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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11552

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice) (10:12): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The National Classification Scheme (NCS) is a cooperative scheme between the Commonwealth and the states and territories for the classification of publications, films and computer games. Procedures for the classification of publications, films and computer games are set out in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (classification act) and the provisions regulating the sale, demonstration and advertising of this material are in state and territory laws.

The National Classification Scheme has not had any significant changes made to it since it was created in 1996. When the National Classification Scheme began, classifiable content and the way it was delivered to consumers was relatively static. There was no online gaming. Phones were still only phones. Mobile devices as we now understand them were not on the horizon.

Consumers now have ready access to an increasing number and range of computer games on a variety of platforms, including on mobile devices and other network services. The business model for computer game design and delivery is increasingly moving to mobile and online markets.

Although the National Classification Scheme was not established to cater for the classification of these types of computer games, the definition of computer games under the classification act includes games played on mobile devices and online.

The numbers of mobile device and online games that are currently being introduced into the Australian market presents many practical challenges for regulators.

At present the significant majority of mobile device and online computer games are not classified prior to being made available to consumers. This is in breach of a range of relevant state and territory laws concerning the sale, demonstration and advertising of computer games.

If the present legal requirements were enforced, the Classification Board in its present form would be unable to sustain the administrative burden that would be imposed. It would also result in significant compliance costs for industry and may threaten the existence of smaller operators.

This presents a significant compliance issue for the National Classification Scheme. Industry has expressed concern over this regulatory uncertainty and expressed the need for government to clarify the present legal requirements for the classification of mobile device and online games.

The government is committed to ensuring that our classification system maintains community confidence. That is why the Australian Law Reform Commission has been asked to conduct a review of classification in Australia in light of changes in technology, media convergence and the global availability of media content. As part of this review the commission is considering the best way to classify computer games; however, any solution arising out of the commission process is still some time away. This bill is intended to provide an interim solution to address concerns that have been raised by industry and the Director of the Classification Board about the legal requirements and obligations for the classification of games that are playable online and on mobile devices.

This bill will result in mobile device and online games being treated in a similar way to other online content. It is designed to provide assurance to industry in the short term that it is complying with classification requirements for computer games and that it is not in breach of state and territory laws.

This bill will introduce a new category of exempt online games into the classification act for a period of two years. Games that meet the definition of an 'exempt online game' will not need to be classified. This exemption will not be available for those online games that are likely to be refused classification. This includes games that would offend against the standards of decency, morality and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. Current safeguards relating to computer games that would be refused classification will be preserved, including offences in state and territory legislation against the sale, advertising, and demonstration of these games, as well as offences in some jurisdictions against the online transmission of material likely to be refused classification.

The term 'exempt online game' will be defined to include two different categories of computer game. The first type covers computer games that are only available by means of a content service and can only be played on a mobile device onto which they have been installed. This is intended to cover computer games that are downloaded via the internet and installed onto a mobile device. The term 'mobile device' is defined as 'a device that is designed to run a mobile operating system'. Examples of mobile operating systems include, but are not limited to Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Phone 7, Nokia Symbian, Research In Motion BlackBerry OS, and embedded Linux distributions such as Maemo. However, the term 'mobile device' excludes personal computers. This category of online game is intended to cover games played on smart phones, personal digital assistants, and tablet computers running these types of mobile operating systems. This definition captures the Apple iPad and iPod Touch, Samsung's Galaxy Tab models, the Motorola Xoom, the Blackberry Playbook, and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer.

The second type of 'exempt online game' covers computer games that are only available by means of a content service and can only be played on the internet. This is intended to cover those online games that are only available to play online and cannot be downloaded and played offline. It is useful to cover these computer games although they are often hosted offshore and are therefore not currently submitted for classification in Australia.

Consumers, the general community, the computer game industry, and government will be able to rely on a number of existing protections to exercise suitable control over 'exempt online games'.

Under the classification act, any person may submit a computer game to the Classification Board for classification upon payment of a prescribed fee. This option will continue to apply to exempt games.

Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 anyone may lodge a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority about any 'exempt online game' that is reasonably suspected of containing material likely to cause the computer game to be classified MA 15+ or above that is not behind a restricted access system. ACMA will investigate complaints and may refer material to the Classification Board for classification.

In addition, the Director of the Classification Board will retain the power to call in a computer game for classification if it is reasonably suspected to contain material likely to be classified M or above, or if the director suspects that the computer game may not be an 'exempt online game'.

Law enforcement agencies will also continue to be able to apply for the classification of an 'exempt online game'.

People, particularly parents, need a system of classification in Australia that allows them to make informed choices about what they wish to read, see and hear. These amendments are an interim step on the way to ensuring our classification system continues to be effective in the 21st century.

Debate adjourned.