Gillard strongly defends Huawei NBN ban


news Prime Minister Julia Gillard has strongly defended the Government’s decision to ban Chinese technology giant Huawei from making bids to supply equipment to the National Broadband Network project, rejecting suggestions the move would cause diplomatic ructions and emphasising the Australian Government’s right to make its own choice.

The decision, made late in 2011, was revealed over the weekend, causing uproar in Australia’s technology and political spheres, with many praising the government’s option on national security grounds, claiming a close relationship between Huawei and the Chinese Government and military, and others damning the Government for a decision which some saw as illogical and reminiscent of cold war hostilities towards communist states.

Speaking at a press conference in Sydney this morning to launch the NBN’s three year rollout plan and flanked by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, Gillard faced down a number of questions from the media on the issue. The Prime Minister said in making the decision on Huawei, she had “stood up for Australia’s national interest”.

“Once again, I do reiterate the decision we have taken is not in breach of any trade rules or trade arrangements with China, it’s simply not true, it is a decision open to the government,” Gillard told journalists. “We have taken it for the right reasons, with the right process, based on the right advice about a piece of criticial infrastructure for the nation’s future. I do note that in China, people also make decisions about their nation’s future and the rollout of their own telecommunications, they want to make those decisions for themselves, completely understandably. So do we.”

The revelation of the Government’s move represents the latest in a long-running series of attacks on Huawei by various organisations in Australia. Throughout the past several years, a number of media outlets and other groups have attempted to link Huawei as a private corporate entity with Chinese political and military interests, citing such claimed links as evidence for why the company may not be suitable as a supplier of telecommunications supplier to major government or private sector projects.

However, throughout that period, Huawei has strongly denied that any undue influence exists on its commercial operations. In addition, no technical proof of any so-called ‘backdoors’ in Huawei’s infrastructure has ever been presented in public.

Pushed on the issue this morning, Gillard declined to provide any details about the advice, reportedly from agencies such as the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation and the Defence Signals Directorate, on which the Government had made its decision to blackball Huawei from participating in NBN tenders. “I’m not commenting in detail on what ultimately are national security matters,” the PM said.

A number of other major networking hardware suppliers from diverse international countries, such as Nokia Siemens Networks (Finland), Ericsson (Sweden), Cisco (the United States), Alcatel-Lucent (France) and others have won major contracts with NBN Co over the past several years. However, none of those firms have had their foreign interests questioned in public by NBN Co or the Government.

The Financial Review, which broke the news, this morning wrote that the Government’s decision “reeks of Cold War conspiracy theories”, while a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson reportedly said the country hoped Australia would provide “a level and indiscriminate market environment for Chinese companies instead of wearing coloured glasses and obstructing Chinese companies’ normal operations in Australia in the name of security”.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell also slammed the move yesterday, saying it was a “huge insult” to Huawei. “Huawei is a international company, Huawei has a presence in this country, Huawei is trusted to deliver telecommunication services in this country,” he reportedly said. “I think it is a huge insult to a company that comes from a country where every state and national government should be seeking to further trade and investment ties.

However, Gillard rejected suggestions Australia’s relationship with China would suffer as a result of the move.

“We’ve got a strong, robust relationship with China,” the Prime Minister said. “We are deeply engaged at every level, we have a strong economic relationship, increasing ties at every level, diplomatic ties, multilateral ties, people to people links, and you will continue to see our relationship with China strengthen and grow. Now does that mean there will never be a moment where we see things differently? Of course not. There will be moments where we see things differently. And I’m not surprised that this is a moment where we are seeing one thing differently.

“But it would be a great error indeed to move from a moment where we are seeing one thing differently, and then extrapolate that to the full dimensions of the relationship, a very grave error indeed.”

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley, whose company had reportedly been evaluating Huawei as a potential supplier to the NBN, declined to disclose how his company’s engineers had reacted to the ban, or whether NBN Co had checked Huawei’s equipment for back doors. “Frankly, I really don’t want to comment, either one on tender processes or on issues which, as the Prime Minister has said are issues of national security,” he said. “We as a government business enterprise execute on the instructions given by our shareholders. I really won’t comment on those kinds of issues.”

Implications for other projects?
The company continues to be a key supplier of networking equipment to major Australian telcos such as Optus and Vodafone, and the company has also conducted trials of its equipment with Telstra. Other Australian telcos it works with include AAPT, vividwireless, Primus and TPG. In addition, the company has been selected as a key supplier for a fibre-optic submarine cable between Australia and New Zealand, as well as the New Zealand Government’s own national broadband network project.

In an interview its director of corporate & public affairs, Jeremy Mitchell (a former executive with Telstra) gave with Sky News over the weekend, Huawei emphasised its global presence. Mitchell stated that internationally, Huawei was “the global leader in building NBNs”, and in fact the second-largest supplier of telecommunications technology in general. “Of the 9 NBN’s being built around the world we are delivering 8 of them, and that also includes the United Kingdom where for the last 6 years we have been the sole supplier of the technology we would like to put in the Australian NBN,” he said. “So we are clearly the world leader, we have the best technology, so we do believe we can play a role in the Australian NBN.” Huawei, he added, worked with 45 out of the top 50 telecommunications companies globally.

