A squad of 50 drones will join the ranks of Victoria Police with the primary task of keeping tabs on suspected terrorists with the potential to use facial recognition technology.
The force unveiled its plans for the flock of automated aircraft on Wednesday when acting Premier Lisa Neville said the public shouldn't be concerned by the eyes in the sky.
"How do we ensure Victoria Police have the technology and the equipment they need to make our state safer? To detect crime, to prevent crime, particularly those high-harm crimes like terrorism?" she asked.
"This is what that's focused on, it's not about innocent people being surveilled."
The government will spend up to $300,000 buying the drones, developing a Melbourne base, and training up to 70 "pilots". The scheme will also be rolled out to regional areas.
"It will be a really important additional tool for our counter-terrorism teams, for our water police who will use this for things like illegal fishing," Ms Neville said.
Police Inspector Craig Shepherd did not use terrorism as an example of how the drones would be used. But he noted there was "certainly the opportunity" to combine the use of drones with facial recognition technology in the future.
He pointed to their usefulness in search-and-rescue operations, including the ability to deliver a bottle of water or GPS tracker to people lost in the bush.
The drone could also be deployed when a fight breaks out among crowds at the footy, Insp Shepherd noted.
"The police commanders on the ground will actually be able to see when things are unfolding, when a fight breaks out, when someone's being endangered by protesters, or where there's a collision or congestion happening in the environment."
The drones will be fitted with a 360-degree camera.
"We don't need to fly it over crowds because the cameras give us the ability to move that camera at any angle, at any pitch," Insp Shepherd added.
Civil libertarians are cautious about the introduction of police drones.
"Currently the police need a warrant to come and have a look at your property. Would there actually be the same requirement of a warrant to fly over and have a good look in someone's backyard or in someone's house?" Liberty Victoria president Jessie Taylor told radio 3AW.
Ms Neville said the police drones would have to operate within the state's privacy laws.
Australian Associated Press