“There is no greater responsibility for a Prime Minister than ensuring the safety of Australian citizens and securing our borders.” – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australian Parliament, November 19, 2013.
It will be worthwhile reading the quote above again before reading further. Is it wasteful political rhetoric or is it a quote of substance and to be taken with the utmost seriousness? Anyone who regularly reads this desk, or knows me professionally, will be aware of my advocacy to have the Australian security industry appropriately recognised and regulated by Australian Governments.
There is currently no consistent national legislation for security providers and security operators in Australia. Legislative reform is not on the COAG agenda within the National Security and Community Safety charter. Surprisingly, cyber security is not even nominated under this agenda. Nor does security, community safety or crime prevention get any mention within COAG’s National Objective and Criteria for Future Strategic Planning of Capital Cities.
Where on the agenda is the security of Australians? Of greatest concern is the exclusion of the security industry from the National Occupations Legislation scheme. Plumbers, electricians and real estate agents breathe easy. The exclusion is reportedly at the request of State based industry regulators. The Security Industry Regulator’s Forum (SIRF), made up of representatives from each of the State regulators, be they police or Fair Trading officers, appears to be the group who controls the industry through inconsistent State regulation, each with different cost structures, penalties and enforcement.
The last time COAG looked at the security industry was in 2008. Even at that time, COAG’s work was acknowledged as inadequate and the latest updates on COAG’s progress during the past five years have been deemed a failure.
Coincidently, since 2008, there has been a surge of organised crime in Australia. Organised Crime now costs $15 billion a year, rising by 50 percent, increasing at an estimated average of $1 billion per year during the past five years. Alongside this increase, since 2007, OMCG member numbers have also surged, increasing by 53 percent to about 4,500 individuals, in 44 active gangs. It is one of the drivers for recent action on the issue at a national level.
“Organised crime activity invariably exploits Australia’s communities, from vulnerable sectors such as the users of illicit drugs to individuals who purchase counterfeit goods. However, all people can be adversely impacted by the activities and products of organised crime, including violence, theft, fraud, intimidation and fear.”
National Organised Crime Response Plan Over 2010-13.
Even COAG has recognised that by working with industry and communities, that Governments can succeed in building and maintaining a national environment that is hostile and resilient to the activities of organised crime. One of the key strategies has been to reduce barriers and improve the conduct of multi-jurisdictional investigations and adopt a more strategic national approach to cyber crime. Despite these being the words of COAG strategies, neither of these are occurring with any support or reform for the Australian security industry.
So where does the responsibility for securing Australians lay? The Commonwealth and the States and Territories agree they ‘share’ responsibility for the internal security of Australia. Therefore, there is no clear ‘accountability’ for community safety and security – hence why we seem to have the same debates about street crime, organised crime, drug abuse, alcohol related violence and more, around Australia, year after year.
Examine any local Government in any Australian Capital City and you will find Community Safety and Crime Prevention will be within the top three priorities for the local community. It is why Campbell Newman, can suddenly introduce frightening legislation against OMCGs with a majority of public support. Yet Queensland remains behind other States in introducing COAG’s recommendations.
There is an existing business case making it worthwhile to add the Reform of the Australian Security Industry to the National Security and Community Safety agenda. The Federal Government has committed to inject $50 million funding to local Governments, across Australia, to install public CCTV surveillance systems to fight crime. The CCTV Industry incorporates security consultants, security suppliers, security integrators and installers, security maintenance technicians, as well as input from police and local Government authorities. Although the funds will be dispersed nationally, security providers cannot function nationally due to the limitations of the State based legislation model.
The CCTV funding is certainly a welcome boost to the sector, but the benefit to industry is minimised as it creates a surge of work in pockets, rather than facilitating a national boost. Consider the near future also, with most City CCTV systems looking to use the ‘National’ Broadband Network as a backbone – there is a great deal of up skilling needed within the security industry and yet no capacity or framework to share NBN learning outcomes between the States.
By reforming the industry to a national framework, there will be increased opportunities for security related businesses and improved standards and professionalism through increased competition. All in line with the new Government’s national economy and productivity agendas. The industry has a lot more breadth than just security guards, crowd controllers, body guards and investigators. Security impacts all sectors of society and includes some of the world’s largest companies, like our profile in this issue of Lockheed Martin International, a $47 billion global security company. If legislators and regulators understood the business of modern security better, I’m sure we would not need to be managing 21 or more different security licence classes in seven different jurisdictions. Instead, we would have the option of operating, consulting, advising and investigating under a Federal framework that integrates and complements the State based systems.
The situation, nationally, requires the highest attention and recognition, including that of the Australian Prime Minister. If indeed, he does not have greater responsibility.
Stay tuned with us as we continue to explore, educate, entertain and most importantly, engage.
**Since publication the Abbott Government has reportedly abandoned the COAG efforts at harmonising occupational licensing categories an d also reneged on the CCTV funding grant agreements, abolishing the grants altogether.