Asked by journalists whether the fact that Huawei equipment was used by corporations and Australian allies abroad had compromised those systems, Gillard said: “Of course not”.

“We took a specific decision about the NBN,” the Prime Minister said. “On other decisions, including on decisions involving NZ, we’ll continue to take a prudent approach, and if we’ve got anything to say to our friends in NZ about that, then at the appropriate time we will. We’ve made a decision about critical infrastructure in Australia and that is the national broadband network. I stand by that decision, it’s in Australia’s national interest.”


  1. So Chinese companies are not ok, but the Japanese ones and American ones are??

    Did China try to invade Australia? No

    Did Japan try to invade Australia? Yes

    • We should also ban all German cars from Australia too. Did you see what they did during WW2?

      Amazing lines of logic.

  2. 90% of products sold here are now made in china including all manner of electronic devices. Should we ban everything made in China now? Stupid Australian government.

  3. By “national security matters” it basically means that she’s doing what the U.S. is telling her to do. So far the logic is guilty by association.
    I just hope this sensitive intel is better than the one we had for WMD’s in Iraq.

    • Ironically, you are surmising about US shenanigans just as much as others are surmising about Huawei/China shenanigans.

  4. On other decisions, including on decisions involving NZ, we’ll continue to take a prudent approach, and if we’ve got anything to say to our friends in NZ about that, then at the appropriate time we will.

    I think the context around that comment needs expanding. The words she says are very very strange. I’d like to know to what was she responding, and or what she had said immediately preceding it.

    I can only assume someone asked the question: “If NZ are using Huawei, have you given them the same information you based your ban on” or something like that. But, I am speculating.

    I’d like to reiterate what I have already seen mentioned (in comments on delimiter). As a network tech, how exactly can Huawei *do* anything? in what way will they spy on traffic. If the network is configured correctly each individual switch won’t have the capability to “phone home” to china. Each individual switch should be completely invisible to any place a “chinese agent” can interface with the network. And to top it all off, if security was your concern, say between asio and the PM’s office, just use adequately complex encryption, and equipment from “safe” vendors in your high security environments. (like ASIO and the PM’s office). Whatever links the 2 **should not matter**.

    • Does anyone else find it interesting that we are hearing about specific network roll-out locations within a week of the Huawei ban coming to light?

      Do you reckon someone fast-tracked this? Get everyone thinking: “Will I get it!!??” rather than: “Why ban a Chinese company that would probably cost a lot less than Ericsson”

    • Ok so the entire VF radio network will be Huawei in short order and Optus is not far off as well.
      Add to that the NBN and don your conspiracy theorist hat and you could picture a situation where war/threat of war occurs and someone triggers the VF network to turn itself off along with massive sections of fibre going dark.

      Mass panic ensues because all the kiddies can’t update their facebook status. Oh and people can’t make emergency calls or contact their loved ones.

  5. Peter A,
    Labor has finally learned something from the Howard Govt….make an announcement and then follow it up with many more announcements and think that the public and journos might miss it.
    Personally i think there’s a reason for the Huawei decision and if it’s national security then we shouldn’t be privy to the reason. We have to trust the security aspect of our Govt, although Howard and WMD is a prime example of them getting it wrong.

    • “We have to trust the security aspect of our Govt”

      Why so? Why not question everything? Are the police always right? Is Defence always right? Is the Attorney-General’s Dept always right?

      I think not.

      • true. And i am one that questions the Govt whenever i can. I sent a lot of letters to the Howard Govt questioning their policies and in particular the detention of Hicks and the treatment of the doctor in QLD (forgot his name).

  6. @PeterA – If you do enough looking in to it, it is more than likely NZ was a pilot program – a nice little test lab for Australia.
    Don’t they already have an internet filter active?

    Wasn’t ericsson telecommunications division recently bought by Sony?

    Perhaps renai should attempt to contact Niki Hagar for a chat.

  7. NZ has a bit of a more relaxed foreign policy. They’re also far less of a target, given the location and political scene. :)

    Clearly the government won’t take this stance without reason, there’s more to the story, as is always the case. Two sides. Be curious to know what that is. Of course, any reasons would be redacted within any FOI.

    Really disliking the Americanised political landscape Australia has found itself in.

  8. It’s interesting to note that the majority of other companies awarded by NBN have a large workforce in China. This includes ALU, NSN.

    The software / operating systems on these devices are developed and maintained within China. Why is this not an issue?

  9. hi paul,

    The issue is not place of origin/manufacturing; rather if the Chinese government wanted to introduce something nefarious; how easily could it persuade/tell a particular company to do so

    Chinese vendors already have a bad PR track record of being easily persuaded by less than savory foreign governments, you don’t think HW and the like would say how high if the Communist party in Beijing told them to jump?

  10. Media puts China in a selection bias, it picks out a lot of negative information and repeats it, thus giving a false sense of reality to the public. The truth however is that China is structurally different country, it has nationalized the large companies and banking sectors for nation’s advantage and progress. For the capitalist unions, chinese are the greatest evil because they hurt their solve intent of accumulating private profits. I don’t say that there’s nothing wrong in China, there sure are heaps but China has a superior governmental model of using it’s industrial forces and resources for the nation’s advantage.

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