An amendment to the Police Offences Act 1935 comes into effect this week, clarifying provisions that ban carrying knives in public places unless there is a lawful purpose.

The amendment enhances the original intent of the legislation, by allowing police to proactively remove knives from people in public places who don’t have a lawful reason to have them.

Knives are the most common weapon used in crimes in Tasmania, and this change aims to ensure our public places remain safe and secure.

The change is intended to improve public safety by removing knives from public places before they can be used to hurt people.

People undertaking lawful activities that require use of a knife won’t be affected. For example, a tradesman who uses a knife in their work will be able to carry it on their way to and from work, and while they are working. Similarly, recreational activities will also be exempt. Eg people going fishing, camping or hunting can possess a knife for those purposes

However people who regularly carry a knife, including a pocket knife or multi-tool, can no longer do so in a public place, unless pursuing a specific lawful activity for which the knife is required.

Why is the law changing?

The change is an enhancement to existing provisions, clarifying that a knife is a ‘dangerous article’ and can’t be carried in a public place without a lawful excuse.  In Tasmania there are around 140 offences a year committed against people involving knives – much higher than any other type of weapon, and far exceeding offences against people involving firearms. This equates to nearly 3 offences a week, including assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, and murder.  Even where people don’t intend to use knives against others, their availability when conflict occurs can see individuals resort to them, or have knives used against them. This is especially true in circumstances where people are affected by alcohol or other drugs.

Will the police be actively targeting people with knives?

The change in law is intended to improve public safety by removing knives from public places before they can be used to hurt people. To achieve this police will be targeting people carrying knives in places where the public gather, including at public entertainment, and in the vicinity of licensed premises. However, police will not be targeting people who have a legitimate lawful reason for possessing a knife.

What about my pocket knife or multi-tool?

Any implement containing a knife is covered by the change in law. This means pocket knives and multi-tools cannot be carried in public simply for the convenience of having access to them. However, if they are being used as part of a lawful activity (e.g. fishing, camping, employment) no offence is committed.

Does the law affect private property?

No, the amended law only applies to public places. It has no effect on private property, including farms or private residences. However, private property that is open to the public (e.g. retail premises, movie theatres, etc.) are public places and the law will apply to them when they are open.

Can the police take my knife?

If a police officer reasonably believes a person unlawfully has possession of a knife in a public place, the police officer can stop and detain the person, search them, and confiscate any knife found. However, if a police officer found a knife in these circumstances, and the person who had it was able to demonstrate a lawful excuse, the knife would be returned and they would not be prosecuted.

Do I have to answer questions if stopped by the police?

If the police suspect you of an offence, you are obliged to answer a limited range of questions as to your identity, but do not have to answer questions about any alleged offending that may incriminate you. However, if you have a lawful reason for possession of a knife and don’t tell the police, they won’t be aware of this, and you may be charged and the knife confiscated.

Sikhs and the Kirpan

The amended law provides that religious observance is a lawful excuse for possession and carriage of knives, and consequently the carriage of the Kirpan by practicing Sikhs is not affected.

Is knife crime a big problem?

The change is about keeping the community safe.  In May alone, there were a number of very serious incidents involving knives.

What If I Keep A Knife In My Car?

The legislation in relation to knives, and other weapons, includes possession inside motor vehicles, if the motor vehicle is in a public place. However, the lawful excuse provisions that exempt from the offence, cover legitimate reasons for having a knife in a vehicle.

A knife or multi-tool that forms part of the vehicle’s tool kit, and is with other tools in the boot is permitted. However, a hunting knife inside the map pocket of the driver’s door would not be.

Similarly, in circumstances where a person was travelling to or from a lawful activity for which they required the knife, the possession of the knife in the vehicle would also be lawful. This would include securing the knife in the vehicle if stopping on the way to or from the activity for some other reason.

A tradesman would also be permitted to secure a knife in their vehicle, with their other tools, when they had finished for the day. In fact this is preferred to them carrying the knife with them, especially if stopping at places like a pub or hotel on their way home.

What Are The Categories Of Lawful Excuse Under The Legislation That Allow For Possession, Carriage And Use Of Knives?

The legislation lists a number of lawful excuses for the carriage of a knife, or other dangerous article. These are not exhaustive, but include:

  • the pursuit of a lawful occupation, duty or activity using that dangerous article;
  • the participation in a lawful sport, recreation or entertainment using that dangerous article;
  • the lawful collection, display or exhibition of that dangerous article;
  • the use of that dangerous article for the lawful purpose for which it was intended; and
  • Religious observance.

Self-defence is not a lawful excuse that justifies the possession or carriage of a knife, or other dangerous article, in a public place.

What if I need to buy a new knife to use in my kitchen at home?

Conveying a knife from a shop to your home is a lawful reason for having the knife, and you don’t commit an offence.

What if I’m working and want to stop by a pub afterwards?

Knife misuse and alcohol consumption are highly correlated. As a consequence, someone having a break from a lawful activity involving a knife should lock the knife away when they visit a licensed premise.

What about the knives in restaurants and hotels for consuming meals?

Using a knife to consume a meal is a lawful use of the knife, and no offence is committed by having a knife for this purpose. However, simply having a knife at the bar for the purpose of having it is not.