It is an offence to assault, resist, obstruct, hinder or delay a police officer carrying out their duties. This includes resisting your arrest (or someone else’s arrest). The maximum penalty is six months jail, or around $3,000 according to the Summary Offences Act 1966(s52(1)) (“ SOA”). In addition, if you are found guilty of this offence, the court can order you to pay for any damage sustained by the officer ( SOAs52(2)). This offence also applies to obstructing officers of local authorities, such as local Council officers ( SOAs52(1)).
Any person who is on the land of another without authorisation, whether public land or private land, and who refuses or neglects to leave the property after being warned by the owner, occupier or their authorised representative can be found guilty of trespass. The maximum penalty is six months jail or a fine of around $3,000 ( SOAs9(1)).
A ‘public space’ can include gardens, parks, highways, public halls or any place that the public can enter with or without payment.
Police officers usually have a power to order you to ‘move on’ - that is, they can direct you to leave a public place if they suspect on reasonable grounds that you are, or are likely to be, breaching the peace or endangering the safety or another person, or if your behaviour is likely to cause injury to a person or property, or is otherwise a risk to public safety ( SOAs6(1)).
However, police officers do not have this power if you are protesting. Protesting in this case includes picketing a place of employment, demonstrating/protesting about a particular issue, or speaking, bearing a banner or sign in a way that is intended to publicise your views about a particular issue ( SOAs6(5)).
It is an offence for a person, together with others, wilfully use a crowd to obstruct, hinder or impede any person's lawful right to enter, use or leave premises (whether public or private), unless there is authorisation to do so ( SOA s52(1A)). The maximum fine for this offence is around $1,800 or 3 months imprisonment, unless you obstruct a Police Officer, in which case the maximum fine is $2550 or 6 months imprisonment. In addition, if you are found guilty of this offence, the court can order you to pay for any damage sustained by the Police officer or other person whose entrance was obstructed ( SOA s52(2)).
It is an offence to possess, carry or use weapons such as knives, unless they are being carried in a safe and secure manner for a lawful purpose (such as employment, sport, recreation or entertainment)(Control of Weapons Act 1990 s6) (“COWA”). This offence could apply even if you were carrying a knife (such as a pen-knife) for cooking or camping purposes at a protest. The maximum penalty for this offence is one years imprisonment, or around $14,700 (COWA s6(1)).
Weapons such as flick knives, daggers, swords and other types of knives are ‘prohibited weapons’ and must not be possessed, made, brought into, carried or used in Victoria (COWA s5).
In forest protests, the most commonly charged offences are those under the SPLA. Under this Act, the DSE can declare certain areas of State forest to be a 'public safety zone' ( SPLA s4). Information about the public safety zone, including the area it applies to, must be published online (usually on the DSE website), and on a notice conspicuously displayed near the zone. ( SPLA s5, 7, 11)
It is an offence to:
- Carry out any activity in a public safety zone in contravention of the public safety zone declaration (up to about $2,400) ( SPLA s13(1)).
- Refuse to leave a public safety zone after a DSE authorised officer has asked you to leave (provided the officer gives proof of their identity and official status)(up to about $2,400) ( SPLA s14(3)).
- Following a direction to leave a public safety zone, to re-enter the zone, or to attempt to re-enter (up to about $2,400) ( SPLA s15).
- Hinder or obstruct an authorised DSE officer exercising their duties and powers, without reasonable excuse (up to around $7,300) ( SPLA s20).
- Fail to give your correct name and address to an authorised DSE officer, if the officer reasonably believes you have committed an offence, and they have identified themselves (up to around $6,100) ( SPLA s17(3)).
Other Acts relating to forests also include offences, although these are now used less often than those described above. For example, under the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987 it is an offence to hinder or obstruct another person in the lawful carrying out of forest operations (s95A). If you are found guilty of this offence, you can be fined up to around $2,500.
What constitutes a 'lawful forestry operation' for the purposes of this offence can be the subject of some argument. In the past, protesters have successfully appealed against an obstruction charge because the Code of Forests Practices had not been complied with. The argument that you are protesting unlawful forest activities is not available for offences under the Safety on Public Land Act 2004.
In addition to the trespass offence described above, the Electricity Industry Act 2000 (" EIA ") contains specific offences relating to 'critical electricity infrastructure', which includes certain large electricity generation facilities (generation of 1,000kVa or greater), a related coal mine or substation, terminal station or distribution system or transmission system switchyard.
Under this Act, it is an offence to be on land or premises or in an enclosure containing critical electricity infrastructure without authority ( EIA, s79). The maximum penalty is one year's imprisonment.
The Act also contains offences which apply if a person interferes with equipment that forms part of critical electricity infrastructure (including certain vehicles) and they are reckless as to whether this will disrupt the generation, transmission or distribution of electricity. The maximum penalty for this is imprisonment for up to two years ( EIA s80(1)).