Offensive language and behaviour

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It is an offence to

  • sing an obscene song or ballad,
  • write or draw or display an indecent or obscene word, figure or representation,
  • use profane or obscene language or threatening, abusive or insulting words, or
  • behave in a riotous, indecent, offensive or insulting manner

(section 17(1) Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic)).

The maximum penalties are:

for the first offence, 15 penalty units or 2 months jail

for the second offence, 15 penalty units or 3 months jail

for further offences, 25 penalty units or 6 months jail.

“Public place” is very widely defined and includes roads, streets, alleys, footpaths, parks, gardens, railway stations, trains, piers, churches, state schools, theatres, markets, sporting grounds and open areas.

When defending a charge, it is always open to argue that current community standards dictate that the conduct over which a person has been charged with this offence may not amount to obscene, indecent or threatening behaviour.


Related Commonwealth charges

The Commonwealth “offensive or disorderly manner” law is associated with the trespass law.

Under sections 11(2) and 12(2)(a) of the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth), it is an offence for a person who “while trespassing on premises in a Territory” or “being in or on Commonwealth premises…behaves in an offensive or disorderly manner”.

These offences both carry penalties of up to $2000.

Note that the meaning of “offensive or disorderly” has to be established, and that the defence of “reasonable excuse” can be used.

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Offensive language and behaviour

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