Security Threats on Australia’s Horizon

These days the country is focused on COVID-19, the looming threat of China and climate change but they are not the only security challenges the nation will confront in coming years.  Cyber attacks, terrorism and civil unrest could rattle our world at any moment.

Australia will not be equipped to handle future security challenges unless governments, business and the Security Industry work as a team to bring about much-needed reform, collaboration and planning.

That’s the frank warning in the Security 2025 Report, released on September 23, commissioned by ASIAL and conducted by the Australian Security Research Centre.

The report examines where Australia’s Security Industry is today and identifies where gaps will have to be filled if we are to keep pace with the emerging challenges and threats in the near future.

The report’s Head Researcher, Dr Gavriel Schneider said the key to Australia’s future security wellbeing is to move quickly to a more collaborative approach in which government, business and the Security Industry work together instead of in isolation.

“Emerging technologies used by independent and state-sponsored cyber criminals increase the threat profile of key Australian private sector institutions including banks and key infrastructure but too many end-users of security are choosing to ignore the threat,” said Dr Schneider.

“What is often referred to as Australia’s soft corporate underbelly has to be better secured if the nation as a whole is to maintain existing security levels and that requires a coordinated and well-planned effort by government, business and the security industry,” he said.

To that end, Security 2025 recommends the creation of a Security Industry Coordination Office within the Home Affairs Ministry to facilitate rather than direct achieving national regulatory uniformity.

Nicholas Martin is aware of what it takes to manage security threats.

As well as being head of property and security at AGL Energy Services, he is chair of the Forum of Australasian Security Executives (FASE), a professional affiliation of chief security officers from major companies across fields including finance, aviation, energy and food distribution.

He lists five big threats that businesses currently face: customer aggression, activism and extremism, digital disruption (including cyber security threats ­– enhanced by COVID and the working-from-home dynamic), weather events, and internal threats (for example, from employees or contractors).

How do businesses manage all that? Generally, it’s a three-pronged approach: internal management, relationships with government, and the employment of private security.

“Most businesses rely very heavily on contracted security companies to provide essential frontline services,” Mr Martin said.

And with so much at stake, it’s vital they make good choices.

“Some companies just want the cheapest …” Mr Martin said. “You want to do due diligence so you know who is protecting your assets.”

Bryan de Caires, CEO of the Australian Security Industry Association Ltd (ASIAL), the peak body for Australia’s $11 billion private security industry agrees.

“Quality security comes at a premium,” he said. “Users of security services need to clearly understand the value of good security.”

Mr de Caires believes security companies deserve greater credit for the role they play in keeping Australia safe.

“Providing recognition of the unseen security workforce that plays a critical frontline role in protecting people, places and property is long overdue,” Mr de Caires said.

ASIAL’s Security 2025 Report is a roadmap for the industry’s future.

It proposes that the Security Industry needs to make security a career of choice, upskill and cross-skill its workforce and embrace technological innovation.

Mr de Caires said businesses engaging security can help by insisting on high standards. But government needs to step up to the plate too.


The Riddle of Regulation

Although the private Security Industry outnumbers law enforcement and the Australian Defence Forces combined – and is invariably the first responder at events or emergencies – it is regulated by a patchwork quilt of state-by-state regulations that vary significantly.

Bryan de Caires said this imposes significant cost and unnecessary bureaucratic red tape on the Security Industry but more importantly, it deprives the nation of a uniformly high standard of security services.

“The current head-in-the-sand approach is a formula for disaster and this is precisely what is wrong with Australia’s security arrangements today – each state and territory pursues its own narrow self-interest at the cost of Australia’s security wellbeing,” said Mr de Caires.

Cameron Smith is the director of the Security Licensing & Enforcement Directorate (SLED), the regulatory body for security businesses in NSW.

“These security operatives perform roles whose purpose is the deterrence of crime, the protection of persons and property, the maintenance of public order and safety …” said Mr Smith.

“Australia’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism notes the ‘central role’ played by the Security Industry in protecting crowded places.  Effective regulation of the Security Industry ensures that it is fit for purpose to fulfil these important roles.”

Smith acknowledged that “…there are a number of key differences in jurisdictional approaches to the regulation of the Security Industry”.  State regulations on security licences vary when it comes to criminal checks, the regulation of training, and which types of visa holder are allowed to apply.

This can be a source of great frustration for the industry and for business.  Bryan de Caires said that ASIAL’s calls for nationally consistent industry standards over the past 25 years,  “…have largely fallen on deaf ears … if Australia is to have the capability to meet key security threats in coming years, government must act now to bring about crucial reforms.”

Meeting the Challenge

FASE Chairman Nicholas Martin is hopeful that Australia can meet the challenges.

He approves of government initiatives to help businesses defend against cyberattacks and supports ASIAL leading the debate.

“They’re trying to raise their profile, and they’re trying to educate both governments and business on the need to have a really well trained and capable Security Industry,” he said.

And that’s going to be necessary, because the future is a dangerous place.

“I think the future is going to be more disrupted …” said Mr Martin. “Whether it’s on a geopolitical level … whether it’s the impact of conflict or weather events, whether it’s the ability for cyber to reach across boundaries … I think that’s only going to increase.”

Steve Cropper
Steve Cropper (RAN Ret.) is a Strategic Communication adviser to Australian Security Industry and an Information Operations contractor to the Australian Army.