Australia

Labor MP calls for Chinese telco giant to be blocked from building 5G network

labor-mp-calls-for-chinese-telco-giant-to-be-blocked-from-building-5g-network

Labor backbencher Michael Danby is ramping up his calls for a Chinese telecommunications giant to be blocked from building Australia's 5G mobile network, after it was forced out of a deal to build a 4,000 kilometre undersea internet cable.

The Federal Government muscled its way into the high speed telecommunications fibre project between Australia and the Solomon Islands, after serious security concerns were raised by Australia's top spy about Huawei's links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Federal Parliament is soon to debate foreign interference legislation, seeking to curb the influence of overseas powers.

Huawei has previously launched a furious defence of its independence, with its local chairman telling the ABC his company was more of a cooperative than a state-owned enterprise.

"What a load of tosh," Mr Danby said, stating Huawei officials had told parliament's intelligence and security committee some years ago that it reported to Beijing ruling political class.

"I'm not criticising them because all Beijing-based companies have to do that, but to say that they're just a commercial organisation and a workers cooperative is simply laughable.

"Who do these people think we are, fools?"

Bipartisan concerns over Huawei's suitability for critical infrastructure projects have been raised before, with the decision to block the company from having any role in the construction of the NBN.

"If a Chinese large company wants to try and build a fruit and vegetable exporting empire in the Ord and Fitzroy River, I'm less concerned about that than the electronic backdoor to Australia," Mr Danby said.

"Australia is a capital poor country, and we need Beijing based investment, and we certainly should be colourblind, and shouldn't respond to nationalist sentiment that Chinese investment should be barred.

"On matters like the electronic spine of Australia, the new 5G network which will control the internet of things — automatically driven cars, lifts, medical technology — I don't think it's appropriate to sell or allow a company like Huawei to participate."

Companies such as Huawei could be forced on to proposed foreign agents register

The second plank of the Federal Government's foreign espionage legislation involves the establishment of a register of those lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, forcing them to declare their presence in Australia.

Attorney-General Christian Porter proposed amendments to that bill after concerns were raised by the Opposition that the original proposal would capture relatively innocent parties such as universities and charities.

The narrower proposal focuses on companies where foreign governments own 15 per cent of its shares, or have the ability to appoint 20 per cent of its board members.

It also gives the Secretary of the Attorney-General's department the power to place a company on the foreign agents register, even if that company does not self-report.

That could ensnare Huawei, although the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his chief law officer avoided directly answering questions on the matter on Wednesday.

"The assessments … as to whether somebody is covered by this legislation, will have to be made by the people concerned," Mr Turnbull said.

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