Sources within the Australian government described the decision as “concerning”, but said it would need to review the safeguards Britain has mandated in its decision.
Australia, the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand are members of the “Five Eyes” alliance that shares highly sensitive intelligence with each other.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the Morrison government now needed to clarify whether Britain’s decision could impact on the Five Eyes sharing network.
Britain will limit the use of Huawei’s equipment to the “fringe” of the network, supplying no more than 35 per cent of equipment such as masts and antennas. The company will also be excluded from sensitive locations, including areas near nuclear sites and military bases.
A senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, Tom Uren, said excluding Huawei from “security-critical” areas of the network was “risk mitigation” but “not a safeguard”.
“The first and often hardest step in compromising a network is having a foothold to build upon, and it becomes very hard to defend a network once attackers are operating within it,” he said.
“Having equipment in a network is that foothold. The risk is that this initial presence could be expanded into serious compromise, and many serious hacks arise from a seemingly minor compromise.”
Mr Uren said intelligence agencies spent a lot of time guaranteeing they can communicate securely and they should still have good reasons to share information, but the broader relationship between the US and Britain could be damaged.
He said Britain’s decision also highlighted the lack of choice in the supply of equipment to mobile operators for their 5G networks.
Jeremy Mitchell, director of corporate and public affairs at Huawei Australia, said the British government’s decision proved “beyond doubt” there was a way to manage security on 5G networks without excluding vendors “simply for being from a certain country”.
“The UK government has clearly put the interests of the UK and its own citizens first in taking this decision that we warmly welcome,” he said.
“This decision has ensured that UK consumers will get access to the best 5G technology available in the global market and get access to it at affordable prices.”
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.