The boss of Huawei Australia has hit back at calls from both sides of Parliament for the Chinese-owned telco to be banned from any involvement in the country’s 5G network.
Speaking to Radio National on Monday morning, Huawei Australia chair John Lord said the company was free from any influence and interference from the Chinese Communist Party and is happy to have its equipment and software checked before being used.
There have been growing calls from within Parliament for Huawei and other Chinese-based tech firms to be banned from participating in the build of Australia’s 5G mobile network, which is set to be completed by next year.
Huawei wants to provide equipment, such as antennas, base stations and phones, to facilitate the 5G network, but opponents claim it should be blocked due to national security concerns and the company’s apparent links to the Chinese Communist Party.
Speaking in Parliament last week, Labor MP Michael Danby issued a “clarion call” for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reject Huawei’s involvement.
“He and his government must resist the blandishments of commercial interests backed by apparent incompetent advice from bureaucrats who don’t understand the implications of the sale of the 5G network to state-owned enterprises or China-based companies who are effectively controlled by Beijing, and I’m talking about Huawei and ZTE,” Mr Danby said.
“Both Huawei and ZTE must report to a Communist Party cell at the top of their organisations. Let me issue a clarion call to this parliament, to the media and to the Australian public: Australia’s 5G network must not be sold to these telcos.
“Whatever instructions might be issued for Australian sovereignty by Australia after the fact, it will be compromised if we sell the construction of our new central communications 5G network to companies effectively controlled by an authoritarian government whose leader has recently been made dictator for life.”
Speaking on Monday morning, Mr Lord rejected Mr Danby’s assertion and claimed Huawei was best placed to deliver the technology that Australia needs.
“It’s wrong. Huawei is owned by employees…there is no ownership by the government whatsoever. We as Huawei don’t get involved in these political debates. We’re in 170 countries, we can’t afford to play politics and we don’t at all. Companies like Huawei are privately owned – we’re not owned by any committee or government and we should be looking at and be put into a competitive tender,” Mr Lord told ABC Radio National.
Concerns over Huawei’s apparent involvement with Australia’s 5G network centre on the company’s connections with the Chinese Communist Party, and the new network’s power to supply an increasing amount of physical objects through the Internet of Things, including driverless cars.
With more critical infrastructure and huge amounts of sensitive data set to be reliant on the 5G networks, there are increasing worries about a Chinese-owned company being involved with its operations. The federal government previously blocked Huawei from participating in the build of the NBN in 2012 due to similar concerns, but this was opposed by Mr Turnbull.
In a positive move for Huawei, the company was included in a Department of Communications working group on 5G earlier this year.
While claiming that all repairs and maintenance on the 5G products would be done by Australians, Mr Lord admitted that there would be regular software updates provided. To counter national security concerns, he said Huawei is open to having all of its products and software checked by Australian authorities before it is put in place.
This is how Huawei secured contracts in the UK, with all of its equipment checked for backdoors and threats by UK intelligence services before it is used.
“We’re happy to have our equipment looked at and analysed. We believe that all telcos should be open and equipment should be checked. We build equipment on the supposition that nations or rogues are going to try to crack our equipment. We talk to government regularly and we offer them whatever they want to show that we’re open and that our equipment is beyond question,” Mr Lord said.
Laws commonly regarded as the “anti-Huawei bill” will come into effect in September in Australia, giving the government the power to direct a carrier “to do, or not do, a specified thing that is reasonably necessary to protect networks and facilities from national security risks”.
“All carriers, carriage service providers and carriage service intermediaries will be required to do their best to protect networks and facilities from unauthorised access and interference,” the bill said.
But Mr Lord said the company supports the bill.
“We worked with communications bodies within Canberra and we accept what the bill means and support it,” he said.
Mr Lord said Huawei’s involvement with the 5G network will provide much needed competition to the Australian market.
“We want to play the same role as we’re playing now with 3G and 4G and provide the mobile broadband connectivity as a competitor to give Australia competition in the market. Australians are now enjoying some of the best 4G in the world because of that competition,” he said.
“We think Australia needs competition in the market if we’re going to stay ahead of the game.”
It was reported that US national security agencies raised the issue of Huawei’s involvement with Mr Turnbull during his visit in February. The Chinese company was previously blocked from participating in the construction of the National Broadband Network in 2012 due to similar concerns.
The US has previously moved to ban other Chinese telco ZTE from operating in the country entirely, but is now planning to overturn this move. Politicians have also recently claimed that a new bill stopping all Chinese telco s from operating in the US would have majority support in Congress.
Much of Huawei’s involvement in Australia surrounds the 4G network, and if it is blocked from the 5G network it will be a huge blow to the company’s local operations.
“It would have a huge significance for Huawei in Australia because at the moment most of our business is 4G and we’re providing over 55 percent of Australia’s 4G requirements. The future is all supposition and we hope that’s not the case. It’s about 70 percent of our business and there are 750 Australians employed by us. This is the main part of our business in Australia,” Mr Lord said.