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What is graffiti?

In the NT, there is no specific definition of graffiti, but it can include writing, drawing, marking, scratching or etching any public or private space (including a building, pole, vehicle, etc.).

Is graffiti illegal?

It depends. Sometimes graffiti can be legal. For example, if you have permission from the owner of the property, you are doing it as part of your work or education, or the space is a legal graffiti space.

BUT, it is against the law to graffiti:

  • a bus, bus station, any signs or equipment; or
  • a building, wall or fence in a public place (it is also against the law to put up a poster on a building, wall or fence in a public place).

It is also against the law to intentionally or thoughtlessly damage any property that does not belong to you. This can include ruining the appearance of something with graffiti.

Councils can also make rules about graffiti.  For example, Darwin City Council has made it against the law to intentionally damage, mark, write or draw on any part of a building, wall or vehicle in the Darwin City area. Check with your local council about any rules in your area.  

Is it illegal to buy spray paint?


Is it illegal to carry a graffiti tool?

It depends. There is no law in the NT that makes it illegal to possess a graffiti tool, such as spray paint. However, you should check with your local council about any rules they may have about carrying graffiti tools in your area.

Can I be stopped and searched for graffiti tools?

Yes, but only in certain circumstances, like if the police think that you are carrying something that has been used or will be used for illegal activity (like illegal graffiti), and the circumstances are so serious and urgent to justify an immediate search.  For more information about Police searches see “When can I be searched?”.

Can the Police confiscate my graffiti tool?

Yes, but only if the police think it is connected to illegal activity, like illegal graffiti.  For more information about Police powers to confiscate items see “The police have taken my stuff. Can they do this?”.

What happens if I’ve been caught by the police making illegal graffiti?

If you are under 18, the police may:

  1. Give you a verbal or written warning;
  2. Require you to attend a youth justice conference; or
  3. Require you to attend a diversion program.

If you are caught doing graffiti on a bus or at a bus stop by a transit officer, the transit officer may:

  1. ask for your name, address and date of birth;
  2. tell you to stop doing the graffiti;
  3. ask  or force you to leave the bus or bus station;
  4. charge you (which means you will have to go to court); and/or
  5. tell you that you might be arrested, and if you continue to do the graffiti, arrest you and take you to the Police.   

For more information about warnings, cautions, and youth justice conferences, see our page “Youth Justice”.

What are the penalties for graffiti crimes?

If you are under 18 and are charged and then found guilty of a graffiti crime, the court may:

  1. Give you a fine.  The amount of the fine will depend on the circumstances;
  2. Refer you to a diversion program or Youth Justice Conference;
  3. Require you to do community service (like cleaning up graffiti);
  4. Make a compensation order, where you pay the cost of cleaning up the graffiti;
  5. Send you to detention.  This will be a last resort and only where no other penalty is appropriate.

For more information about penalties and court hearings, see our page “Courtstuff”.

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