All About Failing a Polygraph and Appealing the Results in Australia

In Australia, certain industries may require you to undergo a polygraph test as part of their hiring process or ongoing employment. One of the primary industries that uses polygraphs in Australia is the security industry, where individuals are responsible for protecting people and property.

Another industry where it may be used is in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This includes police officers, investigators, and other law enforcement personnel who are involved in investigations and interrogations.

a polygraph test administered to a subject by an investigator.

Other industries include finance and banking, where employees may be responsible for handling large amounts of money or sensitive financial information. Additionally, they may be used in government positions where individuals have access to classified information.

In this article, we will learn about the most typical causes for failing a polygraph exam, the potential implications of failing a test, and the limitations and issues involved with these sorts of failures. Furthermore, we will learn about the appeal process available to individuals who believe they have gotten an unfair result.



Common reasons why individuals fail a polygraph test

Polygraph screen being observed by examiner

There are various factors that can lead to an individual failing the exam. Here are some common reasons why individuals fail a polygraph test:

  1. Anxiety and Nervousness: The mere thought of taking a polygraph test can be nerve-wracking for some individuals, and this anxiety can affect the test results. When you are nervous, your body may exhibit physiological responses that can be misinterpreted as signs of deception. For example, your heart rate may increase, your palms may become sweaty, and your breathing may become shallow.
  2. Physical or mental health conditions: Certain physical or mental health conditions can affect the results of a polygraph test. For example, if you have a medical condition that causes you to experience tremors or excessive sweating, this could be misinterpreted as a sign of deception. Similarly, if you are taking medication that affects your heart rate or breathing, this could also affect the test results.
  3. Physical discomfort: physical discomfort, such as irritation from the sensors or an injury, can alter your responses and generate incorrect data.
  4. Misunderstanding of Questions: It’s crucial to understand the questions asked during a polygraph test. Misunderstanding a question or having trouble remembering the details of an event can lead to a false positive result.
  5. Fear of the Consequences: If you are taking a polygraph test as part of a job interview or an investigation, the fear of the consequences of failing can be overwhelming. This fear can cause you to be overly cautious in your responses, or it may cause you to become defensive and provide inaccurate information.
  6. Technical issues: In some instances, technical faults with the polygraph equipment or incorrect administration of the exam can also lead to a failed result.


Consequences of failing a polygraph test

Some of the consequences of failing a polygraph test in Australia may include:

  1. Loss of employment: In some industries, such as law enforcement and national security, polygraph tests are often mandatory. If you fail a polygraph test in these industries, you may lose your job or be denied employment. Similarly, if you are required to take a polygraph test as part of your job and you fail, your employer may take disciplinary action against you, up to and including termination.
  2. Legal Implications: Polygraph test results are usually not admissible as evidence in Australian courts. However, if you fail a polygraph test in the context of a criminal investigation, it could lead to increased scrutiny and suspicion from law enforcement, which could potentially result in charges being brought against you.
  3. Reputation Damage: Failing a polygraph test can also damage your reputation, both professionally and personally. In some industries, such as law enforcement and national security, a failed polygraph test may result in your name being added to a national database of individuals who have failed polygraph tests, which could make it difficult for you to find future employment in these fields.
  4. Psychological Impact: Failing a polygraph test can also have a psychological impact. Even if you are innocent, the experience of being accused of lying and failing a test designed to detect lies can be traumatic and stressful.


How polygraph test results are used in legal proceedings in Australia

When it comes to legal proceedings in Australia, the admissibility of polygraph test results as evidence varies depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case. Generally, polygraph results are not admissible as evidence.

However, there are some circumstances where polygraph test results may be admissible in legal proceedings. For example, in some civil cases, such as employment disputes, the results of polygraph tests may be used as evidence. In these cases, the polygraph test must have been administered by a qualified examiner, and the results must be considered relevant and reliable.

In addition, in some cases, a judge or magistrate may order that a polygraph test be conducted to assist in the determination of a case. However, even in these cases, the results are usually not admissible as evidence but rather used as an investigative tool.


