What constitutes a Commonwealth offence in Queensland?

If you have committed an offence in Queensland, you'll most likely be prosecuted under state legislation. However, some crimes are handled under different laws – these are known as Commonwealth offenses. Here, we break down the crimes classified as a Commonwealth offence, and why you need an expert criminal lawyer to assist with your case.

What is a Commonwealth offense?

Commonwealth offenses are set out in both the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) and the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

Some common Commonwealth offences include:

1. People smuggling

In Australia, it is illegal to smuggle or help others enter the country without legal documentation. People smuggling comes at a risk to national security as the backgrounds of individuals aren't processed or identified. Furthermore, this can be a biosecurity threat to both the health of Australians and the native wildlife as people entering the country illegally might not adhere to standard border protocol.

A Commonwealth offence of people smuggling concerns matters under Sections 232 and 233 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) and can carry penalties of imprisonment. However, the sentence length varies depending on the circumstances of the smuggling. Examples of people smuggling offences as set out in the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) are:

  • Organising and assisting the illegal entry of another person into Australia.
  • Aggravated people smuggling, where parties are subject to inhuman or degrading treatment.
  • Smuggling at least five people.
  • Harbouring people illegally smuggled into Australia.
  • Providing resources to support people smuggling.

It's important to note that people smuggling is usually done with the voluntary consent of the migrator, without coercion or force.

Barbed wireSmuggling people into Australia without legal documentation is a Commonwealth offence, and can result in imprisonment.

2. Human trafficking

While people smuggling is generally a consensual practice, human trafficking is a forced offence. This occurs when a victim – or multiple people – are moved either by force or deception for various exploitative reasons, including:

  • Slavery.
  • Forced marriage.
  • Harvesting of organs or body parts

Human trafficking is a serious offence with lengthy penalties – if you have been arrested for human trafficking, it is vital to contact Russo Lawyers immediately to protect your interests.

3. Importing and exporting drugs

Under Australian law, it's illegal to bring certain items into the country, including live plants and fruit. However, the importing and exporting of illegal substances such as drugs is an extremely serious offence, and often involves many people. The penalties for trafficking illegal drugs can result in terms of imprisonment ranging from seven years to a life sentence.

A bag of cocaine hidden behind a drug dealers back.Importing and exporting drugs into the country is a serious Commonwealth offence.

4. Fraud involving the government

Committing taxation fraud, including falsely obtaining financial advantages is considered to be fraudulent conduct, and is an offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Codes 1995 (Cth). A common offence of this nature is Centrelink fraud in receiving benefits without a valid reason. In adherence to Section 135.2 of the Code, in order for a guilty verdict to be determined, the following needs to be proven:

  • A person engages in fraudulent conduct resulting in financial advantage for themselves or another person.
  • The fraud is executed with the knowledge that they aren't eligible for the advantage.
  • The other party is a Commonwealth entity.

Neglecting to report cash income and serious tax evasion can be classified under Commonwealth offences.

5. Terrorism

Under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), an offence is considered a terrorist act if:

  • A person deliberately places and detonates an explosive or lethal device.
  • If the aforementioned device is delivered in a a public space, a government facility, public transport system or place of infrastructure.
  • There is an intention to cause harm, death, or severe economic loss.

You don't have to physically conduct a terrorist act to be charged with these offences – if you were involved in preparation, training, or planning, you may be found guilty. Though not legally recognised as terrorist offences, acts driven by political or religious ideology are still prosecuted under Commonwealth legislation.

6. Exploitation of children

Acts that involve targeting and exploiting children over the internet or by phone are considered Commonwealth offences, including:

  • Sending, accessing, or receiving child pornography material of a child under 18 years old.
  • The grooming of a child under the age of 16 for sexual exploitation.
  • Engaging in communication of a sexual nature with a child under the age of 16.

The Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1996 (Cth) also has legislation around child sex offences that occur outside of Australia by citizens and permanent residents, including sexual abuse, grooming, and possession of exploitative material involving children.

An ethernet cable is being plugged in.Accessing and distributing content involving the exploitation of children an offence under Commonwealth legislation, with severe consequences.

How are Commonwealth offence cases handled?

The Judiciary Act 1903 legislates that state Courts can handle Commonwealth offences. This is with assistance from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. However, due to the complexity of the legislation, it's important that you have the legal backing of a professional who understands these laws inside and out. The team at Russo Lawyers have a wealth of experiences and knowledge in matters concerning Commonwealth offences, and pride themselves on their ability to seek a favourable outcome for their clients.

For more information on how the team can help you with your case, contact Russo Lawyers for a free initial phone consultation.

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