Concerns raised over security clearance in QLD's new shared services agency

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Concerns raised over security clearance in QLD's new shared services agency

Under-vetted staff could access criminal databases.

A Queensland police union is concerned the establishment of the state’s new emergency services shared services agency – staffed in part by civilians and contractors – will place the integrity of sensitive crime databases at risk.

Last November, the Queensland government formed the Public Safety Business Agency – a shared services unit set up to provide IT and other corporate functions to police and emergency services agencies. Legislation formalising the PSBA will be voted on in Parliament soon.

The PSBA will have a role in updating and maintaining core databases such as the QPRIME criminal records system and Aurion payroll system that were previously restricted to employees of the Queensland Police Service, who undergo strict security vetting prior to entering the force.

But in a submission to the parliamentary committee charged with reviewing the bill, Queensland's Police Commissioner Officer's Union said it was concerned the PSBA Bill remains “silent on the security checks and appropriate access to information” non-police employees of the new agency will be subject to.

“There is a risk, without security clearance of employees accessing QPS databases, of misuse of that information or inappropriate access to information and potential release to the media or unauthorised persons, such as criminal gangs.”

It laid out a matrix of the checks QPS staff go through, compared to the relatively light vetting of public sector staff, external service providers and contractors.

“There must be greater clarification of the vetting processes to be employed by the PSBA once entrusted with the access to the QPS databases.”

The Legal Affairs and Community Safety committee, despite recommending that the Parliament pass the PSBA bill, said it was inclined to agree.

The mixed-party panel has called on the government to clarify an approach to the security clearances PSBA staff will need to obtain into the future.

“The misuse of information or inappropriate access to information and potential release to any external party is a real threat and appropriate vetting standards must be applied,” it said.

Police, Fire and Emergency Services Minister Jack Dempsey advised that the issue was currently being considered by government.

A path to outsourcing?

Not all members of the Legal Affairs and Safety Committee, however, will be happy to see the PSBA Bill passed.

Dissenting member and Shadow Police Minister Bill Byrne said he was worried that consolidation into a shared services agency would just pave the way for the Queensland government to outsource emergency services corporate support.

“Its a natural process,” he told iTnews, citing his 30 years' experience in the Australian Army, over which time corporate services were similarly consolidated and many outsourced under large-scale contracts.

“Look at the way the products and services have been grouped up in the PSBA. What they have established is a whole raft of neat packages that industry would love to get their hands on.

“I have witnessed first-hand the weaknesses of these sorts of arrangements."

He said the current government was inexperienced with the management of large-scale shared services, which many Australian states and territories (Queensland included) have proved to be a difficult model to make work.

“It is like they are looking for landmines with their eyes closed,” he said.

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