Security clearances – Overview

Under the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF), personnel that need ongoing access to security classified resources must hold a security clearance at the appropriate level. Security classified resources include Protected, Secret and Top Secret information, systems that hold classified information, and classified assets. A person may also be required to hold a security clearance if they occupy a position of trust requiring additional assurance about the integrity of the position’s occupant.

A security clearance is not required to access information that does not have a security classification, including Official or Official: Sensitive information. For this type of information, routine employment screening is sufficient. 

The purpose of the security vetting process is to determine whether an individual is suitable to hold a security clearance—that is, whether they possess and demonstrate an appropriate level of integrity. In the security context, integrity is defined as a range of character traits that indicate the individual is able to protect Australian Government resources. These character traits are: honesty, trustworthiness, maturity, tolerance, resilience and loyalty.

The assessment of a clearance subject needs to establish confidence that they possess a sound and stable character, and that they are not unduly vulnerable to influence or coercion. The PSPF requires that any doubt regarding an individual’s suitability to hold a security clearance be resolved in the national interest.

There are four levels of security clearances: 

Clearance Level Level of ongoing access permitted Level of conditional access
Baseline Classified resources up to and including PROTECTED  
Negative Vetting Level 1 Classified resources up and including SECRET NV1 security clearance holders can be provided with temporary access to TOP SECRET classified resources in certain circumstances.
Negative Vetting Level 2 Classified resources up to and including TOP SECRET An NV2 security clearance will be sufficient for most roles requiring intermittent access to TOP SECRET classified resources.
Positive Vetting Classified resources up to and including TOP SECRET, including some caveated information  PV clearances should only be sought where there is a demonstrated need to access extremely sensitive information, capabilities, operations and systems. Entities should first consider whether an NV2 clearance would meet the position’s requirement for a security clearance. 

Note about access to caveated information:

Access to caveated information that involves a codeword requires a briefing, and may require a Negative Vetting 1, Negative Vetting 2 or Positive Vetting security clearance in addition to other requirements. Entities must ensure that people requiring access to caveated information meet all clearance and suitability requirements imposed by the originator and caveat owner.