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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 3006


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (17:52): The idea behind the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012 is to bring the classification categories for computer games into line with existing categories used to classify films and other media. Under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 the different types of classification for computer games are G for general, PG for parental guidance, M for mature, MA15+ for mature accompanied and RC for refused classification. Within the current system, the highest legally available classification category for a computer game is MA15+. Games which are not suitable for a minor to play are currently refused classification. Presently a very small number of videogames are refused classification. Unlike film, videogames do not have an R18+ classification. Games would be in this classification for violence, language, nudity, drug use or adult themes. Although the act has been reviewed several times since 1995, an R18+ classification for computer games has not been added. In order for this classification to be added to the act, all state, territory and federal attorneys-general must unanimously agree to its introduction—this has only recently been agreed upon.

With no R18+, there is evidence that games meant for adults were rated MA15+, making them available to minors and confusing parents who try to do the right thing. We understand that shoehorning has occurred of videogames which might usually be classified R18+ into the MA15+ category. Clearly adult games, we believe, should be restricted to adults. It is more appropriate that they are classified in this new category rather than being shoehorned into the lesser category of MA15+. With this proposed change, parents would have a better idea of what a game is like. Adults would be allowed freedom of choice and children would be prevented from purchasing adult games. Some games which would ordinarily be classified R18+ are being modified and classified within the MA15+ category. With an R18+ classification, these games could be placed in the most appropriate category for them.

Not only does the current classification system fail to allow adults the right to choose; it also falls short on protecting minors from potentially harmful or disturbing content. A huge number of games rated MA18+ in Australia have been rated for 17- or 18-year-olds in similar and like-minded countries such as the US and many of the member states of Europe. On top of that, a mere handful of games have been edited to earn their local rating.

Contrary to some claims, the lack of an R rating for games makes it easy for children to access adult content. Legislating to allow an R18+ category will give consumers clear information, a clearer choice and more confidence in the games they buy for themselves and for their children. On most gaming consoles it is possible to activate parental controls. These controls allow you to set limits on the amount of time and the classifications of games which can be played. Using these controls can assist in enforcing family guidelines on gaming and protect younger gamers from inappropriate material. Some gamers illegally access games which would be classified R18+. It would be better if they were legally available in Australia with the appropriate restrictions, which is something that this bill achieves.

In recent years, the lack of an R18+ rating for video games has seen popular titles, including Fallout 3, and Left 4 Dead 2, refused classification as they are unsuitable to be played by 15-year-olds. It is interesting to note that the average age of Australian computer gamers is 32, with women making up almost half of computer game players. Notably, over 75 per cent of gamers in Australia are over the age of 18. In some cases, publishers of games that are refused classification choose to produce a censored version for the Australian market. Others simply cut their losses and do not introduce the game into Australia. This is bad for the Australian games market, which is growing strongly and is forecast to grow at a rate of about 10 per cent a year, with forecasts predicting that it will reach $2.5 billion annually by 2015. Those are very significant numbers that show what an important industry computer gaming is becoming for our country.

We recognise the contribution of the game development industry to the Australian economy and we also note that more than 88 per cent of Australian households own a device for playing computer games. Australia has 25 major game development studios which export over $120 million worth of product a year. Australia is the only Western country that does not have an R18+ classification for games. The United Kingdom, the USA, New Zealand and all of the member countries of the EU have adult classifications for computer games. There is a risk that, if this issue cannot be resolved, Australian gaming companies will be adrift in what is now a $70 billion worldwide industry and Australian games players, the backbone of the future games production industry, will either be cut out of the leading edge of the creative industries professions or forced to break customs laws in order to access the games they want to play which, as I have just noted, others around the world have ready access to.

I want to highlight a couple of real-life inconsistencies from the current classification regime with three games that are available in Australia at the MA15+ level yet are restricted to adults in other like-minded countries. The game called Fallout 3 was initially refused classification by the Classification Board for realistic depictions of drug use. After some minor edits, it is now available to children aged 15 and over in Australia while like-minded countries restrict the game for sale to adults only. Even with these changes, Fallout 3 is still rated for people 18 years of age and above in Britain, New Zealand and across Europe. In the United States it is rated M17+. In Australia, however, this violent and adult game is legally available for children as young as 15 simply because Australia lacks the capability to restrict games to adults only. Grand Theft Auto IV is the latest in what has been described to me as the infamous adult Grand Theft Auto series. Publishers Rockstar self-censored the game for Australia, making minor cosmetic edits regarding sex acts and blood splatter. It is now available for sale in Australia to children aged 15 and up, while being restricted for sale to adults only in other like-minded jurisdictions. House of the Dead: Overkill was not refused classification in Australia. It contains excessive violence and a high amount of profanity and is available for children aged 15 and over. Meanwhile, overseas rating agencies have classified this game for adults only.

That is just a few examples of which we are aware where games that probably would have been more appropriately classified as R18+ were shoehorned into the lesser category of M15+. Clearly, once this new category comes in, it will allow adults to access material, as is appropriate and as is their right to do so, whilst making sure that it is not available for people under the age of 18, for whom this material might be inappropriate to view. It should be noted that this bill was sent to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs for inquiry and the committee recommended that the bill be passed and:

The Committee is satisfied that the evidence demonstrates overwhelming support for an R18+ Restricted classification for computer games. The Committee further notes that the Bill’s aim is not controversial. Rather, it seeks to align the existing classification system for computer games with the system that applies to films.

The coalition endorses and agrees with the findings of that committee.

The passage of this bill will no doubt be welcomed by adult gamers all across Australia. It is my understanding—and I know this for a fact because I have been lobbied extensively since I joined this portfolio—that they have been waiting for this change for some time. The coalition view the change as a sensible measure as an R18+ category currently applies to other forms of entertainment and all this bill does is bring computer games into line with the way we classify films and other materials, and clearly it makes sense to have one uniform regime for all these different forms of media rather than singling out computer games where this classification has not been previously available.

The coalition therefore do not oppose the passage of this bill in the parliament. We welcome the fact that our classification regime will now be a uniform regime classifying all media as one and, importantly, particularly in this case, making sure that computer games with what might be considered to be questionable content for people who can access the MA15+ category but will now be restricted to the R18+ category, as is appropriate. Then the people who are eligible to purchase material within that category can make a decision as adults about what games they purchase and play.