Former A-G issues warning on Huawei
Former attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has warned the new government not to compromise national security for trade, as the Coalition pushes ahead with a review of whether to overturn the ban on Chinese telco Huawei's involvement in building the national broadband network.
His comments came as Huawei's case to pitch for work in the $30 billion-plus network received a boost when Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the technology company as a "very credible business".
While Mr Turnbull confirmed he would review the government ban on Huawei's involvement in the network, he has not set a timetable.
But Mr Dreyfus, who served as attorney-general for seven months this year, suggested Huawei was being used as a bargaining chip to secure a trade deal with China.
"[Prime Minister] Mr Abbott should not sacrifice national security in the rush to sign a free trade agreement. He should listen to the advice of the national security agencies before making any decisions about the involvement of foreign entities in critical national infrastructure," he said.
Huawei was told by the Labor government last year that it could not work on or supply high tech equipment to NBN Co based on national security grounds. The former government was acting on advice from ASIO. Then prime minister Julia Gillard said the ban was a prudent decision.
Huawei, which maintains it has no links to the Chinese government, has argued the ban could breach Australia's international trade obligations.
Huawei's Australian chairman, retired Rear Admiral John Lord, described the company as "the world's leading experts" in broadband networks, as it steps up marketing efforts before the next phase of the network introduction.
Mr Lord sits on the Huawei Australia board with former foreign minister Alexander Downer and former Victorian premier John Brumby.
Mr Lord told Fairfax Media in China that Huawei Australia was "waiting to find out like you and everyone else" whether it would be allowed to supply NBN Co under a Coalition government. "We've put in a lot of time since the board has been running, on both sides of politics ... We would hope the new government would have a lot more knowledge in Huawei than the past government two years ago," he said.
"We are privately owned, we do not spy on anyone ... we would hope that these messages are getting through eventually."
In an interview with Fairfax Media's BRW this week, Mr Turnbull confirmed he held "irregular" meetings with Huawei's senior executives including founder Ren Zhengfei and deputy chairman Guo Ping, but not since becoming a minister.
"Even if you accept the premise that Huawei would be an accessory to espionage - I'm not saying they will be, I'm just saying that's the premise - if you accept that, then you then have to ask yourself, does the equipment that they would propose to sell have that capacity?" Mr Turnbull said.
Neither NBN Co nor the government would buy Huawei's equipment if it was deemed risky, he said. "That's something that I will discuss with my colleagues, in particular George Brandis, the Attorney-General, and Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister."
Mr Turnbull, Ms Bishop and Trade Minister Andrew Robb visited Huawei's headquarters in China while in opposition. Mr Robb said during an official visit to China this week that the company had a "big future in Australia".
While globally the company's revenues last year exceeded $37 billion, its Australian business contributed a fraction of that amount - reporting a profit of $7 million from revenues of $368 million, according to reports filed with the corporate regulator.
Huawei has supplied network equipment to both Optus and Vodafone but is yet to secure a deal with Telstra's fixed or mobile networks. Telstra sells Huawei mobile devices.
Huawei supplies equipment to eight of the world's nine national broadband network projects, including BT in Britain, Nucleus Connect in Singapore and New Zealand's ultra-fast broadband.