Contracting  within the federal government here in Australia can be a lucrative and rewarding endeavour. Given the sensitive nature of the work, contractors will need to undertake a stringent clearance check via the Australian Government Vetting Agency.

Vetting in Australia is an intensive process, so it’s important to ensure you understand what is required before applying for a role.

Here we’ll give an overview of gaining government clearance for work, with answers to some of the most common questions about the process.

It is worth noting that clearance is restricted to Australian Citizens, so if this is the case your focus should first be attaining your citizenship.

What is Vetting in Australia?

Gaining government clearance for work as an IT professional involves applying for formal authorisation that allows you access to classified information, systems or facilities within government agencies or departments.

This security clearance is essential for individuals engaged in roles that require handling sensitive data, protecting critical infrastructure or maintaining the security of government information systems.

The process, which is also known as vetting, involves a thorough background investigation and assessment of your character (read: trustworthiness) and associations, as well as any potential risks you may pose to Australia’s national security. The level of clearance needed depends on the nature of your work and the sensitivity of the information involved.

Given the time it can take to achieve the higher level clearances, agencies are often only able to accept applications from people who already have an active clearance in place.

Security Clearance Levels Australia

There are four security clearance levels for work as an IT professional in the Australian government sector. The levels progress upwards depending on the sensitivity of information accessed in the role, the potential risk the information’s disclosure poses to Australia’s national security, and the need to safeguard it.

The security clearance levels in Australia are:

Baseline Clearance

This is an entry-level security clearance required for positions that involve access to limited or publicly available information. It verifies an individual’s identity, citizenship, and criminal history.

This type of clearance is typically suitable for IT roles that don’t involve direct access to sensitive or classified information, but still require a level of trustworthiness. Baseline clearance is commonly used for roles such as IT support staff or non-sensitive administrative positions.

This clearance is generally approved within a few weeks

Negative Vetting Level 1 (NV1)

An NV1 is a mid-tier security clearance necessary for positions that involve access to classified information up to the ‘Protected’ level — information that if disclosed, could cause damage to national security.

This type of clearance involves a more detailed background check and assessment and is suitable for IT roles that require access to sensitive government data and systems, such as a network administrator.

This clearance can take a number of months to process

Negative Vetting Level 2 (NV2)

An NV2 clearance is a higher-level security clearance designed for positions that involve access to classified information up to the ‘Secret’ level — information that if disclosed, would seriously compromise national security.

NV2 vetting includes a comprehensive investigation into an individual’s personal, professional, and financial history. It’s required for IT roles that deal with highly sensitive government information and systems, such as an information security analyst.

This clearance can take in excess of 6 months to process

Positive Vetting Clearance

This is the highest level security clearance. It’s required for positions involving access to classified information up to the ‘Top Secret’ level – the most sensitive government information that if disclosed would cause exceptionally grave damage to the national interest, national security, or international relations.

Positive vetting requirements involve an extensive investigation into all aspects of an individual’s life. Positive vetting clearance is crucial for highly sensitive roles where you have access to highly sensitive systems or data. Providing Secure communications for the Prime Minister or working on Defence projects / weapon systems typically needing this clearance.

This clearance can take in excess of 8 months to process.

What Is Assessed and Involved in Security Clearance by Level?

Security clearance assesses your commitment to protecting Australia’s national interest. Essentially, are you trustworthy enough to not only access classified resources, but willing to protect them?

As such, the process aims to evaluate your honesty, integrity, judgement, stability and reliability, as well as whether you may be susceptible to undue influence.

Uncovering this involves many checks from the most basic (proof of identity, citizenship and a criminal record check) to extremely comprehensive (proof of identity and citizenship, checks on your criminal record, background checks dating back 10+ years, digital footprint, referees, financial history, as well as an ASIO and security interview, psychological assessment and more).

You can view the full list of personnel security checks according to clearance level on the Defence website.

How Do I Apply?

The first step in the application process is determining your eligibility. You must be an Australian citizen (although there are some exceptional circumstances to this rule) and sponsored by an appropriate department or agency.

An appropriate agency refers to an Australian Federal, State or Territory government agency or department, or a member of the Defence Industry Security Program (DISP).

Securing a sponsor usually means securing a job offer, as you can’t submit a clearance application without one. But as numerous Government agencies or departments require security clearance before you apply — or need the role filled quickly so there isn’t enough time to do so — it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation. This isn’t always the case but it’s useful to be aware of this.

Typically once you have a sponsor, they will collect relevant IDs and supporting documentation from you, of which there are many, and process this with the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA) for assessment.

How Long Does It Take?

The length of time it takes to move through the clearance process varies by security level, but it can be anywhere from 7 weeks to 7 months. AGSVA tracks its application processing performance throughout the year and you can find their current median processing timeframes on their website.

How Much Does It Cost?

Once again, fees vary according to clearance level, but range from around $900 to just over $15,000.

In Australia, the cost of security clearances is often borne by the sponsoring organisation or government agency that requires you have a security clearance. But this isn’t always the case, so it’s a good idea to check this with the agency or organisation, especially if you’re applying for a contracting or consulting IT role.

Do I Have Ongoing Responsibilities Once Cleared?

In short, yes. From undertaking required security awareness training, to advising AGSVA of changes in your personal circumstances, to maintaining a ‘reasonable’ standard of behaviour in public, there are a number of responsibilities you need to adhere to once you have your clearance. You can find the full list at the Defence website.

Do I Need to Review My Security Clearance?

You need to re-validate your security clearance every 7-15 years depending on your level of clearance. If you move jobs within that time, it’s your responsibility to ensure your new employer registers their sponsorship of your clearance before your former employer removes it. Otherwise, you risk having your security clearance revoked due to not having a valid sponsor.

What Happens If I Fail My Security Clearance?

If you fail a security clearance, it means that the assessment process has determined you do not meet the necessary criteria for the level of clearance required for the specific role or access you were being considered for.

The exact implications of failing a security clearance can vary based on the circumstances, the level of clearance, and the specific organisation or agency involved.

It’s good to know you’ll first get a right of reply if AGSVA intends to make a decision that will negatively affect you. They’ll issue you with a Procedural Fairness Letter and you’ll have a chance to respond in writing before a final decision is made. If it’s still rejected, you have a right to a decision review.

In any case, if you fail your clearance, this usually means your job offer will be withdrawn. But there are instances where, depending on the specific reasons for the failure and the nature of the information you were seeking access to, you might still be able to work in a role with limited access to information or systems.

Further Support with the Security Clearance Process

As you can see, gaining government clearance for work is a complex process. But it is a highly worthwhile investment as an IT professional. Getting your foot in the door of an Australian Public Sector position opens you up to a whole new world of career possibilities.

Having worked in the IT recruitment industry for over 15 years, our specialists have plenty of experience in navigating the security clearance process on behalf of our candidates and clients. Please let us know if you require further support, or want to find out more about the Government IT roles we currently have on offer.