Legal Age of Consent in Each State and Territory of Australia

Key Takeaways

While consent is the free and voluntary agreement to sexual activity, the legal age of that consent varies across States and Territories to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation. NSW, Qld, Victoria, WA, NT and ACT have the age of consent at 16-years-of-age. Tasmania and SA age of consent is 17-years-of-age. There are harsh penalties for breaching the age of consent laws.

Here is an outline on the legal age of consent laws across each State and Territory of Australia.

State or Territory Legal Age of Consent
New South Wales 16 or more
Queensland 16 or more
Victoria 16 or more
Western Australia 16 or more
South Australia 17 or more
Tasmania 17 or more
Northern Territory 16 or more
Australian Capital Territory 16 or more

Here is more on the law on sex offences in NSW.

The legal age of consent varies across Australian states and territories, between 16 and 17 years old.

The age of consent refers to the age at which a person is deemed legally competent to agree to sexual activity with another person. Therefore, anyone under this age cannot consent to sexual activity.

Consent is defined as free and voluntary agreement to sexual activity, at the time of the activity.

It is illegal to engage in sexual activity with a person under the prescribed age, even if they supposedly ‘agree’ to it.

The law has been designed to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation, as they are deemed to not have the maturity or decision-making capability to participate in sexual activity.

In New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory the age of consent is 16 years old.

In South Australia and Tasmania, the age of consent is 17 years old.

Harsh penalties are imposed across Australia, for those who engage in sexual activity with children and young persons. Maximum penalties associated with sexual activity with underage children are dependent on the age of the child, and the circumstances of the offence.

Age of Consent New South Wales

The legal age of consent in New South Wales is 16 years old.

Sexual intercourse is defined to include sexual connection occasioned by penetration to any extent of the genitalia or anus of any person, or oral sex.

Sexual intercourse with a child who is under the age of 10 years is punishable with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, as outlined in section 66A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

Sexual intercourse with a child between the ages of 10 and 14 years is punishable with a maximum penalty of 16 years imprisonment, whereas where it concerns a child between the age of 14 and 16 years, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable, as per section 66C.

A defence is applicable where the complainant was of or above the age of 14 years, and the age difference between the complainant and the accused person is no more than 2 years, as outlined in section 80AG.

This focuses on situations in which, for example two persons between the ages of 14 and 16 engage in sexual activity and both are willing participants.

It is also a defence to provide that you believed, on reasonable grounds, that the child was of or above the age of 16 years.

Where sexual intercourse occurs in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty for where it concerns a child between the 10 – 14 raises to 20 years, and 12 years where it concerns 14 – 16 years old.

Circumstances of aggravation include where the child has a serious physical disability, cognitive impairment, was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or the child was under the authority of the accused person.

It also includes where the accused person assaults or threatens to assault the child, or any other person who is present or nearby, is in the company of any other person/s, deprived the child of their liberty, or broke into a dwelling-house or other building to commit the offence.

Whilst the age of consent is 16 years old, where a person has a ‘special care’ relationship with a young person between 16 – 18 years of age sexual activity is also deemed to be illegal, as per subdivision 11.

Where a young person who is of or above the age of 16 years and under the age of 17 years, and is under the special care of a person, and sexual intercourse occurs, a maximum penalty of 8 years imprisonment.

If the young person is of or above the age of 17 years and under the age of 18 years, a maximum penalty of 4 years imprisonment is applicable, as per section 73.

Examples of special care relationships include a parent, a guardian, a spouse or de-facto of a parent or guardian, a teacher or principal, a religious figure, a custodial officer of an institution of which the complainant is an inmate, a healthcare professional where the complainant is a patient.

Other offences outlined in the Act, relate to sexual touching of a child under 16, carrying out a sexual act with a child under 16, procuring or grooming children under 16 and maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child.

Given the complex and serious nature of sexual assault charges in NSW, it is strongly recommended to get advice from an experienced sexual assault lawyer Sydney based.

Age of Consent Qld

In Queensland, the age of consent is 16 years old.

Under the Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD), sexual intercourse is referred to as ‘carnal knowledge’.

As outlined in section 215 of the Act, any person who has or attempts to have unlawful carnal knowledge with or of a child under the age of 16 years commits an offence.

If the child is of or above the age of 12 years, a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment is applicable.

If the child is under the age of 12 years, the offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, or in the case of an attempt to do so, a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment is applicable.

It is defence if the offence is alleged to have been committed in respect of a child of or above the age of 12 years, and the accused person believed, on reasonable grounds, that the child was of or above the age of 16 years.

Where the child is under the accused person’s care, including as a guardian, the maximum penalty applicable is life imprisonment, or in the case of an attempt to do so, a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment is applicable.

Furthermore, if the child, at any age under 16, had an impairment of the mind, a maximum penalty of life imprisonment is applicable.

Other offences under the Act include procuring a child for carnal knowledge, using the internet to procure a child under 16, and taking a child under 16 for immoral purposes.

Age of Consent Victoria

In Victoria and Melbourne, the age of consent is 16 years old.

The maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable for sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 12 years old, as per section 49A of the Crimes Act 1958 (VIC).

If the child is under the age of 16, the offence carries a maximum penalty of 6 years imprisonment.

It is a defence where the accused person is not more than 2 years older than the complainant, and the complainant is 12 years of age of more, as per section 49U.

It is also a defence where, if the complainant was over 12 years of age, that the accused reasonably believed that the complainant was aged 16 years or more.

