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Sabotage is a serious offence consisting of the deliberate destruction of equipment or buildings to prevent the success of a competitor or to seek revenge on an enemy. Sabotage can take other forms and instances of sabotage have been on the increase in recent years with the rise of terrorism and technological advancements.

Sabotage is an indictable offence with a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.


Section 423 of the Criminal Code 2002 outlines the offence of sabotage. A person can be charged with a sabotage offence if they damage another person’s property or if they intend to cause major disruption to another person or entity such as a government body, business or individual. Sabotage can also be technological such as accessing or damaging computer data that you were not authorised to access.

A person cannot be charged with sabotage if they participate in a protest, strike or lockout.

A person can be charged with a sabotage offence if the conduct occurred outside the jurisdiction and would have been an offence if it happened in the ACT. Examples of sabotage include damaging private property, or a public facility such as a university, a power company, telecommunications network, public transport, infrastructure or a public park.

A person can be charged with a sabotage offence if their conduct causes damage or contributes to another person’s loss.

Examples of damage include:

  • spray painting a public building;
  • slashing someone’s car tyres;
  • setting fire to public property;
  • throwing rocks and smashing windows in a building.

What actions might constitute sabotage?

Actions that could constitute sabotage include:

  • Damaging a public reservoir or fuel-storage depot;
  • Interfering with the operation of a city’s sewerage system;
  • Hacking government departmental computers.

What the police must prove

The police must prove the following:

  • that your conduct caused damage to a public facility;
  • that you caused the damage by committing a property offence, or by causing an unauthorised computer function;
  • that you intended to cause major disruption to government functions or public services or that you intended to cause major economic loss.

Possible defences

The following defences can be used to defeat a charge of sabotage:

  • that no damage or disruption was caused;
  • that the prosecution has failed to prove causation i.e. that your conduct caused or substantially contributed to the damage or disruption OR that it was not caused by the commission of a property offence NOR by an unauthorised computer function;
  • that the prosecution has failed to prove intent i.e. that you intended to cause major damage, major disruption or major economic loss;
  • that your action was part of a protest, strike or lockout;
  • that the place allegedly damaged was a private facility;
  • that you had authorisation to access the computer.

What court will hear the matter?

Because sabotage carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment, it is a strictly indictable offence and the matter must be decided in the ACT Supreme Court.


The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment or a fine of 2500 penalty units, or both. Other penalties the court can impose are listed below.

If you require legal advice about sabotage or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

This article was written by Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

Andrew works in the areas of criminal law and traffic law, providing practical advice in all of his clients’ matters. Andrew has, over many years, developed positive working relationships with prosecutors, magistrates and judges. His no-nonsense approach means he has a reputation for putting forward the best case possible for clients. Andrew has won many matters for his clients, including...

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