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What is graffiti?

In the Northern Territory, there’s no specific definition of graffiti, but graffiti can include things like writing, drawing, marking, scratching or etching any space (for example, a building, a pole, or a vehicle).

Is graffiti illegal?

Creating graffiti will not be against the law if you have the permission of the owner of the property or the local council, or if the space is a legal graffiti space.  Check with your local council about these legal graffiti spaces.

 BUT, it is against the law to graffiti:

-          a bus, bus station, sign 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 a rule that makes 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 these rules for your area. 


Is it illegal to buy spray paint?

No. In the Northern Territory, there is no law that makes it illegal for you 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 generally 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, “What powers do the police have”.


Can the police confiscate my spray can or other graffiti tools?

Yes, but generally only if the police think it is connected to illegal activity, like illegal graffiti.  For more information about Police powers to confiscate see, “What powers do the police have”.


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

If you are under 18, the police may:

a)      Give you a warning;

b)      Make you attend Youth Justice Conferencing; or

c)      Make you 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:

a)      ask for your name, address and date of birth;

b)      tell you to stop doing the graffiti;

c)      ask you to leave the bus;

d)      charge you (which means you will have to go to court); and/or

e)      tell you that you might be arrested, and if you continue to do the graffiti, arrest you and take you to the Police.  If you are under 18, the police will give you a warning or make you attend Youth Justice Conferencing or a diversion program.

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, then depending on the case a court can:

a)      Give you a fine.  The amount of the fine will depend on the circumstances;

b)      Refer you to a youth justice conference;

c)      Refer you to a diversion program;

d)      Make you do community service (like cleaning up graffiti);

e)   Make a compensation order (where you pay the cost of cleaning up the graffiti);

e)      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 “Youth Justice” and “Courtstuff


You are welcome to copy and use this fact sheet.

This page was last updated in October 2014.