The Australian Government has confirmed that it has imposed a ban on Chinese-owned telco Huawei from tendering for National Broadband Network contracts – some worth billions of dollars. The office of Attorney-General Nicola Roxon at the weekend issued a statement, claiming the ban was imposed because of a need to protect the integrity of Australia’s information infrastructure.
The statement was issued after the Australian Financial Review had quoted sources claiming that Huawei had been told late last year not to bother tendering for any NBN supply contracts because the company wouldn’t succeed.
Roxon’s statement said, inter alia: “The National Broadband Network is the largest nation-building project in Australian history, and it will become the backbone of Australia’s information infrastructure.
“As such, and as a strategic and significant government investment, we have a responsibility to do our utmost to protect its integrity and that of the information carried on it. This is consistent with the Government’s practice for ensuring the security and resilience of Australia’s critical infrastructure more broadly.”
Huawei has at times been accused of links to China’s People’s Liberation Army because its chief executive Ren Zhengfei once served in it. Huawei does hold contracts with multiple telcos in Australia. It has recently signed a contract with Optus to supply technology for an LTE network in the Newcastle region, and is also supplying equipment for Vodafone’s $1 billion network revamp.
In the past China has been accused of being originator of cyber attacks such as the one that Google said in 2010 which Google said originated in China – though there has been no suggestion that Huawei has been responsible for the attacks.
Huawei sources have hinted that the Chinese Government might retaliate strongly against Australia if the ban on the company’s tenders is not lifted: a situation that could bring new Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr into conflict with Comms and Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy and Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
The AFR claims that the deputy secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, Tony Sheehan, called in Huawei Australia’s chairman, John Lord, late last year to tell him of the bans. Sheehan reportedly told Lord not to bother tendering for any NBN supply contracts because they would not succeed.
Australian officials have advised Huawei that Canberra is aware of Chinese cyber attacks on western networks.