Australia's Police Federation has accused the Government of putting profit before community safety, slamming scoping work to run an emergency services mobile broadband network in the 800 MHz spectrum band.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy this week revealed they would form a steering committee to examine whether 800 MHz spectrum could support the proposed network.
In a sign the issue was heading for a public showdown, Federation president Vince Kelly told iTnews that police commissioners could boycott the committee process.
"Even if they invited us I don't know we'd want to be involved in [a process] which is ultimately avoiding the issue and going to give us a second-best outcome," Kelly said.
"Why would we [the Federation] and commissioners of police want to be involved in [that]?"
Emergency services had asked for a section of prized 700 MHz digital dividend spectrum to be reserved for their network.
The proposal was met with stiff opposition from the commercial telecommunications sector, who want 700 MHz spectrum to launch next-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband services.
Peak telco bodies were yesterday welcoming of Canberra's attempts to bump the discussion into a different spectral band.
But the Government faced a tough battle convincing emergency services of the merits of 800 MHz – a band the Police Federation had not even considered a distant third or fourth option in a proposal made public late last year.
By setting up a steering committee to "evaluate" 800 MHz, Kelly said the clear message from Government was that they wouldn't reserve any 700 MHz spectrum, despite it being the "clear and obvious" solution to emergency communications needs.
"All the experts on emergency management in this country believe 700 MHz is the immediate solution – it's available and should simply be reserved," Kelly said.
"The argument [for 700 MHz] has been clearly articulated by the police commissioners, [the Federation] and the peak body representing fire and ambulance services.
"The Government should not put profit and the telcos ahead of community safety."
Kelly said that arguments that 800 MHz was a regional standard for emergency communications weren't correct.
And he was critical of Conroy and McClelland for attempting to make a decision themselves rather than submitting the emergency services proposal to cabinet.
"It should be considered by the entire Government," Kelly said.
The prospect of wider involvement in a decision on the issue became more certain overnight as interest in the issue shifted to the minor parties.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam told a Senate debate on the digital dividend last night that the party wanted to take bills associated with the dividend "to the committee stage" to provide an opportunity to probe Conroy over the emergency services allocation.
"We understand the Government is still considering whether or not to reserve part of the digital dividend in the 700 MHz band for police and emergency services, and if so how that will be organised," Ludlam said.
"I will indicate now I have a number of questions with regard to this issue and a couple of others, and that I will be proposing that we take this bill into the committee stage so that we can debate some of these issues with the Minister."
Ludlam referred to an Access Economics report commissioned by the Attorney-General that was said to conclude that profits from the 700 MHz spectrum auction would not be adversely affected by giving away a 20 MHz block to emergency services.
"I understand that the Attorney has a report from Access Economics which says that setting aside 20 MHz of spectrum for natural disasters may not reduce the proceeds from auction because of the scarcity value of the spectrum," Ludlam said.
"In effect, [reserving a 20 MHz block] decreases the amount that is available for bidding, which has been described as the waterfront property of radio spectrum."