Friday, May 22, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Long farce
It may be time to reconsider the Huawei ban

© David Hancock / Alamy

As Australia’s relationship with China deteriorates – today it’s restrictions on coal imports, and who knows what’ll be next – there is a lot of finger-pointing going on about who is to blame. Both major political parties, as well as most analysts and commentators, have supported Australia’s push for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, which got up in a modified form at the World Health Assembly this week. So, blame has to be found elsewhere. The Australian is predictably picking on [$] Labor, poking at leader Anthony Albanese for failing to discipline frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon, who told Sky News that the government was “demonising the Chinese”. This came after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack this morning attacked Labor for politicising the China relationship, saying it was a “Team Australia” moment. For good measure, the paper’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan lays into Daniel Andrews, accusing him of betraying Australia’s national interests by signing Victoria up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative – and the editorial calls the premier “Comrade Dan”. All this is a distraction. The fact is, it is the Morrison government that has responsibility for the China relationship, and it is not doing very well. Perhaps it is time for the federal Coalition to re-evaluate a decision, made all on its own, that goes to the heart of Australia’s trouble with China: the ban on tech giant Huawei’s participation in the 5G network build.

Like many decisions made by former prime minister and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull – switching to a mixed-technology NBN, building French submarines in Adelaide, Snowy 2.0 – the Huawei ban sounded clever at the time, but has subsequently proved highly problematic. Simply put, Huawei is a dominant supplier of 5G antennas, and Australia has struggled to find alternatives. European giants Nokia and Ericsson, who now have a duopoly here, had to concede to a recent parliamentary inquiry into 5G (after taking questions on notice) that they source 5G equipment from Chinese joint venture partners. Nokia Shanghai Bell is a joint venture with state-owned China Huaxin Post & Telecommunication, and works on 5G, while Ericsson Panda includes as shareholders the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Committee. Huawei, by contrast, is privately owned. So what benefit, exactly, does Australia get from this ban?

In its submission to the inquiry, Huawei pointed out the “enormous cost and consequences” from the 5G ban, including slower speeds and higher-cost mobile and internet, especially in regional Australia. Last week’s final report by the committee – for which national security matters were not within its scope – recommended that the federal government investigate ways to encourage the manufacture of 5G infrastructure within Australia, or that manufacturing partnerships be considered with our Five Eyes partners Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, perhaps facilitated by a 5G R&D Innovation Fund.

Huawei is represented here by independent law firm Xenophon Davis, a partnership between former Senator Nick Xenophon and Walkley-winning former investigative journalist Mark Davis. In two forensic, bruising articles, the firm argued firstly that this “quixotic plan” is highly unlikely, given the state of Australian manufacturing – we don’t even make black-and-white TVs anymore! Secondly, after picking over Turnbull’s recently published memoir A Bigger Picture, the two lawyers point out that the former PM himself admits there was “no smoking gun” to justify the 2018 Huawei ban, and that the approach taken was “a hedge against a future threat”. They write: “Suspicions that Huawei was a spy front were repeated around the world ad nauseum and given the legitimacy of being based on undisclosed ‘Australian intelligence’. But in his newly released autobiography, Malcolm Turnbull has let the cat out of the bag on what that Australian intelligence was. Nothing. Zilch. Zip.”

Perhaps, if Australia was genuinely looking to reset the relationship with China, 5G might be a good place to start.

BREAKING NEWS: In a stunningly embarrassing update, Treasury has announced that as a result of about a thousand businesses making significant errors when self-reporting in their applications for the JobKeeper scheme, which bizarrely hadn’t been picked up until today, the total cost of the program had almost halved – from $130 billion to $70 billion – and that the number of employees likely to be covered under the program was likely to be around 3.5 million, rather than the 6.5 million originally forecast.

“Clearly the #NCCC is doing more than what the PM answered in #qt. We need accountability before public $ is spent, not after like #sportsrorts. Serious risks of corruption around coronavirus response. We need #NIC with teeth.”

The independent member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, reacts to news that Attorney-General Christian Porter has again delayed the introduction of legislation for a federal integrity commission.

“The actions announced reflect our continued focus on investing in Kmart, a business with a compelling customer offer and strong competitive advantages, while also improving the viability of Target by addressing some of its structural challenges by simplifying the business model.”

Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott announces the closure of up to 75 Target stores Australia-wide, along with the rebranding of another 92 into Kmart stores.

Don’t mention the trade war
The Morrison government is working hard to disguise the trade war opening up with China. But its excitement over an inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak cannot cover the fact our largest trading partner is turning away our goods. Paul Bongiorno on the prime minister’s unhappy predicament.


The number of Coalition backbenchers – Barnaby Joyce, Craig Kelly and Matt Canavan – who are concerned that Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s “roadmap”, released yesterday, is not pro-coal enough.

“The federal Liberal and Nationals government will deliver a $1.8 billion boost for road and community projects through local governments across Australia … The new $500 million Local Road and Community Infrastructure Program and the bringing forward of $1.3 billion of the 2020–21 Financial Assistance Grant payment will also help communities battling the effects of COVID-19.”

The prime minister and deputy prime minister announce another local funding program, which has nothing to do with marginal electorates.

The list

“In his immensely readable and engaging first book, Swedish journalist Patrik Svensson invites us to celebrate the elusiveness of eels and their refusal to be comprehended. The Gospel of the Eels (Picador) is a personal story about Svensson and his father, and a summary of the complicated history of eel research. But it’s also a compelling meditation on the intellectual and spiritual importance of mystery.”

“For much of the trial he represented himself, using the platform to abuse the prosecutor and the judge. (One day, Acting Justice Kenneth Carruthers asked if the accused had any questions of a police witness. ‘Yes,’ said Eastman, ‘I wish to ask your Honour why you are such a lying cunt.’ His Honour, who had been briefed on Eastman’s paranoid personality disorder, replied: ‘I will treat that as a no.’)”

“It was believed a whale had gone mad at the mouth of the river. Several fishing boats had been destroyed in acts of violence so extraordinary they were deemed inhuman. Each attack had come at dusk, while the boats were passing the heads on their way back to port – the same area where plumes of spray had been seen erupting from the water. Large transport ships reported strange and powerful vibrations ringing through their hulls. Gulls flew strangely, cormorants seemed skittish. Ocean swimmers’ strokes were thrown out of rhythm by a high, ancient melody that rose through the salt. A fluked tail had been seen troubling the waves.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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