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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 3021

Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (19:02): I am pleased to rise today to speak on the Gillard Labor government's Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. We on this side of the House understand the importance the video game industry has both to Australian gamers and to the Australian economy. We understand that what Australia needs is a framework to allow R18+ rating for video games. This bill will bring computer games into line with the classification system for other media and entertainment industries, making Australia more consistent with international standards. Labor is delivering an R18+ classification which will provide protection against adult material for children, freedom of choice for adult gamers and support for our nation's growing industry of video game developers and retailers.

This is a bill that also strongly supports Australian families and small businesses. The current system of classification for video games falls short and fails to adequately safeguard our children against the adult themes of certain games. This is why we are delivering this important reform. As it stands, the 'MA15+ or nothing' system of restriction means that explicit games are either banned altogether or made available to those under 18. This bill will put an end to that. The bill will mean that games are able to be appropriately marketed to the adult consumers. The bill will ensure that violent games which ought to be labelled R18+ can be sold as such without parents having the fear that adult material has slipped through the cracks into an MA15+ classification based on things like how much blood is seen. Too often we see games which in every other country are exclusively sold to adults classed as acceptable for children at the age of 15. Only last year we saw an Australian made game, LA Noire, receive an MA15+ classification, the very lowest classification it received across the world. Across the UK and wider Europe, L.A. Noire received a rating of 18+. The classification board of north America has also limited L.A. Noire to those over the age of 17. Yet in Australia it was to be either banned or put onto the market with a rating of 15+, despite the use of strong violence, crude language, misogyny, sex and drugs. Perhaps even more notably, the company who created it and designed every facet of the game, restricted access to the game's website to over 18s and defined it as an adults only game.

The bill seeks to protect our children from the simulated violence, drug use and sexual themes that come about with adult video games. The government is paying attention and we take notice of the dangers that face our community and we act with determination to fight those dangers. The same could not be said always about the opposition. As recently as August 2010, at a community forum the Leader of the Opposition said that he was not even aware there was a debate on the issue, despite it being across media for the last 2½ years. Meanwhile, our government are taking the action. We are delivering this bill to protect Australian children and parents. We take the risk out of buying video games.

This bill will create the new rating, one which can be seen on the box when you buy the game. This rating will allow parents the ability to make informed decisions about what is and is not acceptable for their children to play. Parents know what is acceptable for their children to play and the Gillard Labor government are recognising that sovereignty. We understand that Australian parents know what is good for their kids. We want parents to see instantly, when they pick up a video game at a store, the realistic and meaningful rating a game has rather than return home to find out later that the game they bought was riddled with gruesome violence or drug use. We are delivering a simple, easy to understand new rating which allows parents to make educated choices, delivering a rating that parents already know and understand. They will recognise it the same way they recognise an R rated movie or television show. With this bill Labor are providing parents with the opportunity to better protect their children through increased awareness and a more accurate rating system. We are providing parents with the recognition that they make good choices for their families.

The bill will also provide for adult gamers, which make up 75 per cent of the Australian gaming community. It will give them their own choice. The Gillard government understand that gamers want to be able to make the choice for themselves and this bill will provide the freedom of choice for those over the age of 18. Three out of four gamers are adults. Yet, as it stands, we do not have an adult rating for video games. So we are taking the steps to remove the uncoordinated and ineffective censorship of Australian adults. This is the same freedom that we enjoy every day. We decide which DVDs we buy, which books we read and which movies we see. Now Labor are ensuring that Australians can enjoy the same freedom when it comes to gaming. The average Australian gamer is not 15 or 16 or even 18; they are 32 years of age and that number is increasing. More than ever adults are playing video games. They are people who have spent more than a decade making their own decisions. They can already go to a DVD store and rent a R18+ film. Now, this bill will allow them to exercise that same choice at their local gaming store.

Often, games fail to make the Australian market based on specific qualities of their content. Fallout 3, for example, was banned not for its violence but its drug use. Drug use is not something that Australian adults are unaware of. Any adult can go down to their local DVD store and rent movies like Pulp Fiction. We can go to a library and rent Trainspotting. Similarly, games like Mortal Kombat have been banned due to extreme violence—the same violence that we see in many films and novels. As adults, we have been afforded the choice to watch films like Scarface, Silence of the Lambsor The Human Centipede, or we can read American Psycho or AClockwork Orange. Now Labor are bringing the video game industry into line with film and literature. We recognise that if adults can make the choice elsewhere, they can make the choice when buying video games.

Our communities deserve the right to choose, to know that their own judgments are being respected across any medium. I am proud to speak on a bill today that will give Australians that respect. The introduction of an R18+ rating classification for video games will do a lot to better support gamers and parents of young gamers. The bill will also provide a boost to the gaming industry for developers and retailers. For game developers, this bill means no longer needing to censure their content to reach Australian markets. Small developers cannot always afford to go through the editing process, removing small elements such as blood pooling and high-definition graphics just to get their foot in the door. For the benefit of those opposite I will make it very clear. It takes time and it costs money. Editing a game to suit a particular country is simply not done. It is a slow and tedious task and in some cases requires the diminution of the integrity of the developer's work. Altering a game into which you have already put so much hard work for what on a global scale is a very small market is not exactly creating a great incentive. For small Australian developers the burden of the current classification system means that they may never see their hard work come to fruition locally. Companies like Rockstar, which is an Australian company, have produced some of the best quality video games around. But they have the same issue if they have to cut and paste different things and destroy the integrity of their games to get them into our market.

Through protecting our children against violent adult themes do we also protect the developers against the legal ramifications if children act out what they see in the games? By taking the adult content out of the reach of children we are preventing the imitation of violent games, which could often lead to legal action against developers. Game developers should not be victims of a broken classification system. When they create adult games marketed to adults there should not be a fear of litigation when their product ends up in the wrong hands.

The Gillard Labor government is committed to keeping violence, drug use, profane language and sexually explicit content out of the hands of our children. We are committed to protecting Australian businesses against unjust lawsuits as a result of a classification system they have no control over. The game industry is estimated to reach $2.5 billion annually by 2015. It is vital that we support this growing trade in this new economy and that we manage the clunky boundaries that dissuade our developers from keeping their businesses here in Australia. The bill will ensure both local and international game developers are able to get their games on the Australian market so that developers and retailers do not miss out. As the games reach Australian soil we can expect to see a boost to game retailers.

Australian gamers are very loyal to their local businesses. The majority of gamers prefer to buy their games from local retailers. However, as highly celebrated games reach international markets and fail to make the Australian MA15 grade, gamers often lean into video game piracy. Gamers face serious fines for importing games that have not been given a classification in Australia, so more and more are turning to internet piracy to obtain the games they want. Our government realises that piracy can have a serious impact on an industry. For Australian game developers and retailers piracy is a very real threat. Small developers depend on trade to support their businesses.

We have recognised that Australian gamers want to buy locally and we have taken action to ensure they can. Supporting our economy means ensuring small businesses such as these have the safeguards to stay afloat with their own means. Labor is working hard to protect Australian enterprises.

The introduction of R18+ restricted classification for video games is an important step for our country. With the ubiquity of gaming mediums—PCs, consoles and smart phones—we can expect gaming to be a growing source of entertainment for Australians. It is essential that we address the risks posed to Australian children and businesses. It is also desirable that we allow adults the opportunity to lead autonomous lives. On this side of the House we are getting the job done. I am very proud to be part of a government that is delivering vital reform to the classification Act. This is a bill that I know has the support of my nephews Nick, Chris and Michael, who are very passionate about their games and very passionate about seeing an R18+ classification.