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Thursday, 22 March 2007
Page: 1

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Advertising and Other Matters) Bill 2007 will amend the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

The bill makes amendments to improve the operation of the national classification scheme and will ensure its ongoing smooth operation in a changing technological environment. The amendments will streamline the classification process and reduce the regulatory burden on industry.

The bill contains two areas of reform to classification procedures. It changes the way the classification act deals with the advertising of unclassified product and with television series that are released for sale or hire.

The first initiative is part of a package of reforms which, together with the amendments to the state and territory legislation and a Commonwealth instrument, will permit the advertising of unclassified films and computer games, subject to conditions. In addition, the package of reforms will update the definition of advertisement to explicitly include advertising on the internet and to exclude what is commonly known as product merchandising, such as clothing.

The new advertising scheme was developed following public consultation on a discussion paper released in August last year. This proposal was developed in response to industry concerns that the current advertising framework for unclassified material is cumbersome and outdated. The increasing risk of piracy and rapid advances in technology has led to products being available for classification very close to their release date. The current system therefore causes difficulties for marketing of classifiable products. In light of these changing circumstances, it is no longer tenable to prohibit the advertising of unclassified material with exceptions only available for cinema release films. It is more equitable to remove this prohibition so that cinema releases, DVD and video films, and computer games can be advertised in advance of classification.

This bill enables a legislative instrument to set conditions on advertising unclassified films and computer games. The instrument will establish a strong new advertising message advising consumers to check the classification. It will establish an industry based self-assessment scheme whereby the likely classification of an unclassified film or computer game is assessed when advertising together with classified films or computer games. The instrument will introduce a stronger commensurate audience rule so that advertisements for films and computer games likely to be classified PG may no longer be screened to an audience for a G film or computer game.

The scheme contains safeguards to ensure the integrity of the system and includes amendments to the classification act to enable applications to be made to the classification board on the likely classification of an unclassified film or computer game in difficult cases or where it is not cost effective for industry to self-assess. Other safeguards will include giving the director the power to revoke an assessor’s status or, in serious cases, bar a distributor from accessing the scheme for up to three years. These powers are designed to deter users from abusing the system or providing lax or inadequate assessments. Decisions by the director to revoke an assessor’s status or bar someone from using the scheme will be reviewable by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Other safeguards will include initial and annual training for individual assessors, random and complaints based auditing procedures of advertising material, and the retaining of existing powers which allow the director to call in advertisements.

The second initiative is to extend the industry based self-assessment scheme to include films that are compilations of episodes of a television series that have already been broadcast in Australia. The bill establishes a television series assessment scheme whereby a person appropriately trained and authorised by the director may recommend to the classification board the classification of a box set of episodes of a television series. The classification board will retain responsibility for classifying the film, but its consideration will be assisted by the assessment of an authorised assessor. To provide flexibility to respond to changing technology and the increasing capacity of storage devices, the details of the scheme will be included in a legislative instrument. The purpose of the proposal is to reduce the cost to industry and the processing time for the classification board.

The scheme will contain safeguards to ensure the integrity of the national classification system similar to those proposed for the advertising reforms. The instrument will include a requirement that the board 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.

The amendments contained in this bill will ensure that the national classification scheme continues to serve both industry and the public well by responding to the needs of the rapidly evolving world of entertainment media while still guaranteeing the reliability of classification information for consumers. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Plibersek) adjourned.