The Time To Build Relationships Is Before A Disaster

    DisasterA disproportionate interest in terrorism is resulting in the Government and policy makers failing in the fundamentals of national security, which must entail an all-hazards approach to security and risk mitigation.

    Having spent more than 14 years building relationships through the Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) and the Security in Government (SIG) annual conference, policy wonks scrapped the latter and allowed the former to become all but moribund.

    SIG, held each year, was routinely attended by over 500 delegates comprised of Government Agency Security Advisors and, increasingly, corporate security managers. An associated exhibition and sponsorship subsidised the event, which not only meant the conference was priced to suit security department budgets but also generated a profit of more than $70,000, which the Attorney-General’s department used to fund outreach projects. All this and at no real cost to the department, since organising the entire event was outsourced. Someone somewhere decided to scrap the event. No one understands why.

    The fact is, 90 percent of critical infrastructure in Australia is privately owned — and even more rely on private security for protection. To have an annual event that briefs, educates and informs is eminently desirable. To be able to do so at a profit seems eminently sensible.

    This lack of understanding of the relationships between all concerned with the protection of the nation has had a knock-on effect for the Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN).

    To be sure, the TISN has been successful in the area of the financial sector, which was allowed to run its own race and, indeed, funded a project officer to assist it. Other sectors, however, did not get to the same level of understanding and, thus, were unconvinced about funding further development.

    In the past four months, A-G’s has gone through at least three reshuffles and Mr Brandis’  position as Attorney-General is tenuous at best.  And, no wonder, given the lack of leadership. The fact is the security profession has had no clear engagement since Mr Ruddock and, to an extent, Mr McClelland, both of whom would attend industry events and spend time with people at the sharp end of the stick. When I suggested to an AGD senior staffer that the current A-G would do well to follow suit, I was told: “Good luck with that, if you don’t have the CEOs there”.

    Mr Brandis did recently reach out to CEOs with an invite to a sit down with him on national security matters. The CEOs naturally checked with their security managers and advisors, most of whom, if not all, told them not to bother. Most declined, offering to send their senior security person. However Mr Brandis made it clear it was a “personal invitation” and there was no need to send anyone else; clearly talking to people knowledgeable about security was not the aim.

    Clearly, something needs to change and relying on the government simply will not do.

    The conversation, however, repeatedly returns to who should speak on behalf of the industry?

    Part of the problem is the nature of security. A head of security for a major corporation, for example, could hardly speak out on security issues for fear of falling foul of their media/communications/branding/marketing department (or communications prevention department, depending on your view).

    In other industries the role would fall to the likes of industry associations or institutes.

    The Australian Security Industry Association Limited (ASIAL) performs well in providing member services to primarily small to medium size security providers. ASIS — despite attempts at rebranding as an international organisation — remains resolutely US-centric in content, American in outlook, and swallows up fees without investing in local operations.

    The effectiveness of other institutes and associations wax and wane depending on individuals championing their cause. None could claim to be a political force.

    The solution would be a platform for meaningful dialogue with a view to communication and cooperation across a range of public and private organisations and issues.

    But the dialogue needs to take place between those who know about security and those with the power to do something about it in order to ensure that Australia is prepared to respond and recover from an incident, regardless of the cause.

    It is also a dialogue sadly silent today.

    Rod Cowan
    Rod Cowan has contributed for over 30 years to security around the world through his writing, teaching, speaking at industry conferences and public events, as well as assisting in various Government investigations and corporate research. Cowan is a Research Fellow with the Research Network for a Secure Australia ( and was convener of its Safeguarding Australia Annual Summit 2017 in Canberra. He is also a Strategic Advisor to the Dubai-based Emirates Group Security/Edith Cowan University Centre of Aviation and Security Studies (CASS).