Labour: Key looking the other way as Australia bans Huawei

Labour ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran has accused the government of "stone-walling" over Huawei's involvement in the $1.35 billion Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) project.

Huawei's involvement in the UFB is part of a much more complicated two-way relationship between China and New Zealand. NBR understands from an insider at the company that Huawei is watching the Crafar Farms deal closely, wary of how broader public and political sentiment could impact on its own business.

Over the weekend, it was revealed the Chinese telecommunications giant had been banned from Australia's National Broadband Network following government suspicions over cyber-attacks originating from China.

On Radio NZ, former US Defence Department analyst and University of Auckland academic turned turned private consultant Paul Buchanan said Huawei would like to gain access to the Echelon network, which includes the Waihopai "spy base" in New Zealand (Echelon members include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

Crown fibre networks and other infrastructure projects could be used to plant secrete eavesdropping devices, Dr Buchanan says.

The Chinese telecommunications giant is supplying networking gear and network management services to two UFB winners: Enable in Christchurch, and UltraFast Fibre (whose Crown fibre contract includes Tauranga, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Whanganui). 

Huawei is also supplying components for the Chorus leg of the public-private $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), and - along with a second Chiinese company, Axin - has proposed laying a transtasman submarine cable.

“While the Australian Government has banned Huawei from tendering for any contracts attached to its $36 billion broadband scheme, our Prime Minister blithely says he is ‘comfortable with checks done’ over the security of the New Zealand network," Ms Curran says.

“The Australians are considered to be a partner in terms of our security and intelligence relationships. If they are concerned enough to ban Huawei from bidding for the broadband contract, why has New Zealand allowed three taxpayer-funded contracts to go ahead without a more robust probe into the implications for the integrity of our network?"

Acting Prime Minister Gerry Brownlee had refused to even confirm if John Key has been briefed on the reasons for the Australian government’s ban on Huawei for the broadband contracts, Ms Curran said.

“Essentially our government is looking the other way and refusing to take a second look at the contracts that have been given to Huawei despite the intense public interest in this matter."

The Labour MP has previously criticised Crown Fibre Holdings (the state-owned company that oversees the UFB and selected co-investment partners) for allowing director Murray Milner to accept contract work from Huawei. 

Green MP Gareth Hughes says the government should investigate why the Australian government has chosen to block Huawei from its National Broadband Network, and is investigating Huawei Marine's proposed Perth-Singapore cable.

While the Australian government has put the heat on Huawei, Prime Minister John Key returned from the Shanghai World Expo actively promoting the company.

On Monday, ICT Minister Amy Adams refused comment on Huawei specifically, but told NBR, “Network security is an issue we take seriously. The government will work with all suppliers and operators to address any security concerns that may be identified, and is committed to working with operators and suppliers to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the UFB and RBI networks.”

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