Huawei still pushes NBN deal
Chinese technology giant Huawei is still pressing Canberra to reconsider the decision to ban the company's hardware from the National Broadband Network, saying the network was no safer without its equipment.
Huawei global cyber security officer, John Suffolk, said it had made repeated offers to key intelligence agencies, including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, to set up an independent testing centre to ensure Huawei's telecommunication equipment could not be used for spying.
Mr Suffolk, who was the chief information officer for the British government before joining Huawei, told BusinessDay: "I think most people recognise now, including Australia, that keeping Huawei out of NBN has done nothing to improve the security of NBN.
"It has done nothing to improve the economics validity, the cost effectiveness and innovation of NBN infrastructure, because the more you reduce vendors, the more you reduce innovation, and the price goes up."
Huawei was unofficially banned in 2011 from participating in the $37 billion NBN due to national security concerns and has been the subject of intense political and media scrutiny over its alleged link to the People's Liberation Army.
Founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei was an army officer before setting up the technology manufacturer.
US congressional reports labelled the company a national security threat, a claim vigorously denied by the company.
Mr Suffolk was hired by Huawei last year to boost its cyber-security credentials and dispel suspicions around the company. He believes Huawei can prove its detractors wrong over time.
"We believe it is a timing issue, not a security issue, because of the global nature of technology. We believe that we can solve that over the time," he said.
The company has made offers to the government to set up an independent testing centre to vet its equipment, without success. Mr Suffolk said he had contacted Australian security officials but had not yet received a response. The federal government recently set up a cyber security centre, but it does not vet equipment.
"We have made numerous alternative suggestions to them [government agencies], like creating a cell similar to the UK, creating a similar cell to Canada, which is done via a third party like Electronics Warfare Association or teaming up with an Australian company," Mr Suffolk said.
Huawei set up an independent equipment testing centre in Britain after the company was awarded a large contract to supply equipment to the British equivalent of the National Broadband Network. It is staffed with security cleared personnel, some of whom used to work for Britain's signals intelligence agency, GCHQ.
Mr Suffolk shied away from the question about whether the coming federal election would change Huawei's situation in Australia. However, he hinted that any new communications minister should take into consideration Australia's reputation as an "open economy".
"My belief is that ministers have a difficult job to do, regardless of what your political persuasions and colours are," he said. "They have to take a lot of things into account, such as inward investment and the country's perception of how easy it is to do business."