Why the Current Victorian Inquiry Is An Opportunity For Security

    I doubt anyone will soon forget 2020. It will be long remembered as a year of hardship, challenge and change. The pandemic has adversely impacted countless individuals, families, businesses, communities and countries, and we may not have even seen the worst of it yet.

    For the security industry, like so many other industries, 2020 has given rise to significant challenges. The hotel quarantine breaches in Melbourne gave rise to an inordinate amount of media scrutiny around private security and a supposed lack of standards, supervision, and regulation around the Industry. For many, it felt like the industry stepped back almost two decades, as echoes of the criticisms levelled at the security industry in the wake of the death of cricket coach David Hooks once again took root.

    However, with the benefit of time and thought, I believe that, far from being an impediment to the growth of the security industry, the current inquiry into the hotel quarantine breaches may well be the greatest thing to happen for the industry since the introduction of licensing back in the late 80’s early 90’s.

    I have stated this publicly before and would like to reiterate my position here. For over a decade, groups like the Australian Security Industry Association Limited (ASIAL) and the Victorian Security Industry Advisory Committee (VSIAC), have advised both the State and Federal Governments about several problematic issues in Victoria. These issues include multi-tier sub-contracting arrangements; the use of Australian Business Numbers (ABNs) as a means of avoiding entitlements to workers; and use of outdated (Zombie) Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBA) along with the problems that arise from issuing security licenses to overseas students and visa holders.

    However, while I would dearly like to see these issues addressed, it is the problems not limited to Victoria, but rather the issues that affect the industry on a national basis, that I am hoping will finally receive the proper attention from Government as a result of the current enquiry.

    For decades, the security industry has lobbied Government to move to a national licensing model, with federal regulation and national training standards. Furthermore, there has been a push to develop a national body within the Government responsible for the oversight and supervision of the industry. The current arrangement, with the various States and Territories responsible for licensing and regulation of security, simply isn’t working. Currently, the industry is regulated by the Office of Fair Trading in Queensland, the Police in Victoria, NSW and WA, the Government in the Northern Territory and South Australia and the Consumer, Building and Occupational Services in Tasmania. As anyone in the industry is aware, operating in any of those different jurisdictions requires separate licenses, with separate background checks, fingerprinting, licensing fees and so on. More importantly, this piecemeal approach to regulation and licensing deprives Australia of an essential capability in times of national crisis such as the very pandemic we are all currently experiencing, or the bushfires of early 2020 which for many, now seem like a distant memory.

    If we are to build a genuinely resilient Australia, one that is equipped to withstand pandemics, natural disasters, terrorist attacks or any number of other major incidents, then the country needs every resource it can get and a surge capability, beyond police and the ADF, one from within the security industry, along with the ability to coordinate and deploy that resource on a national level, could be invaluable.

    A paper released in 2018 titled Safety In Numbers, by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), provides several key insights into the private security industry and the vital contribution it could make to Australia’s national security and counterterrorism capability. However, I believe in order to bring a national private security industry model to fruition, several things need to occur.

    Firstly, the Industry needs a national regulator. This national regulator should most likely be a body that resides within the Attorney Generals (AG’s) department within the Federal Government. As the AG’s department is currently, mostly a policy branch, enforcement of the industry might need to be handled by the Department of Justice under the AG’s Department. Licensing would be national. Training standards would be national. Regulation would be national. Enforcement would be national.

    What I propose is not a new concept. In July 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to implement a nationally consistent approach to the Industry to improve the sector. COAG agreed to:

    1. establish national minimum standards for protective security personnel to improve their competency and skills, and to improve legitimate mobility of licences across jurisdictions
    2. explore national minimum regulatory standards for the technical sector as well as improving the mobility of business licences
    3. explore a national registration or licensing system for the private security industry.

    The problem is that despite the hard work from organisations like ASIAL and others, the security industry simply does not seem to be able to get the Federal Government to take it seriously. So rather than repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, perhaps it is time to try something different. For years, the security industry has sat back and waited for ASIAL to wave its magic wand and fix everything. The only problem is, as much as ASIAL might be the peak industry association, by its own admission, it currently only represents around 25 per cent of the industry. What’s more, there are only a handful of people within ASIAL, and they can only do so many things at once. However, we have other groups like the Forum of Australasian Security Executives (FASE).

    For those people unaware of FASE, it is a professional affiliation of corporate security executives occupying the most senior national and or regional security role in their organisation with responsibilities relating primarily to Security and Business Continuity Management inclusive of Crisis and Emergency Management. Amongst its stated goals, FASE seeks to:

    •Ensure collaborative engagement with all levels of Government and industry stakeholders on strategic security issues; and

    • Provide security leadership and trusted advice on matters of national strategic importance by harnessing the collective experience, knowledge and resources of its members.

    Here we have a group of senior security managers who work within organisations that are responsible for generating for a significant proportion of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

    If we were to take the number of potential voters represented by ASIAL and combine that with the influence of a group like FASE, who are responsible for ensuring that our largest companies can continue to operate, and then use the likely findings from this enquiry, combined with the cautionary tale of the quarantine breach which show what can happen nationally when the industry does not have proper national oversight, then surely, the Government would be left with little choice but to listen and act.

    Encouraging the Government to change the current security model is not a job for any single individual or group. To effect real change will require everyone to be involved. FASE consists of individuals already working with the Government at the highest levels. Some of those people previously held positions in government at the highest levels. If they speak, the government will listen. ASIAL can and should play a significant role on providing direction, insight and policy around how the industry should be managed, and individuals, be they people or companies, can get involved by lending their voice to the effort through membership of an organisation. The more members, the more voters the industry can bring to bear, the greater the voice.

    What is happening in Victoria right now is having tragic consequences not just for Victoria, but across the country. Some people will lose their business. Others will lose their jobs. Some people have and will die while others are faced with a long road to recovery. If something good can come of it all, then let it be this; let it be an inquiry that shines a light on all the problems in our industry and shows us how to be better; how to not make the same mistakes in future; how to build a better, stronger, safer Australia so that we can face the next challenge with the resources and experience to do it right. Bring on the inquiry. But it is what happens afterwards that really matters. This should be our time to shine and make greater inroads towards becoming the professional industry we all know we can be.