the capacity to besmirch people's reputation at Senate estimates and in the processes of the parliament. What I would say to the honourable senator is that, unless he has evidence to the contrary, the answer of Mr Morrow should stand.


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the Prime Minister's captain's pick cannot recall the emails circulated inside the company about this crime, the discussions among Vodafone senior executives about the crime, the hiring of KPMG to investigate it and the report produced by KPMG confirming the crime, and that he failed to report the crime to police or the ACMA and failed to apologise on behalf of the company to the journalist, will the Prime Minister now express his full support for Mr Morrow? (Time expired)


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:57): The providing of an answer saying, 'I can't recall' about matters that occurred some years ago should not come as any surprise to Senator Conroy. As I understand, he watched Mr Shorten's performance at the royal commission very closely, and the answer 'I can't recall' I think slipped out of a certain person's mouth on a fairly regular basis. So, if that is to be condemned, I would invite the honourable senator to condemn Mr Shorten's performance at the royal commission. But, of course, as is always the wont of the Australian Labor Party, it is not 'do as we do'; it is 'do as we say'.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I raise a point of order. It goes to direct relevance to the question. The minister has gone nowhere near the actual question, which was, 'Will the Prime Minister now express full support for Mr Morrow?'

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Moore. I remind the minister of the question. He has 18 seconds in which to answer.

Senator ABETZ: The question, as is the wont of Senator Conroy, had a very long and substantial preamble which did require a response, and that is what I was responding to. The fact that Mr Morrow answered— (Time expired)