Chinese technology manufacturer Huawei has called for Australia’s commitment to the National Broadband Network to be “above politics”, arguing that the network rollout is a defining moment in the nation’s history.
The development of the NBN project over the past half-decade – and its refinement into the policy which Julia Gillard’s Labor Government is implementing today – has been the subject of constant political debate over its lifetime, including internal division in both the Liberal and Coalition parties about how it should proceed.
In one example, the actual rollout of the network is proceeding in a starkly different manner in Australia’s various states, with Tasmania pursuing an ‘opt-out’ approach to the NBN, where property owners have to consciously choose not to have the NBN connected to their premises, and at least one state – Victoria – choosing a rival opt-in approach.
In addition, the passage of NBN-related legislation through parliament has been a constant struggle, with both sides of politics, as well as the Greens and independents, debating much of the legislation put forward furiously. In addition, the network rollout has been the subject of constant verbal struggles in Senate Estimates committees.
Speaking before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications Inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network, Huawei corporate and public affairs director Jeremy Mitchell said Huawei – which supplies solutions to other NBN rollouts around the globe – “fully supports” the rollout.
“We also believe that the commitment to an NBN should be above politics and supported by both major political parties,” he said.
“There always will be, and should be, debate about implementation, in fact of the five NBNs Huawei is building globally, no two are the same,” he added. “But we believe there should be an agreed set of guidelines for Australia’s NBN, equality of service, investment in the best technology and that we build not just a network but a “networked nation” where “no one gets left behind”.”
Mitchell said there were “moments in a country’s history” where choices were made that laid the foundations for the social development and economic prosperity for the decades to come, comparing the NBN to similar “visionary” infrastructure rollouts in the US such as the construction of railroads and interstate highway networks.
“The 21st century is the Asia-Pacific century. Singapore, Malaysia, and China are investing in fibre networks, Korea and Japan have already invested. If Australia is to take full advantage of this opportunity we need to make sure we aren’t the poor digital cousins in the neighbourhood,” he said.
The future of the NBN still appears to be in doubt, despite Labor’s success in taking Government after the 2010 Federal Election, with the support of the Greens and independents. It will take almost a decade for the network infrastructure to be completely rolled out, and the Coalition has pledged to immediately halt the NBN project if it wins government in future.
In addition, stark political differences of opinion regarding the NBN continue to exist. Only last week, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull took the Government to account for not investigating allegations of bribery at Alcatel-Lucent before hiring NBN Co’s CEO Mike Quigley and CFO Jean-Pascal Beaufret, who both had a history with the US/French networking company.
“Beaufret was the Chief Financial Officer of Alcatel and we know that millions of dollars – because Alcatel has admitted it – we know that millions of dollars were paid in bribes in all of those countries that you mentioned earlier,” Turnbull said on Radio 2UE in Sydney last week. “Now Mr Beaufret says, and I don’t challenge him, that he knew nothing about it, that he wasn’t involved and that it all happened unbeknownst to him. But nonetheless, he was the chief money man of Alcatel and a lot of money was being spent improperly and indeed, criminally.”
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull