What is a Penalty Unit?

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What is a Penalty Unit?

Many regulatory and criminal offences in Australia come with maximum penalties that consist wholly or partly of fines that are calculated in penalty units.

For example, the maximum penalty for the criminal offence of drug possession in New South Wales is 2 years in prison and/or a fine of 20 penalty units.

Similarly, the crime of driving with a middle-range prescribed concentration of alcohol – or ‘mid-range drink driving’ – is punishable by a maximum penalty of 30 penalty units for a first offender in our state.

And the Commonwealth offence of Centrelink fraud under section 135.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 comes with a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison and/or 60 penalty units across Australia.

The value of a penalty unit differs across Australian jurisdictions, so here’s a summary of the applicable laws.

New South Wales

Section 17 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 currently prescribes a value of $110 for a penalty unit relating to New South Wales offences.

This applies to state offences across the board, including those contained in the Crimes Act 1900, Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 and Road Transport Act 2013.


Section 4AA of the Crimes Act 1914 indexes penalty units – meaning the value increases in accordance with the provisions of the Act – and depends on the date of the offence.

The applicable amount is set as follows:

Date range Unit value
From 1 July 2023 $313
Between 1 January 2023 and 30 June 2023 $275
Between 1 July 2020 and 31 December 2022 $222
Between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020 $210
Between 31 July 2015 and 30 June 2017 $180
Between 28 December 2012 and 30 July 2015 $170
Before 27 December 2012 $110

This applies to all federal legislation, including the Criminal Code Act 1995, Customs Act 1901 and Corporations Act 2001.

Other states and territories

In Victoria, the value of a penalty unit is determined by the Treasurer who is required to published it in the Government Gazette. The current value is $161.19.

In Queensland, the value of a penalty unit is currently $130.55, and a unit is worth $163 in Tasmania.

The value in Western Australia varies depending on the specific offence, but is generally $50 when it comes to traffic offences.

A penalty unit is generally $130 in the Northern Territory, but the applicable legislation permits variations between offences.

In the Australian Capital Territory, a penalty unit is currently valued at $160 for individuals and $810 for companies.

South Australia does not have penalty units. Instead, the maximum fine is specified in the applicable legislative provision.

Going to court?

If you are going to court for a criminal or traffic offence, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers 24/7 on 9261 8881 to arrange a free first conference with an experienced defence lawyer who will explain the laws and procedures that apply to your situation, your options and the best way forward.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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