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Thursday, 9 August 2007
Page: 138

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (11:50 AM) —in reply—I thank the members who have contributed to the debate on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Advertising and Other Matters) Bill 2007—the member for Gellibrand, who I understand has confirmed the opposition’s support for the measure, the member for Grey, the member for Makin, the member for Fisher and the member for Mitchell. I hope I will be able to positively contribute to some of the points that have been made. The classification scheme is a difficult scheme because it is one that requires unanimity of view if you are going to alter the classification code and guidelines. That is not easy to achieve. There may be a view that these are issues that you might be able to use the corporations power and ease the states out of, but that has not been a position that people have argued or put before and, when you are trying to work through difficult issues, you try to ensure that you do get appropriate unanimity of view, which reflects the spectrum of views that I think we have heard in this debate.

I would have thought that one of the aspects of interest to the member for Makin is that normally there is a coalition of view in South Australia involving the South Australian government and its Attorney and the member for Makin’s views. I find that. In fact, in relation to the efforts to enable a wider classification group of categories for computer games, it has been the South Australian and the Commonwealth’s resistance to that measure that to date has ensured that it has not occurred, and I think games are very different to films, videos and the like.

I guess the member for Makin may also be interested in other legislation that we will be dealing with during these sittings which deals with the classification of products that may be seen to advocate terrorism. I sought amendments to the classification code and guidelines and thought from comments that had been made by some premiers and the Leader of the Opposition that I would have very strong support for the efforts that I had embarked upon there. Interestingly, when we went before the ministers, I had support from New South Wales and again South Australia but I did not get support from Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory or even the ACT. We will have that debate on another day, but the Commonwealth is persisting with an amendment to the act to achieve that objective.

This issue is one in which we have tried to get a balance. At the moment films can be advertised where there is an expectation that they will be for general viewing. We get something like 100 films advertised now under arrangements which will not be or are not as comprehensive as these in terms of the vetting of them. I am not saying that there has been a bad experience with those 100, but the arrangements that we are putting in place through these amendments are to implement measures to the classification practices in recognition that those who now cannot advertise and seek to do so need to have a basis upon which that can be obtained.

These reforms are to reduce the burden and cost to industry where they have to wait until classification, and to enable—and the point has been made by some—them to deal with advertising products in advance of classification where there is the potential for piracy to undermine their product if they cannot advertise and get a product on the market quickly.

The bill has been developed to respond to industry concerns. We did consult widely; the member for Mitchell mentioned that. The public discussion paper on the scheme was released in August 2006, and overwhelmingly positive comments were received. The relevant industry stakeholders have been consulted and agree with the proposals. The states and territories, as I have mentioned, were consulted and obviously had to agree.

The bill contains two areas of reform to classification procedures. It changes the way the classification act deals with advertisements for unclassified product and television series that are released for sale and hire. In relation to the television schemes—the member for Mitchell raised some questions there—although the content of television series is already assessed before broadcasting, the television codes of practice do not pick up the full scope of the principles contained in the classification act and the national classification code and guidelines and that is something we are seeking to address. There is different training and the Big Brother matter brought that to our attention.

In relation to those series that might be aggregated and sold separately, and for which advertising might be undertaken, I am advised that the scheme will require the compilation to be classified at the highest classification. So if one episode is higher than the rest, it is that higher level that has to apply.

The bill will replace the prohibition on advertising unclassified films and computer games with a new scheme to allow advertising subject to conditions which will be set out in the Commonwealth instrument. A new advertising message—a strong message—will be established advising consumers to check the classification. This new advertising message will remain relevant for consumers even where the advertising message has been superseded by the actual classification. An industry based self-assessment scheme will be introduced whereby the likely classification of an unclassified film or computer game is assessed before the advertising can take place. The assessor must be appropriately trained and authorised by the director.

A stronger commensurate audience rule will be part of the package. This means that advertisements for films and computer games likely to be classified PG may no longer be screened to an audience for a G film computer game.

