The State of National Security: Out of the Shadows


It was an incident that should have stopped every police minister and Attorney- General in their tracks. Police had arrested a crowd controller at a prestigious Sydney nightclub for assaulting a teenager. The crowd controller had allegedly gagged and bashed the youth when he tried to re-enter the club after being evicted earlier in the night. Apart from the battered teen, the worst part was that the crowd controller, originally from Queensland, would not have been able to work in New South Wales if not for the Mutual Recognition Act.

According to the Australian Security Industry Association, the practice is widespread, with almost half of all NSW licence applications made under the act. Security personnel obtain credentials from states with less strict regulations, then transfer into a jurisdiction for which they would otherwise not have enough training, or not pass the stricter assessments.

The exploitation of the loophole was a red flag to Margaret Quirk (Labor), Western Australia’s Shadow Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Road Safety. “I’ve started looking at the issue since I read about the NSW issue. We are concerned that people are, by mutual recognition, getting in with standards that aren’t necessarily as high as ours. People would have expectations that if someone was performing a role—either as a security officer or a crowd controller—they would be complying with local standards and laws.”

Quirk says WA’s booming economy may be a magnet for the wrong sort of people, and that the NSW arrest should be a wake-up call to other politicians on expediting a national licensing system. “I suspect after the incident that arose in New South Wales there may be more interest in progressing it. Because of that I’ve asked the question about the extent of the issue here,” she reports, mentioning that between January and September 2011, WA issued 96 security officer licences and 106 crowd controller licences under the Mutual Recognition Act. “I’ll certainly be pursuing any concerns about the standards of these people that are coming in and operating in Western Australia, both in Parliament and outside with the ministers.”

While an advocate of a national system, Quirk does anticipate difficulties with coming to an agreement on the standards it would need to implement. “There have been some COAG [Council of Australian Governments] agreements about certain basic standards as I understand it. The problem with national systems is that there is debate about what is the appropriate standard and the states that have higher standards are reluctant to go to what they see as the lowest common denominator.”

The business factor is also a significant one. Quirk, who was formerly WA’s Small Business Minister and Minister for Federal Affairs, understands the need for security businesses to be able to operate seamlessly between states. “It’s a massive impost on small business to have to make those variations from state to state.”

She adds: “As a general principle we are in favour of simplifying things for small business so that they can act and get some economies of scale if they’re operating in more than one state, but we would be concerned if any national agreement led to a dilution of the standards that we have in Western Australia.”

While COAG doesn’t see the security licensing issue in particular as a priority, Quirk says it’s possible it will fall under the red tape reforms the council is hoping to push through soon. In the meantime, the security industry needs to adopt a clear position, she suggests. “Industry itself needs to get together, there needs to be some agreed positions on certain issues to put to government. Agreement within the industry itself will very much expedite it occurring.”

And while a national licensing scheme will certainly take longer to achieve, Quirks says it’s better than the alternative. “The other way is just to have uniform legislation, which is effectively then not a national licence but is effectively the same standard. That can be relatively easily agreed to through the Ministerial Council for Police [and Emergency Management]but, as I said, we tend to have a sticking point that those that have the highest standards are reluctant to in any way dilute them.

“I think the national licensing track would take longer. And again there needs to be the political will to do it and that relates a bit to identifying issues that need to be solved. You need an event such as that allegedly occurred in New South Wales to put it on the political agenda and my view is, it certainly raised my attention on the issue and I suspect it will elsewhere. That may well be something that could be used as a catalyst to bring this issue to the fore.”…

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