Security remains an issue – alert not alarmed, vigilant not a vigilante

By Peter Strong . On 14-Nov-2015

Small Business people and the nation’s security

National Security Hotline 1800 1234 00

(This is an updated article from one published in The New Daily in January 2015)

In my role as COSBOA CEO I have met with officials from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department (AGs).  They sought the meeting to discuss the national security threat posed by individuals making explosives from commonly available chemicals. These chemicals are widely available throughout the small business sector whether it’s retail, manufacturing or transport. I left the meeting concerned about the nature of this threat, but also very sure about the role that our sector can play in preventing the worst from happening.

What we discussed was the current security situation in Australia and even though the officials did not want to alarm me they certainly wanted COSBOA and small business people to be aware that the threat posed by terrorism has grown in recent years and that people need to be alert and aware of anything suspicious and report that to the relevant authorities.  They see the small business community as a key part of our country’s security awareness.

The terrible event in Paris has reinforced the view that small business people are in a position to be affected by tragedy and also to spot suspicious behaviours and events.

There are over 2 million small business people in Australia.  We are truck drivers, retailers, hairdressers, farmers, real estate agents, financial advisers, newsagents, café and restaurant owners, wholesalers, contractors, builders, fitness advisers, health experts, tradespeople and the like.  We cover nearly all aspects of our society and importantly we are found in all communities.  We have always been part of the security awareness of our communities. Normally this is keeping an eye out for potential thieves and felons or working with authorities and fellow business operators to identify fire traps and safety problems or just being there when needed.  Often a local small business, perhaps a newsagency, cafe or a pub, is a place people go to for news and to share news during local and national crisis.

We are perhaps like most other Australians, we are reluctant to “dob on” people when we have no real evidence; or perhaps we just don’t think it is right to contact authorities because that is not the Australian way. Sadly times have changed, our nation is at the highest level of security alert since the days of the World Wars. All of us, not just small business people, have to get over our reluctance and make that necessary phone call to the security line and then leave it to the authorities, they will do what is best.  Being vigilant doesn’t make us vigilantes, we don’t have time to be annoying busy bodies, but we can make a phone call. A vigilante is too busy to run a business.

Interestingly in writing this article I also felt that maybe I was being an alarmist, maybe I should just leave the issue alone. I have discussed the article with various people including a sociologist, fellow COSBOA team members and also my colleague Kate Carnell, who is the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and a previous long term Chief Minister for the Australian Capital Territory as well as an owner of a community pharmacy. Kate who has comprehensive experience on broader community matters agrees and supports the call to small business people to be aware and be prepared to report anything they believe is not right. That support is valued and appreciated.

Let’s face it by the nature of business when we are in or near our business premises our awareness is naturally enhanced.  Any recent change in local conditions will be noticed and any strange person or event will be watched with suspicion until proven good.  When operating our business we will also note any odd business transaction, this is particularly important for, say, small business people in the financial sector where money laundering is a concern for security agencies and where even access to loans for strange activities can shed a light on unlawful behaviour.  Banks can monitor activities through technology and reports but the small business person can also see the people involved and they will know when something is odd that a report might not highlight.

I know stock and station agents will note and report any odd purchases of agricultural chemicals.  This can apply equally to many industries with access to chemicals including: hairdressing; panel beating and auto repairs; most trades such as painting; retailing; cleaning; transport and many others.

As mentioned previously the people from AGs did not want to alarm us and were very keen to make sure we did not alarm anyone else.  We did however agree that a message needs to be sent to all small business people – if you see something odd or someone acting suspiciously or something that just doesn’t feel right then don’t be alarmed but do contact the authorities and let them know your concerns. The authorities will deal with the issue in a professional manner.

We will be providing our member organisations with information on this issue for their newsletters and indeed our National Small Business Summit to be held in Sydney in July 2015 will have one theme around the capacity of small business people to spot and report security concerns.

In the end this reinforces my belief that small business people are not just the backbone of the economy but we are also integral to our culture, our social cohesion, our well-being, our health and our security, whether that be national or local security, we see what is happening and if necessary will report our concerns.

So, yes, we can and should report suspicious behaviour to the right authorities.

The contact number and the website information is:

National Security Hotline 1800 1234 00


About the author

Peter Strong

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