Defence struggling to process staff security clearances needed ahead of AUKUS rush – ABC News

Defence struggling to process staff security clearances needed ahead of AUKUS rush - ABC News

Australia’s largest-ever military project is facing an early setback, with Defence struggling to complete mandatory security clearances for skilled staff to work on the sensitive AUKUS nuclear submarine program.

Defence insiders have told the ABC the department is facing “a massive backlog” for vetting new employees, a crucial requirement for anyone working on the highly secretive endeavour involving the United Kingdom and the United States.

While Defence continues to grapple with “challenges” related to security clearances, the country’s domestic intelligence agency ASIO will soon take control of determining which officials can gain the highest-level access to Australia’s most guarded secrets.

Much of the blame for Defence’s slow security clearance processing is being levelled at a new IT system designed to improve vetting, known as MyClearance, which has been beset by difficulties since being introduced at the end of November 2022.

“They were migrating from using an older online/paper system to a new online system and the whole thing has collapsed,” one figure familiar with the situation claimed.

“All [security] clearances are stalled and from what I understand there’s no fix in sight,” the individual told the ABC, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“There are massive backlogs of clearances for people wanting to go into the nuclear-powered submarine project – Defence cannot manage IT issues.”

MyClearance is used by the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA), an organisation inside Defence which performs security clearances for Commonwealth and territory departments as well as industry bodies.

A dark grey submarine floats on the ocean surface beside a dock as people stand on top of it.
A security clearance backlog could hamper Australia’s early work on the AUKUS nuclear submarine program.(Supplied: Department of Defence)

The ABC understands that baseline clearances, which are the lowest security level, are being processed relatively quickly, but employees requiring more thorough vetting to handle Top Secret material are often experiencing significant delays.

A Defence spokesperson acknowledged there were “challenges” with the digital portal built by tech services company Accenture, but insisted there had been “no unplanned outages of the MyClearance system”.

“However, users may have experienced some challenges due to broader Defence and whole-of-government ICT service availability,” the spokesperson told the ABC.

ASIO takes charge of processing Top Secret security clearances

Australia’s current highest level of security clearance, Positive Vetting (PV), will eventually be replaced by a new capability known as TOP SECRET-Privileged Access (TS-PA), which will be administered by ASIO.

Clare O'Neil speaks at a press conference inside parliament house
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil says shifting responsibility for Australia’s highest-level security clearances to ASIO will help safeguard sensitive information.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

On Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil introduced a bill to parliament which includes provisions to modernise and strengthen whole-of-government vetting at the PV level.

“It is critically important we ensure the Australian government’s most privileged information, capabilities and secrets remain protected,” an ASIO spokesperson told the ABC.

“The bill enables reforms that are critical as we out-think and out-manoeuvre those who seek to harm our national interest, and as we expand our capabilities and sharpen our responses.”

ASIO argues the bill improves the current system by “reducing the risk of compromise of trusted insiders; improving the mobility and agility of our highest-cleared workforce; and ensuring the ongoing confidence of Australia’s most trusted allies and global partners”.

“Centralising Australia’s highest-level security clearance means that a person’s suitability to hold the highest level of security clearance can be assessed against the most current information that ASIO holds about the security threats confronting Australia,” the spokesperson said.

Over the next three years it’s expected ASIO will consolidate existing Commonwealth PV vetting functions from agencies including the AGSVA and begin to transition to the new TS-PA clearances.


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