Private Security and County Court Amendment Bill 2024 – Second Reading Debate

Juliana ADDISON (Wendouree) (15:22): I am very pleased today to speak and contribute on and support the Private Security and County Court Amendment Bill 2024. I am very pleased that the opposition are supporting this bill, as they have explained. This is important, and there is agreement from the opposition, which I welcome very much.

I would also, Acting Speaker Kathage, really like to thank you for your contribution and for really bringing the important essence at an individual level for one of your constituents, and I think it is a reflection on what a very hardworking local member you are, listening to people, knowing what it is like for workers in the security sector – in the private security sector – in your electorate of Yan Yean. I really want to note that on the record, to say that.

What is important to me as well is, as the member for Brighton did refer to and only referred to, community safety. For the record, I am very passionate about community safety. That is why I am particularly happy that the Drug Court trial that is referred to in this bill is in my community, because we know that the Drug Court is helping to improve community safety.

I would really like to make sure that it is clear to everyone in this place that I am incredibly committed to community safety, and that is why I am making a contribution today. I would like to thank the Minister for Police, the Attorney-General, their advisers, their ministerial officers and their departments for doing the work to bring the Private Security and County Court Amendment Bill to the house today.

Before bringing it to this place there was a significant amount of engagement, particularly with the Victorian security industry advisory committee, and the stakeholders or the key players that are on that committee are Victoria Police and our friends at the United Workers Union. It has already been announced today, but the United Workers Union is a union that proudly represents private security workers, and it does such an excellent job. I would like to thank the organisers and the officials at the UWU for the work that they do supporting workers in the private security sector. It was the Victorian security industry advisory committee that also provided input into the previous 2021 report on the review of the private security industry.

The review also included public consultations in 2020, and its recommendations have directly informed the bill before us today. I want to recognise those consulted regarding the extension of the Drug Court trial, which includes Court Services Victoria as well as the County Court.

In the lead-up to the 2018 election – a great election, when I was elected to this place like so many people who are currently here – the Andrews Labor government promised to review the private security industry with a view to improving working conditions and reinforcing community confidence. The review process included a period of public consultation, which resulted in 21 recommendations to government, all of which have been accepted, because that is what we do as a government – we listen to experts and then we embrace their recommendations. A number of these have already been implemented without the need for legislation, while others are still underway.

The bill before us today addresses those which do require legislative support in order to streamline and modernise private security licensing. It proposes amendments to the Private Security Act 2004, which makes sense – 20 years on, the nature of the security sector would have changed – here considered the principal act, which will address subcontracting, conduct standards, refresher training, risk management and redundant licensing requirements. I will speak to these as well as talking about the importance of the Drug Court for my community in Ballarat.

What this bill does is proposes consequential amendments to other bills before concluding with minor amendments to the County Court Act 1958 and the Sentencing Act 1991, which extend the operation of the County Court drug pilot program, which is in, as I said, Ballarat as well as Shepparton as the regional Drug Courts.

While subcontracting can be necessary to manage surge demands for security services, this bill addresses the shameful yet persistent issue of sham contracting. We on this side, with all our friends in the union movement, know about sham contracting. Sham contracting occurs when private security workers are falsely classified as independent contractors, all the while missing out on the benefit of protections of employment. With this bill, private security subcontracting will be reformed to require independent contractors to hold not only an ABN and an individual operators licence but also a private security business licence, allowing for those who are genuine business operators –

Richard Riordan interjected.

Juliana ADDISON: like my friend who was a genuine business operator who is interjecting – while at the same time making sham contracting prohibitively difficult. I am sure we are all in agreement with that, which is why the opposition is supporting this bill.

Additionally, private security businesses will need to seek their clients’ consent when hiring subcontractors and provide the proposed subcontractors’ names and licence numbers in the process. In most cases this must be done in advance or within three days in limited, short-notice situations.

There are a number of other requirements of the act, including to ensure that private security professionals receive the training, guidelines and information necessary to best support them in their work, and for one, refresher training will be required prior to the regular three-yearly renewal of private security licences. This includes first-aid training as well as activity-specific training such as de-escalation techniques and safe restraint practices – once again all ensuring community safety, which I am very passionate about; I think I have said that about three times now.

Tying licence renewal to training refreshment will reinforce the professional skills of private security workers, improving their safety as well as the broader public’s. Looking at the client side, there will also be a requirement that any person or business employing private security must provide in advance a risk management plan. We know that critical information is so often contextual – take evacuation plans, which are venue-specific but always essential for security staff to understand. With this amendment we are ensuring private security workers will be provided with the information they need to do their job.

This bill will also provide broader clarity concerning the roles and responsibilities of private security workers through a code of conduct for licence-holders, to be developed by the Chief Commissioner of Police with industry stakeholders. Together these reforms seek to provide workers in the private security industry with the tools they need to be safe and supported.

To this end, I note that this bill will further improve several aspects of individual contractor licensing. Currently personal references must be provided with applications, and applicants must also advertise their applications in print – requirements that can be time-consuming and costly for aspiring security workers. While well intentioned, the burden outweighs the benefits. Police have other methods of assessing applicants’ suitability that are more valuable often than personal references, while printed application notices have not promoted one single objection in 20 years so are definitely out of date and obsolete. As such, under the proposed licensing reforms, both requirements will be removed.

Importantly – and I will just quickly skip to the Drug Court – while much of this bill does pertain to private security contractors it also makes amendments to the County Court Act 1958 and the Sentencing Act 1991 to facilitate a two-year extension of the County Court drug pilot program. This pilot was established in 2022 with what was initially a three-year time frame and has since seen Drug Courts established regionally both in Shepparton and in Ballarat.

I was pleased to be able to join the Attorney-General to attend the official launch of the Ballarat Drug Court in March 2022. Ballarat is the second Drug Court to open in regional Victoria. The expansion of the Drug Court is part of a $35 million expansion of this very successful program. Significantly, the expansion of the Drug Court means that people in Ballarat can participate close to home, and it means that we have specialised court services in the heart of my community.

I have observed the Drug Court in action in Ballarat and strongly believe that it is helping members of my community address and overcome drug use and turn their lives around. This is because Drug Court judges have sentencing options – I note, only for appropriate offenders – aimed at addressing the underlying causes of offending. The Drug Court is working to break the cycle of addiction and offending by providing alternative rehabilitation pathways that require participants to undertake alcohol and drug counselling, comply with drug testing and regularly attend court review hearings, case management and clinical adviser appointments to ensure that they stay on track.

In closing, I believe that supporting people to address alcohol and drug use instead of punishing them will make their lives better and make my community safer. I wholeheartedly recommend and commend this bill to the house.


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