At a recent security industry meeting, the question was raised, yet again, why more had not been done to standardise (harmonise) regulation and training of the private security industry across all Australian states and territories, especially by industry peak bodies and associations.
Harmonisation of job skills and regulation has been an industry topic since regulatory changes commenced in the early 1990s; however, momentum did not really happen until after a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in July 2008 placed Australia’s security and emergency management arrangements firmly on the agenda. It stated:
“COAG agreed to adopt a nationally consistent approach to the regulation of the private security industry, focusing initially on the guarding sector of the industry, to improve the probity, competence and skills of security personnel and the mobility of security industry licences across jurisdictions. COAG asked the MCPEM [Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management], in consultation with the Security Industry Regulators Forum, to undertake further work on minimum regulatory standards for the technical sector of the industry by mid-2009, as well as proposals for a possible national system for security industry licensing by mid-2010.” (COAG Meeting Agenda, 3 July 2008).
Whilst the focus of this meeting was on harmonisation of industry regulation, at a previous COAG meeting, Vocational Education and Training (VET) and higher education were also on the agenda, drawing a nexus between regulatory gaps and training gaps, an issue that still plagues the security industry today – but more on the training gap further in the article.
The issue of transportability of security licences between jurisdictions has been the subject of much debate and occasionally even great hypocrisy. In 2006, security contractors for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne were unable to meet the scope of supply from local resources and therefore relied heavily on personnel from other jurisdictions. Hundreds of security personnel were transported to Melbourne from many states under a mutual recognition agreement and issued a fast-track visitor permit with minimal or no assessment of competence. This process became even more rubbery as changing demands at short notice created more and more gaps.
As the national threat level hovers at the high end of ‘probable’, the demands on security providers to appropriately fulfil surge requirements, especially at major events, has never been greater. Unlike government agencies that pillage personnel from suburban and regional stations, leaving their normal areas undermanned to meet surge demands elsewhere in the state, private security firms have defined, ongoing contracts that must be fulfilled each week, limiting their ability to send personnel to one-off, short-term or ad hoc events. In locations where an incident is expected or has occurred, existing clients will request additional security, making private resources even scarcer. To that end, having access to personnel from other areas for a surge capacity makes good sense.
But licensed guards and crowd control personnel are not the only ones affected by a lack of harmonisation. Security specialists, like other managerial consultants, offer their expertise across the country; however, licensing restrictions limit the ability of clients to call upon specific experts unless that consultant has a licence, and often a master licence, for each state and territory. Applying for and maintaining licences across multiple states and territories is very costly and administratively intensive, thus causing many to run the gauntlet of providing a service without the necessary licensing documentation as they move in and out of their clients’ premises with scant regard to local security laws.
So, what are the impediments to harmonisation in the security industry? To get started on this question, it is worth recapping on the Commonwealth of Australia’s political history. From first colonisation in 1788, initial states and territories of Australia were partly self-governing, but under the law-making power of the British Parliament. In essence, they were like six separate countries, each with its own government, laws, defence force, stamps and collected tariffs (taxes) on goods that crossed its borders. After much debate and a referendum by the people, Australia became a unified nation in 1901 when the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania united to form the Commonwealth of Australia – the federation.
How does history relate to harmonisation? As Sir Robert Garran, a federation movement activist at the time, later reflected, “Colonies were united by a combination of fear, national sentiment and self-interest.” Could this fear and self-interest still be present today, thus stymieing the process of harmonisation?
Why is the security industry not doing more to push harmonisation and stop states and territories operating this regime at great expense? Information can be shared nationally and therefore it is possible that licences could be administered nationally, so what are the impediments?
- administration costs
- efficiency of services
- management of information
- privacy concerns
- retention of licensing revenue by the states and territories
- accountability of licensees
- where does the licensee normally reside
- how would infringements be managed
- who would undertake this function
Is a national administration the panacea of this imbroglio? Consider another industry where the federal government provides a national overlay – health care and hospitals. Currently, the federal government employs approximately 6,500 people, largely in Canberra, to administer the national health care system. They do this at great expense to the Australian taxpayer, but without holding one bandage, scalpel, hospital bed or X-ray machine within the medical sector. In fact, they have no skin in the medical game except to administer money collected by the Commonwealth then hand it back to the states and territories by way of grants after fees are taken out. If the private security industry is seeking a national licensing system administered out of Canberra, then that is potentially the same model it could expect to receive.
