A self-regulating security profession is the best option to resolve the mess that exists in Australian security licensing regimes. Supporting Security Professionals Australasia and becoming a registered security professional with the Security Professionals’ Registry (Australasia) [SPR-A] will help drive positive change.
Whether a supplier or a consumer of security services, it is in everyone’s interests to see a more professional security industry. Security Professionals Australia (SPA) is the federated body consisting of representatives from industry groups, professional associations and institutions, government and tertiary education as well as individual members – both registered security professionals and leaders who have demonstrated commitment to the development of the security profession. Together, they represent the collective voice of the security profession. As the representative body, SPA sets professional standards for security practitioners and promotes their common vocation to serve and sustain the security of the community. In delivering industry self-regulation, SPA also has a key thought-leadership and advocacy role for the profession and within the public domain in general in relation to security matters that impact the community.
Security licensing in Australia has demonstrably decreased competition and resulted in lower quality services at higher prices without improving societal security. The security industry is as diverse as the society it seeks to protect. Security licensing regimes in the states and territories are being operated as profit centres for cash-strapped governments where applicants either fit within a ‘box’ or do not. Based on requirements for only nominal education standards and police checking, the regime delivers minimal regulatory outcome and has resulted in no measurable improvement in the quality of security service provision.
The restraint of trade imposed by state licensing schemes that require professionals to have separate licences for each state or territory increases costs and reduces flexibility for suppliers and consumers of security services alike. As an example, just think of providers servicing Queanbeyan, NSW, which is effectively a dormitory suburb of Canberra. Many highly specialised Canberra firms do not hold licences in both jurisdictions. For large firms, they may not be able to move their specialists between contracts. Effectively, this means less competition, higher prices and lower quality overall. To state the obvious, this is not a stated objective of the security licensing regime as it stands in 2015. The same state of affairs holds true in Hobart and Melbourne.
What is Professional Self-Regulation?
SPA aims to change the landscape by building the case for self-regulation for security professionals. Self-regulation of a profession through registration is a well-understood path; it is one of the oldest means of controlling the practice of professions. Government authority delegated to professions has provided them with a significant autonomy and authority in identifying professionals. In the 21st century, the emphasis on self-regulation is an underlying focus on protection of the public and society at large. This idea encapsulates the difference between a profession and a job. Beyond being an expert in a particular field, a professional has a higher calling to their society through their adherence to ethical standards.
By becoming self-regulating, a profession gains greater autonomy and control, but also professional prestige. At the same time, with great power comes great responsibility; the regulatory body for a profession is able to set entry requirements and standards for practice. In addition, the regulatory body provides members of the profession with a voice into government. An individual who wants to be part of the profession is judged by their peers. This provides a transparent means by which competency and professional standards are defined and implemented throughout the profession and across Australia and New Zealand.
Prestige comes with becoming a professional and there are commensurate financial benefits to professionals from the increase in demand for services of a profession due to the public’s trust that registered professionals have high standards.
Many Australian professionals have some form of self-regulation and have developed self-regulation and registration schemes. Medical practitioners, accountants, engineers and lawyers are all professionals where self-regulation plays some role in upholding standards. In many cases, professional self-regulation schemes involve co-regulation with government, as the professions are so important to modern life. There is a similar picture in countries like New Zealand, the UK and Canada.
In light of the scope and criticality of the services provided by the security profession, there is no doubt that effective regulation is called for. However, until now, the profession has been subject to various state and territory licensing regimes only. The registry function within SPA represents the only time that a nationally consistent regulatory framework has been implemented. In providing a self-regulatory framework in which professional standards, professional development and competencies can be delivered, measured and developed through time, SPA is providing an essential service and is saving substantial red tape for government.
Security professionals, and those seeking to be recognised as such, are now able to have their skills, qualifications, experience and attributes assessed, recognised and registered. This is a powerful enabler for professionalising the industry and a substantial public good – registering security practitioners against established competencies and ethical standards enhances their ability to meet their primary duty to the community and to maintain recognised professional standards.
The Self-Regulation Opportunity for Government
Self-regulation is also a significant opportunity for governments. Allowing self-regulation enables governments to demonstrate that they are working to protect the public. At the same time, government remains at arm’s length from registrants, insulating them from responsibility for individual failure. In this way, governments can demand the profession meets ethical standards without having the expense of policing them.
The government also saves the expense of hiring other professionals to create specialised standards and rules for different specialities within the profession. Setting and evaluating highly specialised standards is something that governments do not do efficiently or effectively. Moreover, because the profession regulates itself, it is also able to be more flexible in its regulatory process and change rules as circumstances change. This is especially important to the security industry with the constant change that it is experiencing in security practice. Specifically for the security profession, given the current licensing morass, there is an opportunity for government to reduce red tape while at the same time improve security outcomes by encouraging and promoting development of self-regulation at the security professional level by streamlining the security licensing process.
SPA is undertaking the self-regulation journey by creating an Australasia-wide registration scheme for security professionals that provides a transparent means by which competency and professional standards are defined and implemented throughout the profession. The benefits of a nationally consistent registration process for government and the community that incorporates a robust ‘fit and proper’ test include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Procurement: The new arrangements provide a credible means for the validation of claims regarding professional standards and competencies made by organisations and individuals tendering to provide services. The various licensing regimes that exist in some state and territory jurisdictions do not. Moreover, because the registration scheme is Australasia wide, it does not preclude experts from crossing between state and territory borders, unlike the current licences do in practice. This represents substantial benefit in government and private sector procurement decision making. Agencies can get the best talent at the best price. SPA is seeing examples of this emerging in Commonwealth procurement, but this needs to be a common inclusion in all procurement decision making.
- Employment: Mobility of security professionals within government and between sectors is also served by the capability of employment decision-making processes to validate claims regarding professional standards and competencies. As with procurement, such validation has been difficult in the past and decision-making processes in this regard can only benefit from the new arrangements.
- Free flow of skills and experience: A nationally recognised means of recognising the competency and professional standards of practitioners will promote a deeper understanding of the essential nature of security services within the community and will enhance ‘cross border flows’ of skills and experience across the security domain.
- Professionalism and a body of knowledge: SPA provides thought leadership and policy in key areas, including education, certification and continuing professional development, professional conduct, and national and international standards. Input and policy development regarding these matters are provided for the greater good and, in particular, in support of the work of the SPR–A in its registration decision making.
These critical areas of work will enable the security profession to align itself more closely with the public good and the needs of the community.
What this Means
Looking forward, given that these arrangements are in the interests of the security industry and the community more broadly, readers should:
- encourage those engaged in security management, policy and implementation to register as recognised security professionals
- encourage government agencies and the community to look favourably upon registered professionals in recruitment and promotion to security management positions
- promote the benefits of the new arrangements in government and business procurement decision making by treating registration as at least a desirable attribute for tenderers
Alex Webling is a registered security professional and a director of Security Professionals Australasia. Visit www.securityprofessionals.org.au for more information.