Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Queensland journalists need protection for confidential sources

By Bill Potts - posted Monday, 14 November 2011

Queensland should follow a Western Australia move and enact laws to protect journalists dealing with confidential sources, after a recent news issue revealed there is no legal protection for people making confidential admissions.

A recent issue in New South Wales, where teachers are being warned to caution their students of their legal rights, if the student confides in them, has in part highlighted the need for a system of protected confidentiality.

A 14-year-old boy confessed to his teacher that he robbed a service station and stabbed the attendant with a knife. The boy was acquitted after a NSW District Court refused to allow the teacher's statement into evidence because the teacher had not "cautioned" the boy.


Teacher groups lamented the ramifications of the NSW case, with NSW Teachers Federation President Bob Lipscombe saying it could change the way teachers and students relate to each other, especially if teacherscould be forced to warn students as young as 10 about their legal rights before counseling them.

Understandable though the teacher concerns may be, this has focused awareness on what, if any, legal protections there are for confidential disclosures or discussions for all sections of the community. The short version is that there are almost no protections for anyone.

There is a common misconception that admissions of misconduct to a teacher, a doctor or even a priest or laws of confidentiality protect confidential disclosures to journalists.

Not true. In Queensland, the only person who can hear an admission of guilt and not be forced to give evidence on it is a lawyer acting for a client. Everyone else: teacher, priest, journalist has no shield against being compelled to disclose what they have been told; if a court insists they talk. The laws here need to be changed especially to protect whistle-blowers.

The fact that teachers should be issuing cautions, not unlike those issued by police is really just a reflection of what is happening in the wider world now.

With just one exception, anything you say to anybody can be used in evidence against you. By the way this includes drunken conversations in taxis. It’s amazing how many people think that things they blurt out in a taxi are somehow protected. They are not and a subpoena can be used to have the information extracted in a courtroom.


Some journalists are under the belief they cannot be legally forced to identify their sources of confidential information. In fact they have no legal protections, but they should have.

Queensland should follow the latest WA example where landmark legal protection for journalists who deal with confidential information is being introduced.

I understand the WA laws will offer a special level of protection specifically to journalists to prevent them from being compelled to give evidence in court or to state parliament if they have promised to keep a source confidential.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Article edited by Jo Coghlan.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

4 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Bill Potts is a Brisbane criminal lawyer.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Bill Potts

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 4 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy