National

Security clearance revoked after names of Chinese officials mistranslated

A public servant who had her security clearance revoked after the authorities mistranslated Chinese names, including her father's, has lost a bid to recover her legal costs from the Commonwealth.

The woman joined the Australian Public Service in 2005 and was issued with a confidential security clearance.

In March 2014, she had the clearance revoked after an adverse security assessment by the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency.

A month later, she was suspended from work and advised of a proposal to sack her as a result of the adverse assessment.

The woman applied for a review of the decision, and provided the details of errors that had been made in translations of the transcripts of the interviews with government officials.

The errors in the transcripts included incorrectly identifying certain Chinese officials and a mix up with her father's name.

She was also alleged to be in breach of the Australian Government Contract Reporting Guidelines in January 2009, despite the fact that the rules were not approved until October 2010.

In August 2014, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ordered, with consent of both parties, the Director-General of Security to reconsider the decision to issue the adverse security assessment.

The authorities issued a new decision in October 2014 which allowed the woman to keep her job.

But the decision still refused to grant her a negative vetting Level 1 security clearance, and ordered she not have access to highly classified information, particularly relating to Australia's relations with China, not independently represent Australian government interests in China, including in Hong Kong or Macau, and report all contact with Chinese officials, both professionally and socially, to an agency security adviser.

The Vetting Agency was also ordered to refer all further security clearance applications made by the woman to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation for security assessment.

She was baseline security clearance and to work in a new role, based on that clearance, in February last year.

The woman then asked the tribunal to order the Director-General of Security pay her legal costs for the proceedings.

Her lawyers argued that the effect of the incorrect assessment had been profound as, without the legal appeal, the woman would have lost her job and been prevented from working for the public sector generally for reasons entirely unknown to her.

The lawyers argued that the unfairness of the process had required rectification by the tribunal and it would be appropriate that she be at least partially compensated for the costs of that action.

Government lawyers argued that the tribunal could not be satisfied that the changes to the original decision had been based on the corrections to the translations proposed by the woman.

In a decision, published online last month, deputy president James Constance refused the application for costs on a legal technicality, as she had not been "substantially" successful in her case.

"The applicant applied to the tribunal to set aside the assessment in its entirety," he wrote.

"In the new decision, the respondent maintained the advice to the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency that it refuse to grant the applicant a NV1 security clearance and that it refer any further security clearance applications for the applicant to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

"That being the case, the changed recommendations as to the applicant's employment have not caused me to form the opinion that the applicant was substantially successful in her application for review."