Steps to take when appealing a failed polygraph test result

A Man Appealing A Failed Or Inconclusive lie detector Result

It is important to keep in mind that a failed result is not the end of the story. If you feel that the test was administered or interpreted incorrectly, you may be able to appeal the decision.

The appeal process is similar throughout Australia, including in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, and Brisbane. Here’s what you need to know about the steps:

  1. Consult with an expert: Speak with a specialist who is experienced in the field to understand your options and the likelihood of success, such as the Axeligence Team.
  2. Review the test: You should request a copy of the test results from the testing agency. This will allow you to review the results and identify any potential errors or inconsistencies. You may also want to seek the assistance of an expert who can analyze the results and provide an opinion on their accuracy.
  3. Prepare your case: Gather all relevant information and evidence to support your case. This may include documentation, witness statements, and any other relevant materials.
  4. Submit an appeal: Submit a written request to the relevant authorities, outlining the reasons why you believe that the test was not conducted or evaluated correctly.
  5. Attend a hearing or additional investigation:  You will be informed of the date and time of the hearing or investigation, during which you can present your case and argue why the results should be overturned.
  6. Receive a decision: The relevant authorities will decide whether to maintain or overturn the first result.
  7. Next steps: If the appeal is successful and the original result is overturned, you may have the opportunity to retake the test. If the appeal is unsuccessful, you may have the right to take legal action.

It’s important to note that each state in Australia has different regulations and requirements for appealing polygraph test results.


Grounds for appealing a failed polygraph test result

If you’ve failed a polygraph test and you believe the results are inaccurate or unfair, you may have grounds for an appeal. Here are some common justifications for appealing a failed polygraph test result:

  1. Faulty Equipment: One of the most common grounds for appeal is if there was an issue with the equipment used during the test. Polygraph machines are complex and can malfunction, leading to inaccurate readings. You may be able to appeal your results if there is evidence that the equipment used during your test was faulty or outdated.
  2. Invalid Test Conditions: Another reason for appeal could be the test conditions. If the test was conducted in an inappropriate setting or under duress, it could have affected the results. For example, if you were coerced into taking the test or if the examiner was biased against you, it could impact the accuracy of the results.
  3. Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can affect the results of a polygraph test. For example, if you have a heart condition, it could affect your heart rate, which could then be interpreted as a sign of deception. If you have a medical condition that could have impacted the results of your test, you may be able to appeal your results.
  4. Inadequate Pre-Test Preparation: Finally, if the examiner did not provide adequate preparation for the test, it could impact the results. For example, if you were not given clear instructions on how to take the test or if the examiner did not adequately explain the test to you, it could have impacted your performance. If you believe that inadequate preparation impacted your test results, you may have grounds for an appeal.
  5. Test procedure: whether the test was carried out in accordance with all applicable laws, rules, and guidelines. Elements include the test administrator’s qualifications, the environment in which the test was administered, and the validity of the test questions.

By understanding the factors, you can prepare a strong case and increase your chances of success. However, it’s always important to seek the advice of a specialist to ensure that you understand your rights and the best course of action to take.


The role of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in the appeal process

If you fail a polygraph test and wish to appeal the result, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in Australia plays a crucial role in the process.

The AAT is an independent body that conducts reviews of decisions made by Australian government agencies, including decisions made by the Department of Home Affairs regarding visas and citizenship. It is also responsible for reviewing appeals related to failed polygraph tests.

When appealing a failed polygraph test result, you can apply to the AAT for a review of the decision. The AAT will consider all the evidence and make an independent determination.

The AAT has the power to affirm the original decision, set it aside and substitute a new decision, or remit the matter for reconsideration. The AAT’s decision is final, and there is no further avenue for appeal.

It is important to note that the AAT is not bound by the rules of evidence or procedure that apply in courts. This means that the AAT can consider evidence that would not be admissible in a court of law. However, the AAT must still consider the legal requirements and principles that are relevant to the case.

In addition, the AAT operates on a case-by-case basis and will make a decision based on the specific circumstances of the case. Therefore, it is important to present all relevant evidence and arguments in your appeal application to increase your chances of a successful outcome.


