Activist Rights

Offensive language and behaviour

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It is an offence to use indecent or threatening language or behave in a “riotous indecent offensive or insulting manner” in or near a public place, or within the view or hearing of a person in a public place (section 17(1) Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic)).

The maximum penalty for a first offence is a $1000 fine or two months’ jail. The probable penalty is a small fine in most cases. However, every case is different, and you should seek legal advice about the penalty you are likely to receive. “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.