Wednesday, 30 October 2013 23:53
- "...a subterranean and unofficial struggle going on within the most senior levels of government about how to handle the matter. Brandis is now obviously on one side and Turnbull on the other. And to make such a statement, the Attorney- General is clearly confident he has the security briefings and the Prime Minister on side. Joe Hockey also backed him up. But the very public ministerial differences mean that what could have been handled via various diplomatic gestures and nuanced compromise about the level of Huawei's involvement now threatens an open and awkward confrontation with China. Talk about the wrong dial tone." click here Jennifer Hewitt - Australian Financial Review (31/10/12)
- 'It took a letter from Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to definitively banish Huawei's otherwise resilient spirit' - Inside story - How the government's ban on China's telco Huawei from the NBN is part of a wider superpower battle, write Christopher Joye and John Kerin - click here
Good sense has been restored with Attorney-General George Brandis’s decision to heed security advice and keep the ban on the Chinese Telco Huawei. There are however, strong divisions in the new government over the priority of security advice with an important group of leading Ministers, led by Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop, appearing to favour allowing Huawei into the NBN.
Labor, under Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard, heeded the advice of our security agencies to refuse permission for Huawei's participation in the construction of the NBN.
However, the new LNP Government Communications spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull restated his belief that Labor's ban should be reviewed, then lifted. It was suggested that he might even permit Huawei to build parts of the NBN 'even with security concerns not fully allayed.' Now, it appears that Malcolm Turnbull’s ill-defined Huawei review will not proceed. Interestingly in today’s Australian anonymous government sources are backtracking on Senator Brandis recent commitment to keep the ban on Huawei, saying that ‘there will be no decision on the company’s fate until the completion of a review of the NBN.’
'The secret seven' - Coalition MP's who have enjoyed hospitality on a sponsored visit to and from Shenzhen campus of Huawei. Malcolm Turnbull did not require Huawei's munificence.
Mr Turnbull appears to believe that the decision to allow Huawei’s involvement in the NBN, should not be based on whether Huawei could be an ‘accessory to espionage’. Rather it appears that Mr Turnbull wanted to base his decision on a judgement of the technical nature of Huawei equipment. For Turnbull the central issue was not whether Huawei’s involvement is a security threat in itself, but whether Huawei’s technology is ‘capable of intercepting and diverting traffic signals in a manner that is not detectible.’ Was Turnbull going to judge this himself? As apparently the security services had made a definitive judgement Huawei should not be allowed to participate in the NBN.
Essentially Turnbull, was saying that if we can't currently detect a Huawei intercepted communication signal, we are somehow protected now and in the future from any future security breach.
Malcolm Turnbull's image is not engraved on Huawei's building... yet. Seriously though the Economist's seminal article is required reading
The LNP’s China Club, including Andrew Robb, Julie Bishop and other guests of Huawei’s hospitality, believe Australia should allow the Chinese Telco to build the central nervous system of the NBN, our national communication network. Imagine if Labor brushed aside the explicit warnings of our security services. The Liberal Party and large sections of the media would have exploded in outrage.
Now Brandis’s apparent decision to overrule Turnbull and others such as Andrew Robb will mean the continuation of the policy of the previous Labor government. To understand why both governments are doing the right thing it is worth examining why legitimate suspicions exist about Huawei:
Two principal allegations in The Economist’s cover story (4/8/2012) ‘Huawei: The Company That Spooked the World’ go to the heart of the Turnbull obfuscations and why we shouldn’t allow the Chinese telco to build our critical national infrastructure. First, that the company’s commercial ‘success’ has been assisted by hundreds of millions of dollars in soft loans from Chinese banks thus allowing Huawei to undercut other telco’s. The Economist also pointed out Huawei’s close links to the Chinese Government and the fact that it was founded and headed by a former member of the People’s Liberation Army.
Australian Huawei Board including directors former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and former Victorian Premier, John Brumby. The Australian Huawei Board is chaired by Admiral John Lord who is pictured sitting next to Ren Thengfei
What is more, in a surprisingly frank testimony, Admiral Lord, chairman of Huawei Australia, confirmed to a public hearing (14/9/2012) of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that Huawei (like other large Chinese businesses) have a legally mandated communist party committee. Significantly, the Economist cover story also confirmed Senator Mark Bishop’s question about whether Huawei executives had boasted about their new role as Huawei technology had recently been installed in Iran. Huawei is reported to have assisted the regime’s increased ability to monitor social media and telecommunications as “its salesmen boasted that their equipment makes it easier to spy on potential troublemakers.”
In China itself, there is systematic government interference in the internet and telecommunications. 20,000 police are employed to monitor the net and China’s internal security budget now exceeds the budget devoted to Beijing’s military build-up.
Last June the UK Parliament’s Intelligence Committee released a report raising potential national security issues with Huawei's involvement in the country's telecommunications sector. The Committee’s conclusion stated the software that is embedded in telecommunications equipment consists of over a million lines of code, and reported that according to ‘GCHQ’ (the UK’s signal intelligence service) made it clear that “it is just impossible to go through that much code and be absolutely confident you have found everything”. In the United States, a report by the House Intelligence Committee found that Huawei posed sufficient security risks that government agencies should avoid purchasing of their equipment. Even more recently, former CIA director General Michael Hayden warned that Huawei is a vehicle for spying on the West.
The Coalition's 'China Club,' led by Malcolm Turnbul, Alexander Downer and Julie Bishop
Why was Turnbull so keen to review Labor's sensible ban on Huawei? Perhaps Huawei's systems may be cheaper and, ostensibly, the Coalition will claim that cheap Chinese parts ought to be included in the NBN is because the Government has pledged to cut costs of the NBN. Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Huawei's chief local booster was busy peddling this view to his former colleagues in government. What is the value of Australia's national security?
Deputy PM Julie Bishop, another repeat guest of Huawei in China, supports the Turnbull view. However, I guess that some in the Liberal Party share a healthy scepticism towards Huawei. Such as security hard-heads like Mr Ruddock
Mr Abbott built his election on security, and claims that Australia's national sovereignty was for the moment being eroded. Abbott and Brandis appear willing to heed the advice of Australia's intelligence services. My concern was that Turnbull would seek to remove the ban on Huawei. Or worse, seek 'Yes Minister' style to bend the "advice" he received to this orchestrated and expensive push against keeping the ban on Huawei. Still the Government’s China Club says we should drop the ban on Huawei. Some of its media advocates are saying we will have to if we want the Australia/China Free Trade Agreement. If jeopardising National Security is the price, we will have to say no. However, it’s hard to believe that a mutually advantageous commercial pact would suffer because this government continues the security exception advocated by its predecessor.
- An edited version of this article appeared on the ABC website The Drum - click here
- Last September at an unusual public hearing of the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Huawei volunteered to appear, (they were not subpoenaed) - click here for a highlighted transcript of some of the questions and answers provided to members of the committee
- Investigative journalist Christopher Joye from the Australian Financial Review reported Huawei's extensive influence peddling in Australia - click here
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