Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today the Federal Government would stand by its decision to ban Chinese company Huawei from tendering for NBN contracts on the grounds of security.
Her comments come as the Chinese government broke its silence on the ban, with a foreign affairs spokesman urging Canberra to ensure a level playing field.
Gillard was responding to questions posed during a press conference in Sydney this afternoon during which she announced the three-year roll-out plan for the NBN.
She said the government was motivated by its desire to protect the integrity of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project, echoing comments previously made by the Attorney-General’s department. “It’s [the ban] in Australia’s national interests,” she said.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on the Australian Government to reconsider its decision, particularly in the light of the two countries’ history of economic cooperation.
"We hope competent authorities of Australia will provide a level and indiscriminate market environment for Chinese companies instead of wearing coloured glasses and obstructing Chinese companies' normal operations in Australia in the name of security," Lei said, as reported by AFP.
"In recent years, China-Australia investment cooperation has not only provided opportunities to Chinese companies going global but also injected strong impetus into economic and social development, and people's wellbeing in Australia."
The Federal Opposition this week described the government’s handling of the Huawei matter as “clumsy”. Former Liberal foreign minister Alexander Downer, a member of the Huawei Australia board, described the ban as “absurd”. Former Labor premier of Victoria, John Brumby, is also on the Huawei Australia board.
During today’s press conference the prime minister repeatedly referred to the coalition as seeking to support a “Chinese company”.
The Federal Government has not produced evidence proving Huawei poses a security risk for the NBN. The company has worked on major national fibre projects in over eight other countries, including New Zealand and the UK.
NBN Co boss Mike Quigley refused to comment as to whether Huawei’s communications equipment had been assessed in order to determine whether it could be configured to allow security backdoors.