Modification: The focus of this article has changed since it was first published. Initially it stated that Attorney-General George Brandis had issued a statement stating that no decision has been made by the new Coalition Government with relation to the Chinese vendor’s ability to tender for National Broadband Network contracts. Currently available public evidence suggests this to be true. However, Delimiter also believes the Coalition Government as a whole has no immediate intention of changing the status quo with respect to Huawei.
news Attorney-General George Brandis has issued an inconclusive statement noting that no decision has been made by the new Coalition Government with relation to the Chinese vendor’s ability to tender for National Broadband Network contracts. However it is believed the Coalition Government is unlikely to change the status quo with respect to Huawei in the short term.
In March 2012, Labor Attorney-General Nicola Roxon confirmed her department had banned Chinese networking giant Huawei from participating in the multi-billion dollar National Broadband Network tendering process, citing national security grounds.
The revelation of the Government’s move represents 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 response to questions on the issue, in March 2012 Huawei issued a transcript of an interview its director of corporate & public affairs, Jeremy Mitchell (a former executive with Telstra) gave with Sky News today.
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.
Since the ban was enacted, several senior Coalition figures, such as Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have spent time with senior officials at Huawei and have openly stated that the new Coalition Government would review the ban. Just last week, Trade Minister Andrew Robb openly praised Huawei during a visit to Shanghai, stating the Chinese vendor had a “big future in Australia”.
This morning, the Financial Review newspaper used a quote from new Attorney-General George Brandis to state that Brandis had “overruled” a push by other senior Coalition ministers to remove the ban. The full statement reads:
“The decision of the previous Government not to permit Huawei to tender for the NBN was made on advice from the national security agencies. That decision was supported by the then Opposition after we received our own briefings from those agencies.
Since the election the new Government has had further briefings from the national security agencies. No decision has been made by the new Government to change the existing policy. As a matter of long-established practice the Government does not comment on advice from the national security agencies.”
It is unclear from Brandis’ statement whether the Government is still considering the Huawei issue. In addition, a spokesperson for the Attorney-General refused to clarify the statement. However, Delimiter believes that the new Coalition Government has no intention in the short to medium term of changing the Government’s stance on Huawei.
A Huawei spokesperson issued a separate statement stating it believed the decision was still up in the air. “Huawei understands no decisions have been made by the Government regarding the NBN, pending outcomes of the strategic review,” the company said.
I want to apologise to readers for not being able to give them more insight into this story. As is sometimes the case with stories of this nature, I know more than I am able to write. What I would emphasise about this story for readers’ understanding is that what you should take away from this issue is that the Coalition Government as a whole has no immediate intention of changing the situation with respect to Huawei. I believe the Coalition dynamic with respect to Huawei is quite complex, but I do not believe it is fluid, if those vague terms make any sense.
Image credit: Huawei