Voice Recording Laws: Is It Legal to Record a Conversation in Australia?
Australia has a patchwork of state laws that cover listening devices and the surveillance of conversations. Generally, it is legal to record conversations that are not private (or intended to be private). For private conversations, you need to understand the laws of that state or territory to determine whether it is legal to record a conversation – starting with consent.
Consent For Voice Recordings Explained
Generally, consent must be obtained from either one party or all parties for a conversation to be lawfully recorded in private in Australia. The parties required to provide consent for the recording vary from state-to-state and depend on the circumstances.
One-Party Consent for Voice Recordings
One-party consent laws require just one person involved in the conversation to consent to the recording of it for it to be considered lawful.
Queensland is the only state in Australia that has limited one-party consent requirements for private conversations. If one party of a conversation consents to (and creates) the recording, then the recording is legal.
All-Party Consent for Voice Recordings
All-party consent laws require all parties being recorded to consent to the recording being made. Most Australian states and territories require all-party consent for a recording to be lawful.
Situations Where Consent Is Not Required
There are exceptions to the consent requirements in Australia. For instance, if a warrant is obtained to install and use a listening device, then the conversation can be recorded legally. Police can typically record conversations on their bodycam or when interviewing people during an investigation.
Other exceptions to the consent requirement vary from state-to-state, but they include:
Public Interest Exemptions
Public interest exemptions exist in Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. This exemption came up in 2020 when secret tapes were released following Rio Tinto’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge.
The Protection of Lawful Interests
People may be permitted to record a conversation without the consent of the other party if it is reasonably necessary to protect their own lawful interests. This is usually determined on a case-by-case basis.
There are several widely cited examples where this exemption was successfully used, including:
- A 14-year-old girl recorded a conversation with her father, without his consent, to protect herself from future abuse. He was later found guilty of indecent assault and the possession of child sexual abuse materials.
- In the family court, a father recorded a mother (without her consent) to show that she was abusive towards their children.
Protection From an Imminent Threat
Tasmania has an exception to the consent requirement that allows a party to record a conversation to obtain evidence or information in circumstances where there is an imminent threat of:
- Serious violence;
- Substantial damage to property; or
- A serious narcotics offence.
The recording must be reasonably necessary to lawfully fall under this exception.
Understanding Voice Recording Laws in Australia
As you can see, there is no simple answer to the question “is it legal to record a conversation in Australia?”. Instead, it’s better to ask: “Is it legal to record this conversation in [State or Territory]?”. Given that the range of penalties includes imprisonment, it’s important to be careful to avoid unlawfully recording conversations in Australia.
If you need assistance navigating these laws, reach out. We would love to help.