Theft and property damage

Theft and property damage

Property offences include recklessly damaging property belonging to another person, causing finding something and not trying to return it to the owner, buying something from a ‘bloke in the pub’ that turns out to have been stolen, shoplifting as well as more serious offences such as burglary or armed robbery.

Theft and property damage offences are serious. Get legal advice.

Property damage

It is a crime to purposely damage or destroy another person’s property without their permission.

‘Property’ is anything that can be ‘owned’ by a person, including living things, such as pets.

Property damage offences, also known as wilful or criminal damage offences, include:

  • arson (damage by fire)
  • posting bills (such as putting up promotional posters) or defacing property (marking or writing on property)
  • tampering with a motor vehicle, such as tampering with a door lock or a car aerial
  • threats to damage or destroy property.


Theft is intentionally taking something in someone else’s possession that does not belong to you, and that you do not intend to give back.

Theft-related offences include:

  • obtaining by deception
  • burglary (entering someone else’s land or property intending to steal something, damage property or assault someone)
  • robbery/armed robbery
  • going equipped to steal
  • handling stolen goods
  • receiving stolen goods.

Joyriding (stealing a car to drive around in) is theft, even if you intend to return the car. Stealing from a shop (shoplifting) is also theft.

You can also be charged with theft if you happen to find something that is not yours and you keep it without trying to find the owner.

What the prosecution has to prove

If you are charged with theft the prosecution will have o prove that you:

  • acted dishonestly when taking the property
  • did not own the property
  • were not planning to return it to the owner.

Penalties and compensation orders

Theft and property damage offences carry penalties of imprisonment, fines or both. You may receive a penalty that you serve in the community, such as community-based orders or intensive correction orders.

Charges are usually heard in the Magistrates’ Court, unless the value of goods/property is more than $100,000 or there are other, more serious charges as well.

If a court finds you guilty it can make an order for you to return stolen possessions or pay for the property that was sold, lost or damaged (this is known as ‘restitution’).

On-the-spot fines for shoplifting

Police have the option to issue an on-the-spot fine if they believe you have committed a shoplifting offence and:

  • the value of the stolen goods is less than $600
  • it is your first shoplifting offence and a ‘one-off’ offence
  • you have made restitution, if it is required by the shop-owner
  • the offence did not occur at your workplace.

The fine for these offences is two penalty units. Payment of the fine will not be seen as admission of guilt and no conviction will be recorded.

If you do not pay the fine or take other action by the due date it may end up costing you more money. See Options for dealing with fines.

Note: The option to issue a fine is under a trail which is due to end on 1 July 2014.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with criminal offences.