Wednesday, 13 June 2018 10:39

Australia, Solomons to sign deal on undersea cable first stage Featured

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Australia and the Solomon Islands will sign a deal on Wednesday for the first stage of construction of an undersea cable system linking the Solomons and Papua New Guinea to Sydney. It will cost Australian taxpayers in excess of $100 million in toto.

The project, initially awarded to Chinese firm Huawei Telecommunications by the Solomons, was later awarded to Australian company Vocus Group after the intervention of the spy agency, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

The prime minister of the Solomons, Rick Houenipwela, is on a visit to Australia. He and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will sign an agreement in Canberra for the first stage of the project.

Australia confirmed in April that there would be no role for Huawei, when Turnbull said that Canberra would provide most of the funds, with a small co-contribution from PNG and the Solomons. The ABC's AM program said the cost to the Australian taxpayer would be in excess of $100 million and it would come from the aid budget.

Prior to that, in January, Vocus announced that it had entered into a deal with the Federal Government to undertake a scoping study on design, construction and procurement for the cable system. That study is understood to have been completed.

In New Zealand last week, Houenipwela confirmed that Huawei had been forced out of the cable project due to Australia's security concerns; however, he did not elaborate on what those concerns were.

Last July, it was reported that Australia was putting pressure on the Solomon Islands to withdraw from the Project Honiara undersea cable project after the contract was awarded to Huawei.

Security concerns were said to be the reason why Australian officials had made the request which was, tellingly, conveyed to then Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare by Nick Warner, the director-general of the spy agency ASIS.

Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have said that Huawei did not approach the Australian Government to obtain leave to connect into the Australian network before the government made its offer to the Solomon Islands.

Daniel Sloper of DFAT's Pacific division, told a Senate Estimates hearing in May: "In terms of Huawei, the company you mentioned, at no point did that company or, in fact, the Solomon Islands' responsible telecommunication authority that would be submitting applications, put forward an application to Australia."

Comment has been sought from Huawei.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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