The View from Down Under, Regulation of The Australian Security Industry By Stephen Peterson

Greetings from Australia! On the surface, it is not so different here to England. It’s the little things that tend to draw the attention of someone from England; Vegemite trumps Marmite and football is often referred to as “soccer”. (Deranged colonials!…….. Ed.)

Through English eyes, security in Australia is not quite as prolific as it is in the major English cities. There is less public space surveillance and generally there appears to be less of a need for security because Australian society is, broadly speaking, more relaxed. However, there is a significant presence of security personnel who mind the entrances to bars and clubs. Furthermore, expect to encounter a very professional high profile security presence at large public gatherings such as airports, in Australia.

As an expat who was integrally involved with the UK Security Industry for many years, I remember well the advent and somewhat difficult roll-out of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) in 2003. The implementation of the SIA left huge swathes of Security Officers wondering if they would receive their new-fangled, mandatory security license in time. They questioned their capacity to continue to work without a license, and they were worried that they would not be able to maintain their livelihood as a consequence. Looking back, there was an air of ineptitude about the entire introduction of the SIA and its licensing regime. It frustrated and worried many.

The name of the body which regulates and oversees the Australian Security Industry is called the Australian Security Industry Association Limited or ASIAL. Interestingly, for such a young country, the ASIAL has been established a relatively long time – longer than the SIA. In fact, 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the ASIAL since it was founded in 1969. Celebrations for the fiftieth year are being kept quite low key but do include a special commemorative video, featuring members. ASIAL members have also been invited to a gala dinner which is being held at Sydney Town Hall later this year. I’ve no doubt that both these initiatives will be a great success.

I wanted to get under the hood of the ASIAL a bit more, and as good fortune would have it, I was offered a special opportunity to meet with Bryan de Caires, the Chief Executive Officer of the ASIAL. This would be a chance to discover how the approach between Australian and UK regulation deviated.

Although in title it would appear that there is a great affinity between the ASIAL and the SIA, there is a key difference between the two entities, and that is this; the ASIAL is an organisation that is funded by its members. Unlike the SIA, it is not a quango that is funded directly by the taxpayer. This having been said, it does work closely with several governmental bodies to promote certain conditions and practices, as we shall see.

There are around eight to ten thousand security companies operating in Australia and between them they employ between 120,000 and 130,000 licensed security personnel (around 100,000 of which are Security Officers). To bring some further perspective to this, the number of security personnel in Australia is around the same as its police force and military combined. Compared to the 240,000 or so (360,000+ in fact…….Ed.)security staff employed in the UK this might seem small, but one should remember that the total UK population is almost two and a half times larger than that of Australia.

The ASIAL was the brainchild of around ten to thirty key security executives and company owners. Although these individuals and their businesses were in competition, they collectively acknowledged the need to address common industry issues that were affecting them all. From those humble beginnings, the ASIAL has grown significantly. Today it has over 2,600 members.

Because it operates as an advocacy group for the security industry to promote best practice and maintain professional standards, the ASIAL is integral to developing guidelines and codes of practice. These have resulted in new technical standards for the security industry. The ASIAL also provides input on a range of government plans and regulation. To this end it has become the voice of the Australian security industry in state and federal government.

The ASIAL insists its member companies form part of a robust supply chain which operates to ensure security staff are properly remunerated. Buyers of security have a legal responsibility to ensure they are paying a security company enough to sustain a high level of service and fulfil minimum rates of pay. Minimum rates of pay are prescribed by an organisation called The Fair Work Ombudsman. The minimum rate of pay for a security officer across Australia is around $22 per hour (£12.00) (Hey UK Government! Are you hearing this?????………Ed.). In addition, extra payments (or penalty rates as they are called) are made for those that work weekends, or otherwise provide services out of normal working hours. By working with the authorities and policing government minimum wage standards, the ASIAL ensures that security companies are also afforded the opportunity to earn a profit. Clients are ultimately happy too, since they receive a service that meets minimum standards.

Bryan went on to explain that there is quite a flexible attitude towards the working hours and schedule of a Security Officer in Australia. Notwithstanding some corporate security assignments, many security requirements tend to flex in line with demands. Events, concerts, sporting occasions and other sporadic requirements tend to make up a great deal of the security work that is on offer to employees. As a consequence, surprisingly, many security officers are not employed full time. For some it is a second job, although for a fair proportion full time work is available.

Security tech companies also form part of the ASIAL family, and the use of technology is increasingly playing a significant part in the day to day working shifts of security provision. For example, robots are starting to become commonplace. They patrol premises like shopping malls and when they encounter an incident, a human response is invoked, so that a Security Officer can investigate. Similarly, drones are becoming more and more prevalent; they are particularly useful for identifying those who are committing graffiti, Bryan explained.

Because the ASIAL represents both security companies and also the individuals who have an interest or work in the security sector, it has to work tirelessly to ensure both types of stakeholders are given opportunities to develop and upskill. For example, for individuals, there is a recognition program to foster professionality. This allows employees to progress their careers and be recognised by employers, peers and end users. This is a refreshing, joined up and progressive approach which sends a clear message to the end user of security that there is an industry organisation which promotes and oversees solidarity and high standards between individuals and businesses alike.

Arguably, the ASIAL is a more effective body than the SIA. Without the shackles of government directly influencing how it conducts its strategies, it is free to offer the best support to all types of stakeholders. Concurrently, it works closely with federal government to utilise political instruments to ensure, for example, that buyers of security are culpable for contracts where not enough is paid to allow for correct remuneration to staff. This approach to policing contract pricing tends to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ costing frenzy in which the ultimate loser is actually the very client that is trying to save money – the appointment of the cheapest security provider will rarely result in a wholesome, long term service.

As my time at the ASIAL drew to a close, I came to appreciate that a key vision of the ASIAL is the promotion of healthy long term relations between Security Officers and Security Companies, and between Security Companies and end users. They have made significant progress to this end and will no doubt be ushering in their 51st year with both optimism and a spring in their step.

Stephen Peterson

Stephen Peterson

Stephen has been employed for more than twenty years in the private security industry. A father of two adult children, Stephen possesses and promotes traditional values of courtesy and manners. He is also an advocate of the benefits of meditation, is a practitioner of Buddhism and enjoys travelling with his partner, Sara