Unsecure police radios at centre of Victorian election battle

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Unsecure police radios at centre of Victorian election battle

Will $10 million be enough to do the job?

Victoria's Labor and Liberal parties are battling over much how it will cost to replace the unsecure analog radio communications system used by the state’s regional police and emergency services with an encrypted network.

The Labor opposition this morning announced that, if elected, it would spend $10 million to ensure police movements and other sensitive information were kept safe from eavesdroppers and criminals by replacing regional Victoria's StateNet Mobile Radio system with a “secure and encrypted” digital network.

"You can download an app and listen to your heart’s content,"  Shadow Police Minister Wade Noonan said of the existing system on radio 3AW this morning.

“The concerning aspect for police is that their movements can be tracked on a 15 second delay. So if they are going to do a random gun license check, for example, and are providing details on air, anyone who’s got an interest in those issues, who may have had a past record, actually understands those issues.

“It’s a major security risk. In this period of heightened risk around police, this notion that you can listen in to any police conversation right around country Victoria, know where police are, know how many police there are, know where gaps exist, just needs to be shut down.”

Noonan said Labor had costed the replacement - which he said would involve up to 3000 police radios - at around $10 million, following discussions with Victoria Police.

The legacy regional radio network - which is used by all rural emergency responders and the Victoria State Emergency Service - has also been the subject of criticism from the Victorian Auditor-General, who last week called it a “safety risk” and urged the state government to expand the digital Metropolitan Mobile Radio network out to the regions.

But the Liberal state government said $10 million would fall far short, claiming Victoria Police and the state’s Treasury had already costed the project at more than $50 million.

"They are so far off the mark it would be amusing if it weren't so irresponsible, $10 million would not even be enough to pay for the radios," Minister for Police and Emergency Services Kim Wells said in a statement.

"Labor seem to think that they can simply buy a few radios and everything will change.”

Despite its criticisms of the Labor policy, the Liberal government has declined to commit to funding the modernisation of the network. A spokesperson said the government's law and order policies would be released closer to the election.

The StateNet network is one of two analog communications networks left in Victoria for emergency services alongside the the emergency alerting system, a one-way pager network for public sector use.

Victoria's mobile data network (which is used for data-only communication between certain police and ambulance vehicles), the metropolitan mobile radio network, and the new rural mobile network (currently only used by the CFA), are all digital.

The Victorian general election will be held on 29 November.

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