Chinese telco Huawei has been subjected to “an unprecedented and malicious campaign of smear and innuendo” and reserved the right to take legal action against organisations that “falsely” attacked the company as a state-owned security risk, its Australian lawyer Nick Xenophon said on Tuesday.
Mr Xenophon, a former SA independent senator who announced last year that he had added the Chinese telecommunications giant to his client list, confirmed he would be taking part in the planned series of “town hall” meetings where Huawei executives will launch a national community-based charm offensive to better the company’s reputation.
The company is scheduling forums in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra next month entitled “Let’s Talk Huawei” as a part of a lobbying effort to convince the Commonwealth to revisit its ban on Huawei operating Australia’s 5G network.
Mr Xenophon, who since leaving politics has returned to his career as an Adelaide-based plaintiff lawyer, said the campaign against Huawei was “probably the biggest vilification of any company in the history of Australia”.
“It’s the sort of thing you would expect against company like James Hardie, not a business that is promising to be transparent and open and simply asking to be treated like everyone else,” Mr Xenophon told The Australian.
“The company has been unfairly maligned. It’s been an unprecedented campaign of smear and innuendo. This is a company that until not so long ago in Australia was employing close to 1000 people but has now reduced its workforce with hundreds of jobs shed because of decisions that have been made.
“I am not here to criticise the Australian government but my hope is that the decision will be revisited and looked at with the facts.”
Asked if it would be his role as a lawyer for Huawei to seek legal redress for being frozen out of the 5G contract, Mr Xenophon said the company had no intention of taking legal action against the Commonwealth but simply wanted “open dialogue”.
But without naming names, Mr Xenophon said there were some think tanks that had used “total fabrications” to attack the company. “In terms of their malicious comments made against Huawei that’s something that is being looked at,” he said. “Huawei has been attacked as being a security risk. Not only is there no smoking gun, there’s not even a dribbling water pistol. These are incessant attacks on a company purely on the basis of where its headquarters are. They can’t keep saying things that are manifestly untrue about the company.”
Mr Xenophon said the company hoped that by opening itself up to scrutiny Huawei could win public understanding and encourage the Commonwealth to reconsider its ban, especially in light of the British government’s decision to allow Huawei to operate in the UK.
He said Australia risked reputational damage as being anti-investment over its 5G ban.
“These town hall meetings are unprecedented for a company to be doing,” he said. “They want to be opened up to scrutiny, they want to be transparent, they want to explain what they do and how they do it.
“It’s not just for their reputation, it’s also for their employees who feel pretty battered with this unprecedented smear campaign that we have seen from some of the think tanks. They have been in this country for 16 years and abided by all the rules.
Australia is a country that has a rules-based system, an open and fair legal system, and Huawei has been smeared without basis. It’s dangerous to Australia’s reputation as a rules-based society which welcomes foreign investment on fair terms for this to be happening.”