The second initiative is to extend the industry based self-assessment scheme to include films that are compilations of episodes of television series. We have already mentioned that. The bill establishes a scheme where a person appropriately trained and authorised by the director may recommend to the board classification of the box set of episodes of a television series and the board will remain responsible for the actual classification decision.

Both self-assessment schemes are based on the current approach to classification of computer games, which has been operating over 10 years—they will not be expanding that—and modelled on the reforms implemented for the additional content on DVD.

As mentioned earlier, the bill includes a broad suite of safeguards. I am confident that the integrity of the scheme will be maintained and consumers will continue to receive consistent and accurate advice. The amendments contained in the bill will ensure that the national classification scheme continues to serve industry and the public well into the future. The amendments recognise changes in the entertainment media and ensure the scheme will not provide an inappropriate regulatory burden on industry. The reforms will also ensure that consumers continue to obtain reliable information about their entertainment choices.

In the context of the discussion, particularly the matters raised by the members for Makin, Fisher and Mitchell, I took out the actual safeguards that I mentioned and I want to go through them, if I may. They are important safeguards and they are to protect the community from misleading and incorrect or grossly inadequate assessments being made. Breaches of the requirements for the advertising of unclassified material will be added to the range of compliance issues monitored and identified by community liaison staff, and they will continue to meet with traders and industry representatives to investigate complaints through a program of site visits in each jurisdiction. As you know, the Classification Board has a new director and he will be in a position—because the existing powers under state and territory legislation allow him to—to call in advertisements for approval. If something went up that had been classified by a classifier, was reported by the community liaison people as being a matter of concern and came to the director’s attention and he said, ‘This is clearly outside our guidelines,’ he would be able to call it in. Following the call-in, the board must refuse to approve the advertisement if it meets the criteria outlined in section 29(4) through to 29(7) of the Commonwealth act.

The board must revoke an assessment of a likely classification of an unclassified computer game or film where the information provided to the board on which the likely classification was based was unreliable—for example, if the applicant did not include relevant information about the classifiable elements of the film or the computer game and that material were not properly entertained. The bill empowers a legislative instrument to impose sanctions on a person who is or was authorised as an assessor and to find that person unacceptable. The director may revoke the authorised advertising assessor’s authorisation where an assessor does not reveal classifiable elements in its report; where an assessment was misleading, incorrect or grossly inadequate; where the assessor has not completed the mandatory training; and where the assessor has prepared two or more assessments that contain misleading, incorrect or grossly inadequate information. A person who is assessing these matters will be deprived of their capacity to make such an assessment if, when they classify a film, they are found to have classified it on the wrong basis.

The instrument will provide sanctions for unacceptable use of the scheme by a distributor, publisher or industry applicant. Under the instrument, the director may bar a person from using the scheme for up to three years by issuing a notice. A barring notice may impact upon a person’s business by making the applicant unable to use the advertising self-assessment scheme. That is a very important safeguard.

The important point I make is that there is a capacity to review those decisions and that is in the interests of fairness and the AAT is involved. I did foreshadow that there would be a comprehensive review of the new arrangements to be conducted three years after operation. The review will consider the effectiveness of the new arrangements, including compliance and ensuring that consumers are not exposed to inappropriate material. My colleague the member for Makin has expressed concern that this review may only happen after three years, so I just make the point that I would be—and I hope I am in a position to be—able to deal with these issues and that, if problems were identified, the review could occur earlier. I give that assurance to the honourable member.

I know that, in relation to these issues, those who would like to see some fundamental changes—which have not been possible under a regime that is, in fact, a cooperative model—often feel that in these debates we can extend greater supervision. I welcome the input of views that help and involve me in my discussions with my state colleagues to continue pressing the barriers, but I do make this point: at the moment we have a scheme which is unfair to some because they cannot advertise and which permits advertising that is not subject to the safeguards that we are proposing here. While some may think that the safeguards are not strong enough, I simply make the point that I think they are a significant advance on where we are. For that reason, I encourage my colleagues to continue their support of the measure.