Activist Rights

Postering and graffiti

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Posters, stickers and well-placed graffiti or stencils are common forms of political expression and activist methods of community media, education or promotion.

Plan your popular advertising with this in mind: if caught, police may charge you with damage to property offences. Police may request that you pull down posters, instead of charging you, and private security patrols around private buildings who spot posterers at work may give chase and make arrests.

Also see Private security guards.

When distributing information, consider the consequences of where you are putting the material. Note that the person who organises the printing, as well as the person who letterboxes or posters, can be found guilty of an offence under the Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic).

It is an offence to post placards, bills, stickers or other documents, or to write, paint on or deface virtually any structure, including such things as trees and gates, without the consent of the owner (s.45O EPA Act and s.10 Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic)). It is up to you to prove that you had the consent of the owner, occupier or manager of the building. The maximum penalty under the Summary Offences Act is $1500 or 3 months imprisonment, although the actual penalty will depend on the circumstances.. Under the EPA Act the maximum penalty is $1000. In addition to a fine you can be ordered to pay clean-up costs.

It is an offence to deposit advertising material anywhere but a mailbox (s.45K EPA Act ), including on a vehicle (s.45N EPA Act ). It is not an offence to deposit material that has a political purpose into mailboxes labelled with no junk mail or no advertising material (s.45M).

Additional restrictions apply to the publication of election materials. For federal elections, the Commonwealth Electoral Act1918 (s.328) makes it an offence to print, publish or distribute an electoral advertisement, handbill, pamphlet, poster or notice unless the name and address of the person who authorised the printed material and the name and place of business of the printer appear. The maximum penalty for an individual is $1000 and for an organisation $5000. This section applies broadly, even where materials are not produced by political parties. Similar rules apply to state and local government elections.

While the usual penalty for graffiti is a fine, plus compensation for the cost of cleaning or repainting the wall, depending on the value of the damage caused, you could be charged with criminal damage under section 197 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) or wilful damage under section 9(1)(c) of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic). However, it can sometimes be difficult to predict what the penalty might be because every case is different.

For example, the people charged with painting the words NO WAR on the Sydney Opera House received a prison sentence and a huge clean up bill of over $150,000. Seek legal advice if you are unsure what sort of penalty you might face.

Also see Property damage for more information on these offences.

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