Abbott confirms NBN's ban on Huawei stays

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reportedly confirmed that a ban on Chinese network vendor Huawei participating in the NBN will stay in place.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

After a week of uncertainty, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reportedly ruled out any review of the Australian government's ban on Chinese network giant Huawei's participation in the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The ban was put in place by the former government on the advice of Australia's national security agencies over concerns about the company's alleged links to the Chinese government.

Huawei had pinned its hopes on a review of the ban that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had long said he would consider if the Coalition won government after full briefings from security agencies that are only available to the government of the day. As late as this week, the company remained hopeful that the ban would be lifted, but following statements to the contrary from Attorney-General George Brandis and Treasurer Joe Hockey, Abbott has reportedly sealed Huawei's fate to remain out of the NBN.

The Australian published on Friday parts of a letter reportedly sent from the prime minister to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, stating that the government has "no intention of review the decision of the previous government".

The paper went on to suggest that in opposition, Turnbull had not been given any briefings from security agencies, a claim that Turnbull has today rejected.

"Whether as the opposition spokesman or now as the minister for communications, I have taken great care to understand as much as I possibly can about cybersecurity issues, both in relation to particular companies and more generally, including a detailed exposition of the technologies involved," Turnbull said in a blog post.

"As a consequence, I have had regular technical briefings and discussions on these matters with our security agencies both before and after the election."

Turnbull said it is critical that everyone — not just politicians — become more aware of cybersecurity.

"We can't all become telecom engineers or software developers (I certainly lay no claim to that level of technical expertise), but in order better to protect ourselves from cyberattack, we need to question and learn from those engineers and specialists to raise our own layman's level of understanding of where and how risks can develop and what we must do to manage and mitigate them," he said.

Huawei declined to comment on the news, but in a letter to Huawei's Australian staff from its Australian chairman John Lord, the chairman said that all staff should "hold their heads up high" and be proud to be Huawei.

"Huawei's business in Australia has never been dependent on the NBN. Despite the NBN decision, last year was our most successful year to date and today Huawei's Australian business is bigger than ever," Lord said.

He said Huawei had never been presented with any evidence that the company or its technology poses any kind of security risk, and he reiterated that Huawei was prepared to offer all of its technology and source codes to be verified by the government.

"We have nothing to hide, and we have complete confidence in the veracity of our equipment," he said.

The renewal of the Huawei ban comes after Australia's spy agencies were accused of spying on a number of Australia's closest neighbours. The prime minister said in response that Australian government agencies abide by Australian law.

"Well, the thing about every Australian governmental agency is that we all operate in accordance with the law. Every Australian governmental agency, every Australian official at home and abroad, operates in accordance with the law and that's the assurance that I can give people at home and abroad. Our people operate in accordance with law," Abbott said on Thursday.

"Now, as for the precise workings of our intelligence organisations, it's been a long-standing practice not to comment on that."

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