Mr Purdy, who arrives in Australia on Tuesday morning for the public forums, conceded the company was “not trying to win that battle [with the Australian government] anytime soon” but said a long-term cyber security approach might one day allow the company to do more business in Australia.
“People focus on China, people focus on Huawei, but you have got the global supply chain with the major footprint in China, including our European competitors,” he said.
“Ask the experts what’s being done to address the risk that China will hack into Nokia and Ericsson’s products and be able to launch attacks inside Australia? What’s being done about that?”
Nokia and Ericsson are Huawei’s main rivals in the development of next-generation telecom networks. Huawei says the European companies’ products are more expensive and technologically inferior.
Much Nokia and Ericsson equipment is manufactured in China with state-owned joint venture partners connected to the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr Purdy said there should be an “assurance and transparency initiative for all telecom equipment suppliers”, with significant involvement from Australian network operators. Mr Purdy said Huawei was willing to fully participate in any oversight initiatives.
Last week, Huawei dissolved its Australian board, including chairman John Lord’s position, facing growing job losses linked to the ban on its participation in 5G.
Australia was the first country to ban the company from supplying technology for 5G networks. The United States also announced a prohibition while Britain has diverged from its key intelligence allies, allowing Huawei limited involvement in its rollout.
Earlier this year, a former Australian intelligence official went public to detail how the government investigated whether it was “possible to prevent a sophisticated state actor from accessing our networks through a vendor”, ultimately concluding it could not be done.
“We asked ourselves, if we had the powers akin to the 2017 Chinese Intelligence Law to direct a company which supplies 5G equipment to telco networks, what could we do with that and could anyone stop us?” Simeon Gilding wrote for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“We concluded that we could be awesome, no one would know and, if they did, we could plausibly deny our activities, safe in the knowledge that it would be too late to reverse billions of dollars’ worth of investment.”
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.