news The Greens have called on the Labor Federal Government to publicly disclose its reasons and associated evidence for blocking Chinese networking giant Huawei from tendering for National Broadband Network contracts, pointing out that the company has not been accused of breaking any laws.
The news of Huawei’s ban broke over the weekend, representing the latest in a long-running series of attacks on the Chinese company 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. 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 a statement issued this afternoon, Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam said the Government was right to be cautious on the issue, given the importance of the NBN to Australia, “but needs to make the case for the ban public”.
“Huawei has operated in Australia since 2004, but this is no ordinary tender; it is the most significant infrastructure project of our generation. It will be a crucial part of communications in Australia, with a vital role to play in commerce, education, the public health system, and all levels of civil administration,” said Ludlam. “The Government is prudent do all it can to protect the integrity of the NBN. While it is unlikely ASIO would issue a security warning for trivial reasons under these circumstances, the Government should explain the decision.”
“As Huawei has not been accused of breaking any Australian laws, the Government’s apparent intervention in NBN Co’s tendering processes raises questions that need answering. If the Government has evidence that there is a dangerously close relationship between Huawei and Beijing’s political and military interests – it should make that information public.”
Ludlam said it was unlikely the decision would have any significant diplomatic impact on Chinese-Australian relations, and framed alleged Chinese cyber-espionage efforts in general in the context of the cut and thrust of international affairs.
“Huawei is led by a former People’s Liberation Army engineer, and the Chinese government has been accused of intercepting confidential information in cyberspace by the United States Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive,” Ludlam said. “China is not alone in this regard; geo-strategically, it stands to reason the governments of nation states will do what they can to learn all they can about other nation states.”
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.
Huawei is also gradually becoming a major consumer electronics brand in Australia (as it is in China), and has retail partnerships with giant local firms such as Woolworths. The company is believed to have approximately 600 staff based in Australia.