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Chinese tech giant Huawei courts MPs

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

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

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.

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''.

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

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

''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.

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.

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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51 comments so far

  • I do not know much about this company and its ethics, but I do know that if our politicians wished to visit the factories etc for a genuine purpose the trips should have been funded by them and not the company concerned. You have to not only do the right thing, but be seen to do the right thing. I would have thought that they had more sense.

    Commenter
    dexxter
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    March 26, 2012, 1:12PM
    • Agreed.

      Plus, I wouldn't trust China or a Chinese company to build our NBN network. Look at Stuxnet. It's very doable to put a single piece of code that attacks certain types of hardware in the right/wrong place that can do damage to a piece of infrastructure.
      And even easier if you design that piece of hardware with backdoor access.

      Happy for them to build a lot else, but not a critical piece of infrastructure.

      Commenter
      TechHead
      Location
      in your base
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 1:29PM
    • Dexter they do have the sense but money often trumps sense, it's just the amount thats the issue.
      With such big politicians in play i would suggest they are getting big money. Thats allot of investment that usually beyond the budget of most companies. Unless say your the chinese Government and want it bad enough?

      Commenter
      Invisiblesun
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 3:55PM
  • But it seems its alright to use Chinese made Personal Computers as part of the NBN?!! What a joke and any wonder so many Federal Government technology projects are a dismal failure.

    Commenter
    Taxpayer
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 26, 2012, 1:18PM
    • If you don't understand the difference between vital network infrastructure and PC equipment, then perhaps you shouldn't be using any kind of IT equipment.

      Back away from your keyboard...

      Commenter
      DC
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 6:26PM
    • Actually the parts from most computers are sourced from a number of countries, through a number of companies that are also multinationals. Few of the companies are owned by China as huawei is.

      Your point though about federal government technology projects ending in failure though is well put, remember OPAL bro?

      Commenter
      someone
      Location
      somewhere
      Date and time
      March 27, 2012, 7:43AM
  • So when a corporation sponsors a business trip for our Political leaders, is it a "Gift" or is it a financial inducement for a quid pro quo? When China shows at least some semblance of being a democracy with credible anti corruption checks and balances in place, then maybe I will not be as cynical as to be believe that this is riddled with ulterior motives.

    Commenter
    Badger
    Date and time
    March 26, 2012, 1:32PM
    • I am glad that the government blocked Huawei. They are a company of cheats who stole and copied products that they did not fully understand from their competition. They shouldn't be respected and should be prosecuted in all cases where their equipment is sold into this country.

      Commenter
      glad...
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 1:38PM
      • When China becomes a fully fledged democratic country. Then naturally Chinese companies will eventually become independant entities.Currently every company born out of China must yield to the chinese Government demands at a whim. If Huawei was asked (directed) to provide information on say Australian Business or military communication's it would have to do so without question. If it refused then company leadership would be changed overnight or jailed(who do you think gave the chinese General his money to set the company up?). This behaviour is very well documented!

        I commend the federal Govenment for having the strength to make the correct dicision. What i am far from impressed about is former politician's and current politicians who have considerable influence and who also pledged an oath to protect the rights of Australia and it citizens first and for most can so easily abandon it.

        It goes to show that a big pay check and political party donations can quickly put an end to that Oath. Shame on you all!!
        Alexander Downer you would be the biggest sell out of all with your "Absurd" comment. I mean really, who are you?
        Do you know?

        Commenter
        Invisiblesun
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        March 26, 2012, 1:40PM
        • I agree to your other points where pollies just all smiles when a donor makes a huge policitical donation. (who doesnt eh?). BUT China becoming a "fully fledged Democratic country"? - DREAM ON!!

          Unless the people raise up to another 6/4 again or Chinese Arab Spring, may be it will happen. Otherwise, i'll just sleep on it and think my motherland will continue remain a People's Republic. Where $$ can get things done easily.

          Commenter
          Dream on...
          Date and time
          March 26, 2012, 3:14PM

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