Huawei Australia chairman John Lord. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
The local arm of Chinese telecom firm Huawei has hit back against its exclusion from the national broadband network by calling for independent cyber-spying checks on all foreign-made technology used in major Australian networks.
Demanding equal treatment at the hands of security agencies, Huawei Australia chairman John Lord said yesterday that blacklisting one company was no solution in an age when phone and internet equipment consisted of parts from potentially dozens of countries.
Instead, all new telecom equipment should be scrutinised by an independent cyber security centre, similar to one already established in Britain, which has enabled the Chinese firm to work on the British equivalent of the NBN.
On the advice of ASIO, the Gillard government this year decided to exclude Huawei from contributing to the government's $37 billion NBN because of concerns that equipment could contain devices or programs that allow Chinese authorities to evesdrop on Australian communications.
Following a speech yesterday to the National Press Club in Canberra, Mr Lord, a former Rear Admiral in the Royal Australian Navy, categorically denied that Huawei had ever "handed over any information on our employees, clients (or) any data at all to the Chinese government".
Targetting Huawei alone distracted from the bigger issue of securing Australia's networks from potential cyber attacks that could come from anywhere, he said.
"When all telecoms equipment is produced by interdependent global supply chain, simply blacklisting a single vendor or country will not make critical infrastructure more secure," he said.
"For Australia to protect its critical infrastructure from cyber attacks, then all companies who produce equipment overseas must naturally be subjected to the same thorough security assessment.
The centre could be paid for by telecom firms but staffed by security-cleared Australians, he said.
However it is understood that Australia's government is not giving serious consideration to such a plan, which was not among recent proposed national security reforms.
Former foreign minister Alexander Downer and former Victorian premier John Brumby also sit on the Huawei Australia board. Mr Lord said the firm had had "informal discussions" about listing on the Australian Securities Exchange, and this could be a model for Huawei's operations around the world - seen as a vital step towards greater transparency.
At present, the firm is owned by employees, Mr Lord said, with founder and ex-military officer Ren Zhengfei holding just 1.3 per cent.
A United States house intelligence committee announced this month following an 18-month investigation that Huawei and another Chinese firm, ZTE, posed a security threat to the US.