Regulation and administration of the private security industry in Australia is currently the responsibility of states and territories. For many years those working in the security industry have been obliged under state and territorial legislation to spend many hours at considerable cost to apply for multiple licences in order to conduct business in this country. At one point in time, I had six different plastic licences in my wallet, which is nothing short of ludicrous. This article will challenge this approach and offer an alternative solution. The article will be particularly relevant to those whose roles require them to operate across different states or territories which for the purposes of this article I will refer to as jurisdictions.
A Brief History
According to Prenzler and Sarre in an article published in the Criminal Justice Journal in 2012, “The first wave of industry‐specific regulation is associated with the New South Wales Security (Protection) Industry Act 1985, which introduced licensing of security firms and employees. Criteria included ‘prescribed qualifications and experience’ and disqualification for 10 years for offences against the Act and convictions for indictable offences. The focus was on guards, consultants and some classes of security equipment providers.” This was the catalyst for change in the industry in Australia and other jurisdictions soon followed suit. I think we can all agree that licensing was a good idea. Licencing has allowed the industry to weed out persons of questionable character, those who are not qualified to provide services and those with a criminal history and or ties to organised crime.
The article closes with this statement in regard to licensing at a national level:
“From a national perspective, however, the system remains fragmentary, and there is little evidence of consistent improvements in the industry. It is clear that a much more proactive approach is needed that involves a mix of legislation and regulatory strategies designed to produce quality outcomes in the delivery of vital security and safety services.”
I strongly believe the reason we have this problem is that nobody bothered to ask two very simple questions:-
- What is the best way to enact security licensing in Australia?
- Who are the best people to ask?
The answer to question one is obvious. Look to benchmark against another successful licensing model. A classic example would of course be motor vehicle licensing. If I am licensed to drive a car in my home state, I can also drive a car in any other state or territory in Australia. The answer to question two is, in my opinion, equally simple – consult with your end users and key stakeholders, i.e. those who operate in the Security Industry!
The question all cross-regional security providers would like answered, and the subject of this article is:
Why is it that if a security operative or business is licensed to preform security duties in one jurisdiction, they cannot perform those same duties in any other jurisdiction without first obtaining another licence?
As all in the security industry would know, the current system is direct result of the regulatory bodies in each state and or territory legislating in isolation. This prevents uniformed legislation from being developed, passed through parliament and implemented.
The lack of uniformed security legislation in Australia means each jurisdiction has different acts and regulations. This means that if you operate across state or territorial borders, you are obliged to hold a separate licence for each location in which you wish to ply your trade. Even more farcical is the fact that if you are the business owner, you are also obliged to hold a Master Licence in each jurisdiction. One has to wonder if the revenue generated as a result of regionally controlled licensing is just too enticing for the states and territories to relinquish.
Further to this, in some instances, applicants are still obliged to travel to the state or territory they wish to hold a licence to have their finger prints taken. Although, for some reason, I have found that this applies to some applicants but not others depending on who you speak to. For example, where I have been able to send a copy of my prints in the old ink format as part of my application, I know of more than a few colleagues who have been instructed to travel to the state or territory in which they are applying for a security license to have their finger prints taken. This is another example of the lack of uniformity of licensing requirements at regional level.
The current jurisdiction based system is a costly, admin heavy burden for the end user and completely avoidable in this day and age. I would also suggest that rather than promoting security operatives to be compliant, the complexity of security licensing is actually having the opposite effect in that those who work across regions would rather take the risk of operating without a licence particularly, if it is a simple day trip.
So how do we fix it? Simple, let’s start with legislation. It needs to be uniform across all states and territories. How do we do that? We need a champion at a federal level to get behind this initiative and push for licensing to be legislated at a federal level. Select the most current, most generic state or territory legislation and use it as the baseline for federal legislation. This will allow for uniformed laws and regulations at a national level.
Criminal History Checks and Identification
Next, the criminal history and identification problem. The police now use a national data base for finger printing known as ‘Live Scan’ which allows for electronic finger printing. Prints are scanned and saved as a data file which could be sent anywhere in the world and more than likely is. This covers off identity management and criminal history checks at a national level.
In New South Wales (NSW), photos and issuing of licences is managed by Service NSW. This seems to work quite well and I don’t see any reason why this process should not continue and be rolled out across all states and territories. Regardless, I don’t think this is a show stopper. All driver’s licences in Australia are photo licences, so no matter how these are obtained in other jurisdictions, the same process could be applied to security licences.
Applications could quite easily be completed on line. It would be a simple matter of putting together a web site or making use of an existing on-line portal which allows the applicant to apply for a licence or licences in the jurisdictions they wish to operate in, upload the relevant documents required to obtain a licence and book into the local police station to have their finger prints taken whereupon they would quote a reference number generated on-line as part of the application process.
The web site could offer the user the ability to select the states and territories under which they wish to operate and the type of licence they wish to apply for. A fee would be charged to cover administration costs for each jurisdiction and licence type applied for. If successful, the applicant would receive a letter advising them to report to a service provider to have a photo taken.
As per current practice, the applicant would receive a licence which details their licence type and class based on their qualifications and eligibility. The licence would indicate the jurisdiction(s) they have chosen to operate and there you have it, one licence to cover all the requirements Australia wide.
The same approach could be taken for the Master Licence. Complete the application on the same on-line portal, upload the required documentation, select the jurisdictions in which you intend to operate, upload the required documentation, pay the fee, retrieve your finger print reference number, book into your local police station for Live Scan, job done.
There you have it, a simple, fast, effective, burden free national security licensing system. Most importantly it would encourage rather than discourage compliance. Industry associations such as ASIAL and ASIS International should lobby federal government on behalf of their members to push for this change. We all know it is needed, we all know it has been a hot topic for years and there really is no excuse for not making this happen with the technology available today. The burden associated with the administration of multiple licences across multiple jurisdictions is simply not justifiable and must be addressed as a high priority.
The Evolution of the Security Industry in Australia: A Critique Prenzler and Sarre 2012.