A more efficient and appropriate model to consider would be to leave the states and territories with ownership and control as per the status quo, but harmonise regulation and training to a consistent national framework ensuring there are no gaps in knowledge and legal requirements to accommodate licensees who move around jurisdictions to meet surge, peak and business demands.
This is what is done with a drivers licence. Harmonisation of the road traffic acts has provided a framework that permits motorists to drive in any Australian jurisdiction for the purpose of travelling and visiting without the need to obtain a local licence. Should a motorist breach local road laws then they will face the same penalties and sanctions in accordance with local laws, but against their respective state or territory licence. With that as a precedent, security licences could operate the same way.
Now, the elephant in the room – training – needs to be addressed. Since 2011, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has been the national regulator for Australia’s VET sector. ASQA regulates courses and training providers to ensure nationally approved quality standards are met so that students, employers and governments have confidence in the quality of vocational education and training outcomes delivered by Australian registered training organisations (RTOs).
The Relationship between Licensing Authorities and ASQA
ASQA recently tabled a report Training in security programs in Australia in which it outlines its responsibilities to ensure training delivered to the security industry is of a high quality and that the qualifications issued have integrity. It stated:
“While concerted action by the licensing authorities, the training package developer and ASQA is required to address these matters, progress will be impeded until the key issue of a common set of licensing requirements is agreed. As such, this important work needs to be accorded a high priority.
“The review has found that licensing authorities have held longstanding concerns about poor-quality training and assessment, including RTOs’ use of partnership arrangements for delivery and assessment (for example, cross-border arrangements); the prevalence of extremely short courses; RTOs’ use of online delivery; and unscrupulous RTOs issuing qualifications with questionable integrity. It is clear that licensing authorities – in addition to their detailed knowledge of the security sector – have access to considerable intelligence about the quality and integrity of training, risk and systemic issues and provider practices.”
Whilst ASQA have suggested some shortcomings in the current training frameworks, the current national security training package for licensing purposes is CPP20212 Certificate II in Security Operations. This nationally recognised and generally well-accepted package has seven core units and 24 elective units from which security regulators can choose from for licensing. And here is that elephant – almost every security industry regulator has different requirements on the course electives, ranging from 10 to 16 units depending on the qualification (such as unarmed guard/crowd control).
The review also found that security course durations fell significantly short of Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) requirements for certificate II and III qualifications. Over 80 percent of RTOs assessed were delivering certificate II courses, which are the minimum standard for licensing purposes, in less than three weeks (120 hours), and in some states less than two weeks. According to AQF guidelines, the volume of learning measure for a certificate II is typically 600–1200 hours (approximately 16 weeks full-time equivalent) and a certificate III is 1200–2400 hours (approximately 32 weeks full-time equivalent).
The ASQA report highlights that much of the actual and perceived failures of security personnel, especially those in the crowd control sector, stems from poor or inadequate training.
So back to achieving national harmonisation:
- Remove self-interest and revenue loss concerns.
- Standardise and improve the national training package to incorporate all jurisdiction needs.
If the security industry and government believe harmonisation of the security industry is needed to ensure appropriate supply in the future, and for technicians, consultants and industry specialists who regularly move across jurisdictions, then industry must not only support but insist that industry-specific training providers (RTOs) deliver consistent, quality training incorporating all state and territory needs.
When these items are adequately addressed, there should be no argument or push-back from security regulators accepting licences from other jurisdictions when security personnel legitimately visit interstate for work.
- agree on national training requirements and delivery methods – jurisdiction’s training and security regulators
- agree standard qualifications for security licencing – COAG and industry peak bodies
- agree cross border access and approvals – jurisdiction’s training and security regulators