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Thursday, 7 December 2006
Page: 13

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (9:48 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment Bill 2006 amends the classification act to implement government policy on the accountability framework for statutory agencies and to ensure the national classification scheme’s ongoing smooth operation in a changing technological environment.

The bill facilitates the integration of the Office of Film and Literature Classification into the Attorney-General’s Department.

Classification Board and Classification Review Board functions remain unchanged. But the Director of the Classification Board will cease to have agency management powers and financial responsibilities. The Attorney-General’s Department will provide staff to support each of the boards and assume responsibility for their financial administration.

These changes reinforce the independent functions of the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board. The bill confines the existing powers of the director to matters associated with the board and gives separate statutory powers to the convenor for matters associated with the review board.

The bill also transfers from the Director of the Classification Board to the Attorney-General, as the minister administering the act, responsibility for delegated legislation, consistent with ministerial responsibility.

This includes the power to determine markings to be displayed about classified material—to be exercised in consultation with state and territory censorship ministers. The minister, rather than the director, will also determine fee waiver principles to be applied by the director and the convenor when waiving fees payable under the act for applications.

The bill also makes amendments to improve the operation of the national classification scheme—responding to industry concern about marketing imperatives and the law’s application in light of changing technology. They streamline the classification process and reduce the regulatory burden on industry. These amendments have been the subject of consultation including with state and territory censorship ministers.

Descriptions or translations such as sub-titling, captioning, dubbing or audio descriptions, and navigation functions such as interactive menus, are increasingly added to already classified films. Currently, these constitute ‘modifications’, necessitating the film’s reclassification.

However, descriptions or translations do not provide new content. They provide access to already classified material for the ageing population, and for people with language barriers, or visual or hearing impairments. Likewise, menu functions merely facilitate navigation around new media such as DVDs. They include ‘play’ or ‘fast forward’ functions, or menu options to navigate between selections.

Following amendment, such descriptions or translations and navigation functions will no longer be considered modifications requiring reclassification.

This bill also facilitates the addition of related but new material to already classified feature movies when they are re-released on disc for sale or hire. These include additional scenes, interviews with the director, and even featurettes taking their meaning from the content of the film.

Currently, these additions mean that the disc constitutes a new ‘film’ as defined, and must be classified, even though the feature movie on the disc has already been classified. Additional content rarely results in a classification different from that of the feature film on the disc.

The bill provides for an additional content assessment scheme whereby a person appropriately trained and authorised by the director may recommend to the Classification Board the classification and consumer advice for additional content released with already classified or exempt films. The Classification Board will retain responsibility for classifying the film. But its consideration will be assisted by the assessment of an authorised assessor.

The scheme contains safeguards to ensure the integrity of the system. These include requiring the board to revoke classifications in specified circumstances which demonstrate that the assessment on which the classification was based was highly unreliable and the board would otherwise have made a different classification decision.

In addition, the director has a power to revoke, in specified circumstances, an additional content assessor’s status or, in serious cases, bar them from being an assessor for up to three years, or bar an applicant from using the additional content assessment scheme for up to three years. These powers are permissive, and only exercisable under certain conditions. They are designed to deter users from abusing the system or providing lax or inadequate assessments of additional content. Decisions by the director to revoke an assessor’s status or bar an assessor or applicant from using the scheme may be reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The additional content assessment scheme was developed following public consultation on a discussion paper released earlier this year. The amendments are modelled on the existing authorised computer games assessor scheme which has been operating successfully for a number of years.

The bill contains several other minor amendments which respond to changing technology and marketing initiatives and miscellaneous technical amendments.

The amendments contained in this bill will ensure the national classification scheme continues to serve both industry and the public well—responding to the needs of the rapidly evolving world of entertainment media but guaranteeing the reliability of classification information for consumers.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Roxon) adjourned.