We’re sidelining a major player in counterterrorism

The Western Australian parliament’s Community Development and Justice Standing Committee is currently examining the protection of crowded places in WA from terrorist acts. The inquiry is yet another example of how the states play a vital role in our national security planning.

In our submission to the committee, we considered the full range of issues associated with protecting crowded places. Here we set out our observations in response to a neglected issue in counterterrorism planning in Australia, and one usefully raised in the current WA committee’s inquiry. That issue is whether the licensing and registration of the private security industry operates adequately to reduce terrorism risks to crowded places.

There are more private security guards in Australia than there are police officers. The Palaszczuk government in Queensland, for example, is investing $2 million in training for 1,000 extra security guards for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. A total of 4,200 security guards will now be working at the games.

But is there a relationship between security industry licensing and counterterrorism capability? The WA parliamentary committee inquiry suggests that there is.

We pointed out in our submission to the committee that in all states and territories the legislation to license and control security activities is designed to ensure that fit and proper persons carry out security functions. They require proof of identity and minimum training and, in some cases, proof of employment in the jurisdiction.

Under the WA Security and Related Activities (Control) Act 1996 and related regulations, for example, a ‘security officer is a person who for remuneration watches, guards or protects any property’ (section 12). Crowd controllers have responsibility for ‘controlling or monitoring the behaviour of persons’ (section 35.1(a)).

The responsibility for ‘monitoring’ might be a counterterrorism function. Otherwise, the generic nature of security functions has no specific counterterrorist element.

The training requirement for a security guard is the CPP20212 Certificate II in Security Operations. The only core competency appears to be ‘apply first aid’. And some competencies such as ‘respond effectively to behaviours of concern’ and ‘respond to security risk situation’ may have some relevance to counterterrorism capability.

Otherwise, the skill requirements are basic: observe, report and respond in a manner expected of a Cert II security guard. The social expectation is that the security guards—usually the lowest paid people onsite—will identify a hazard and stand between it and us.

There’s more work needed to determine what skills, knowledge and abilities are relevant to counterterrorism capability and how they’ll be integrated into the Certificate II-level training.

We suggested in our submission to the WA inquiry that private security can be a useful resource for incident prevention and response. Project Griffin, for example, developed in the UK in 2004 to strengthen counterterrorism capabilities, offers one possible model. It brings together and coordinates the resources of the police, emergency services, local authorities, business and the private security industry. We could look to adopt aspects of the UK model.

A key issue that inhibits using private security for counterterrorism is the lack of trust by police of the security industry. Security operators are low paid and usually trained only to Certificate II level. Compared to police they have limited capabilities. But security staff are the people on the ground and will be the first responders. They’ll be expected to provide immediate assessment, control, communication and first aid, and may help restrain an offender. (Emergency services don’t like the term ‘first responders’ to be used to refer to security staff.)

Security is a management discipline with its own body of knowledge, research and literature. Those responsible for protecting crowded places should use appropriately qualified professionals to develop the required capabilities.

Legislation governing the security industry has, in most cases, sought to encompass the professional end of the security continuum by seeking to license those ‘security consultants’ who offer ‘security advice’.

But ‘advice’ is loosely defined, if at all. Under WA regulations, for example, a person holding a class 4 security consultant’s licence is ‘authorised to carry out the activities of, for remuneration, investigating or advising on matters relating to the watching, guarding or protection of property’.

There appears to be no minimum training requirement in WA for a Class 4 security consultant’s licence. Security licensing isn’t effective for the professional end of the security continuum, which advises about security as a management discipline and assists in coordinating preventative and response measures at a senior level.

Recognising this disconnect, there’s been a body of work developed by Security Professionals Australasia to introduce a register of security professionals based on a peer-review model.

But right now security guards aren’t trained in specific counterterrorism skills and the licensing system isn’t relevant to those who provide management-level advice on protective and response measures. As the Australia – New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC) noted in its Australia’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism, private security providers are directly responsible for protecting crowded places, so they ‘must be well trained and professional’.

But the ANZCTC strategy, while recognising that the security manpower industry is onsite, has little to say about the roles and responsibilities of security guards.

What’s needed is not just a review of the role of security guards in counterterrorism capabilities, but also a broader examination of management levels, such as the role of chief security officers of major corporations and what can be learned from related professional and industry associations. The importance of the private security sector in providing knowledge and capability hasn’t been sufficiently acknowledged by the broader national security community.