However, if a child aged 16 or 17 years and is under the accused person’s care, supervision or authority, the maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable, as per section 49C.

It will be deemed that a child is under someone’s care, supervision, or authority, including in situations where the accused is a parent, step-parent, teacher, employer, youth worker, sports coach, counsellor and health care professional, among others.

Other offences outlined in the Act include sexual activity in the presence of a child under 16, persistent sexual abuse of a child, grooming of a child, and encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity.

Lowest Age of Consent WA (Western Australia)

In Western Australia, the age of consent is 16 years old.

As per section 320 of the Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA), it is an offence to sexually penetrate, or procure, incite, or encourage a child under the age of 13 years old, to engage in sexual behaviour.

A maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment is applicable.

If the child is of or over 13 years of age, but under 16, a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment is applicable, as per section 321.

Where the child is under the care, supervision, or authority of the offender, a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment is applicable.

Where the accused person is under the age of 18 years and the child is not under the care, supervision, or authority of the offender, the maximum penalty is reduced to 7 years imprisonment.

Where the child is of or over 16 years old, but under 18 years of age, and is under the care, supervision, or authority of the offender, and sexual intercourse occurs, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable.

It is not a defence to such a charge if the accused person contends that they believed the child was of or over the age of 18 years.

Other offences outlined in the Act include indecently dealing with a child, inciting a child to perform an indecent act, and having persistent sexual conduct with a child. 

Age of Consent South Australia

In the South Australia, including Adelaide, the age of consent is 17 years old.

As per section 49(3) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), it is an offence to have sexual intercourse with a person under the age of seventeen years.

This offence attracts a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

It is a defence to provide that the complainant was of or above the age of 16 years, and that the accused person was under 17 years, and believed on reasonable grounds that the complainant was of or above the age of 17 years.

If the child was under the age of 14 years, a maximum penalty of life imprisonment is applicable.

If the accused person is alleged to have been in a position of authority in relation to a person under the age of 18 years, it is an offence for sexual intercourse to occur.

A maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable.

In the case of a relationship which relates to a person providing religious, sporting, musical or other instruction to the child, it is a defence to provide that the complainant was of or above the age of 17 years, and that the accused person was under 18 years, and believed on reasonable grounds that the complainant was of or above the age of 18 years.

Other examples of a relationship of authority that are provided, include: a teacher, a parent, step-parent, guardian or foster parent of the child, health professional or social worker, a carer, and a religious official or spiritual leader.

Other offences outlined in the Act include maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child and indecent assault of a child.

Age of Consent Tasmania

In Tasmania, the age of consent is 17 years old.

As per section 124 of the Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS), it is an offence to have sexual intercourse with another person who is under the age of 17 years.

It provides that the consent of a person is only a defence where they were of or above the age of 15 years and the accused person was not more than 5 years older than that person, or they were of or above the age of 12 years and the accused person was not more than 3 years older than that person.

The maximum penalty applicable is imprisonment of up to 21 years or a fine.

Other offences outlined in the Act include permitting sexual intercourse with a child, maintaining a relationship with a young person, procuring unlawful sexual intercourse with a person under 17 years and communicating with a child, with intent to procure.

Age of Consent Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, the age of consent is 16 years old.

As per section 127 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), a person who has sexual intercourse or commits any act of gross indecency upon a child under 16 years of age, faces a maximum penalty of 16 years imprisonment.

If the child is of or over the age of 10 years and under the age of 16 years, and the offence is committed in circumstances of aggravation, a maximum penalty of 20 years is applicable.

Such circumstances include where the offender is in the company of another person, the child is under the care of the offender, has a physical or intellectual disability, or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If the child is under the age of 10 years, maximum penalty is imprisonment for 25 years.

A defence is applicable where the child was of or above the age of 14 years, and the accused person believed on reasonable grounds that the child was of or above the age of 16 years.

However, it is an offence to have sexual intercourse with or commits any act of gross indecency on a child who is of or over the age of 16 years if a relationship of special care exists, as per section 128.

A maximum penalty of 8 years imprisonment is applicable where the child is of or over the age of 16 years and under the age of 17 years, or 4 years imprisonment, otherwise.

A special care relationship is defined to include a step-parent, guardian or foster parent, a schoolteacher, religious, sporting, or musical instructor, health care professional and an officer at a correctional institution at which the victim is detained.

Other offences outlined in the Act include maintaining a sexual relationship with a child and indecently dealing with a child.

Age of Consent Australian Capital Territory

In the Australian Capital Territory, the age of consent is 16 years old.

As per section 55 of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT), it is an offence to have sexual intercourse with any person under the age of 16 years old, punishable by a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

If the child was under the age of 10 years, the maximum penalty rises to 17 years imprisonment.

It is a defence for an accused person to provide that they believed on reasonable grounds that the complainant was of or above the age of 16 years, and that they consented.

It is also a defence to provide that the complainant was at least of or above the age of 10 years, and the accused person was not more than 2 years older, and the interaction was consensual.

However, it is an offence for a person to engage in sexual intercourse with a young person (under the age of 18), if the young person is under the person’s special care.

A maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable.

The Act defined special care relationships as including, a teacher, a parent, step-parent, grandparent, foster carer, as having established a relationship in relation to the provision of religious, sporting, musical or other instruction, an employer, a professional counsellor, and a health service provider.

A defence is provided where the accused person alleged to be in a special care relationship with the young person, is not more than 2 years older than them.

Other offences outlined in the Act include maintaining a sexual relationship with a child, maintaining a sexual relationship with a child or young person under special care, and acts of indecency.

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