Real-World Cases of Failed Polygraph Tests in Australia

Side image of a young female polygraph examinee dressed in black.

Case 1: The Death of Maria James

Maria James was murdered in 1980 in her Melbourne bookshop. Despite multiple suspects, the case remained unsolved for over 30 years. In 2018, police asked one of the suspects, a former priest named Anthony Bongiorno, to take a polygraph test. Bongiorno failed the test, and he was charged with the murder. However, the case was dismissed in 2019 due to a lack of evidence.


Case 2: The Murder of Daniel Morcombe

Daniel Morcombe was a 13-year-old boy who was abducted and murdered in 2003 in Queensland. In 2011, police asked Brett Peter Cowan, one of the suspects, to take a polygraph test. Cowan failed the test, and he was eventually found guilty of the murder in 2014. However, his conviction was later overturned on appeal due to errors in the police investigation.


These cases show that polygraph tests can sometimes lead to false accusations and wrongful convictions. While the results of these tests may sometimes be used as evidence in court, they are not always accurate.


Alternative methods used in Australia for detecting deception

When it comes to detecting deception, the polygraph test is not the only method available. In fact, there are several alternative methods that have been used in Australia and around the world. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. Statement analysis: This method involves analyzing a person’s spoken or written statements for signs of deception. It looks for patterns in language use, such as excessive use of passive voice or certain types of words, that may indicate that a person is being untruthful. Statement analysis is often used in conjunction with other methods of deception detection.
  2. Eye-tracking: This method uses special equipment to track a person’s eye movements while they are answering questions. The idea is that a person’s eyes will involuntarily move in certain ways when they are lying, and this can be detected by the eye-tracking equipment. Eye-tracking has been used in research studies but is not widely used in real-world situations.
  3. Voice stress analysis: This method involves analyzing a person’s voice for signs of stress or anxiety, which can be an indication that they are being deceptive. Voice stress analysis is based on the idea that when a person is lying, their body will produce certain physiological responses, such as changes in heart rate or breathing, that can be detected in their voice. However, this method has been criticized for being unreliable and has not been widely adopted.
  4. Behavioral analysis: This method involves observing a person’s behaviour for signs of deception, such as changes in body language or facial expressions. It is often used in law enforcement and security settings to identify potential threats, but it can also be used in other contexts where deception is a concern.
  5. Cognitive load testing: This method involves giving a person a task to perform while they are being asked questions. The idea is that if a person is lying, their brain will be working harder to come up with a convincing story, which will make it harder for them to perform the task. Cognitive load testing is still a relatively new method, and more research is needed to determine its effectiveness.


It’s important to note that while these methods may be useful in some situations, none of them are foolproof. They all have their limitations and can produce false positives or false negatives. As a result, they are often used in conjunction with other methods to increase their accuracy.



In summary, while polygraph testing may be used in some contexts in Australia, its use is generally limited and controversial. If you have wrongly failed a polygraph test, you may be able to appeal the result, and your unique circumstances and subjective experiences will be considered.

You can improve your chances by consulting a specialist and providing a clear, proper argument that addresses your individual situation.


Will a polygraph examiner tell you if you failed?
Yes, typically the polygraph examiner will inform you if you failed the test. However, they may not disclose the specific details of the failure or the reasons behind it.
The failure rate for the polygraph test can vary depending on the study and context, but some estimates suggest a failure rate of 20%.
Yes, it is possible to fail a polygraph test by being highly nervous, as heightened anxiety or stress can affect the test results. However, experienced polygraph examiners are trained to distinguish between nervousness and intentional deception
It depends on the circumstances and the policies of the administering agency. In some cases, a second polygraph test may be offered if the first results were inconclusive or questionable. However, in other cases, a failed polygraph test may disqualify a person from employment or other opportunities.
False positives on polygraphs can occur due to a variety of factors, including anxiety, stress, and physiological conditions. The frequency of false positives can vary depending on the specific test and the population being tested. However, experienced polygraph examiners are trained to minimize false positives and accurately interpret the test results.
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