Victoria’s Labor government has added an extra $25 million to its $10 million pre-election pledge to encrypt the radio network used by the state’s rural police.
The party’s pre-election funding commitment attracted criticism from the Liberal opposition, which described the project budget as “so far off the mark it would be amusing if it weren't so irresponsible”.
Emergency Services Minister Wade Noonan this morning said the upcoming state budget, Labor’s first since returning to power, would include $11.5 million in funding to replace the rural StateNet radio network with an encrypted, digital network unable to be intercepted by radio scanners or police scanner apps.
"No longer will criminals or eavesdroppers have more sophisticated communication than country police," Noonan said in a statement.
The funding will be bolstered by a further $23.8 million the government intends to “reprioritise” from existing operational budgets.
Last year, then-shadow minister Noonan complained of the threat to police safety created by the insecurity of the analogue rural network, which gives anyone with a radio scanner the ability to eavesdrop on police communications.
His comments echoed similar complaints made by the Victorian Auditor-General just months before.
At present, Victoria Police officers are unable to access the central crimes database LEAP outside of a station, meaning all vehicle and identity checks must be radioed in, potentially compromising highly sensitive and private data in the unencrypted rural areas.
Police will begin to decommission StateNet in July this year, with the replacement solution to be introduced from July 2017.
Metropolitan police in Victoria, including greater Geelong, have enjoyed the added security of full encryption for several years since the metropolitan mobile radio (MMR) network was installed.
Queensland’s rural and regional police are still fighting for the same level of encryption as their Victorian counterparts. The state’s $357 million government wireless network will only cover emergency services in the metropolitan east corner.