Libs slam Huawei ban, Greens want explanation

The Greens have called for the Federal Government to explain the reasoning behind its decision to ban Chinese network giant Huawei from tendering for the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Written by AAP , Contributor and  Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Greens have called for the Federal Government to explain the reasoning behind its decision to ban Chinese network giant Huawei from tendering for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The government banned Chinese-owned network vendor Huawei from competing for contracts with the National Broadband Network because of security fears. Huawei has long been under scrutiny because of alleged links with the People's Liberation Army. The office of the attorney-general said that it had the responsibility to protect the integrity of the network and the information carried on it, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the decision was "prudent".

Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam said that for such a critical piece of infrastructure as the NBN, the government was right to be cautious, but said it still needed to explain the case for the Huawei ban.

"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," Ludlam said in a statement.

"The government is prudent to 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."

Ludlam said Huawei had not been accused of breaking any Australian laws, and the government's intervention in NBN Co's tendering processes raised questions that needed to be answered.

"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."

While Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been quick to comment on other vendors' involvement in the NBN roll-out, such as the accusations of bribery going on while NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley headed up the US business of Alcatel-Lucent, Turnbull has yet to comment on the Huawei ban. ZDNet Australia contacted Turnbull's office this morning but has not yet heard a response.

Opposition finance spokesperson Andrew Robb, who last year toured Huawei's facilities in mainland China and Hong Kong on a trip sponsored by the company, said decisions such as this would reinforce the increasingly "dim view" overseas investors had of Australia.

"Over the last four years the Rudd-Gillard governments have damaged our relations with China, India, Japan and Indonesia at a time when the middle class across that region is exploding," Robb told AAP.

"This looks to be the latest clumsy, offensive and unprofessional installment of a truly dysfunctional government."

He said the fact that former foreign minister Alexander Downer and former Victorian premier John Brumby were on Huawei's Australian board, and that the company had a leading role in Britain's telecommunications sector, warranted the government considering it with "clear eyes".

"We must bear in mind that this is a company which is heavily involved in eight of nine NBN roll-outs around the world," Robb said.

The parliamentary pecuniary interest register shows opposition deputy leader Julie Bishop and frontbench colleague Bronwyn Bishop also visited Huawei's facilities as guests of the company.

Bishop declined to comment on the tender process, which she described as "a matter for the government", and said she had not been lobbied in regard to the NBN or any other matter.

"My trip included a tour of Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen, where I was shown some of the technology under development by its research and development division that comprises about half of Huawei's 120,000 staff," she told AAP.

Huawei Australia said it had issued an open invitation to all MPs, and the media, to tour its facilities.

The New Zealand Government was also reluctant to weigh in on the ban. New Zealand is in the process of rolling out its own high-speed broadband network and Huawei has been selected to provide portions of the network roll-out. Huawei Marine is also rolling out a 2300km cable between Auckland and Sydney to be finished by early 2013.

ICT Minister Amy Adams said the New Zealand Government doesn't comment on specific vendors, but said the government took security seriously.

"Network security is an issue we take seriously. The government will work with all suppliers and operators to address any security concerns that may be identified, and is committed to working with operators and suppliers to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the [Ultrafast Broadband] and [Rural Broadband Initiative] networks."

Disclosure: in May 2010, Josh Taylor visited Shanghai with flights and accommodation paid for by Huawei.

Updated at 5.33pm, 26 March 2012: added comment from opposition finance spokesperson Andrew Robb.

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