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Chinese tech giant Huawei courts MPs

Former minister and current board member Alexander Downer says security concerns are "absurd".

A Chinese telecoms giant that has been blocked by the Gillard government from supplying equipment to the national broadband network (NBN) has been courting senior Liberal frontbenchers and Labor figures.

Huawei Technologies, which is close to becoming the world's largest telecommunications equipment provider, was advised late last year that it could not tender for NBN contracts because of concerns about cyber attacks emanating from China.

Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop - the other Bishop - moves to suspend standing orders.
Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop - the other Bishop - moves to suspend standing orders. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Australian Financial Review reported on Monday that ASIO advice provided the basis for the ban. A spokesman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon told AAP the $36 billion NBN was the ''backbone of Australia's information infrastructure'' and as such the government had 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,'' the spokesman said.

The minister has declined to comment on confidential discussions with Huawei. The federal parliamentary interests register shows Huawei has been courting senior coalition figures. The register shows Huawei's Australian arm sponsored trips by the opposition's deputy leader Julie Bishop, finance spokesman Andrew Robb and frontbencher Bronwyn Bishop to China over the past eight months.

Julie Bishop's trip included a flight from Perth to Hong Kong, then from Shenzhen to Shanghai and a rail trip from Shanghai to Beijing, as well as accommodation from January 4 to 9. She was also given a Huawei MediaPad tablet computer.

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Mr Robb and a staffer were guests of Huawei on a trip from December 13 to 19 to Hong Kong and China, which included free transport and hospitality. Bronwyn Bishop's trip to Singapore and China, which included business class travel and accommodation paid for by Huawei, was from August 1 to 6, 2011. A Huawei Australia spokesman told AAP it had issued an open invitation to all members of parliament, and the media, to tour its facilities.

''We haven't targeted one party over another,'' the spokesman said. He also said former Labor premiers Kristina Keneally and John Brumby, who now sits on the company's Australian board, had also been on sponsored trips.

Former Victoria premier John Brumby and navy veteran John Lord are board members of Huawei Australia, along with former ...
Former Victoria premier John Brumby and navy veteran John Lord are board members of Huawei Australia, along with former foreign minister Alexander Downer. Photo: Wayne Taylor WMT

Huawei corporate affairs director Jeremy Mitchell said Australia was still getting used to privately-owned Chinese companies, but Huawei would not give up on tendering for NBN projects, which are being managed by the Australian government-owned NBN Co Ltd.

''We're not used to companies coming from China that are leading in technology and also global - 70 per cent of our work is outside of China,'' Mr Mitchell said.

''This is new territory. We see this as a setback, we're obviously disappointed but through looking at what we've done overseas, looking at what we've done in the United Kingdom, we can put in place measures that help the Australian government consider us as a partner in the NBN.''

Former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer, who also sits on the company's Australian board, told the ABC Huawei operated in 100 countries and had been in Australia since 2004 and any concerns about it being involved in cyber warfare were ''absurd''.

''This is a very straightforward, albeit very large, company doing an astonishingly good job in terms of providing telecommunications to a world hungry for improved telecommunications,'' Mr Downer said.

Huawei was established in the late 1980s by Ren Zhengfei, a former major in the People's Liberation Army, and is headquartered in the special economic zone of Shenzen. Its Australian office opened in 2004 in Sydney and is the operations hub for its business across Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Earlier this month the company was picked by Optus to build the carrier's 4G network in Newcastle, NSW.

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