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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 3010

Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (18:12): I am pleased to rise to speak to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. This has been a long time coming. This particular piece of legislation is in many respects the summit of what has been a concerted effort by gamers and others involved in the digital economy for many years now. If I cast my mind back to about three or so years ago—when I was shadow minister for tourism and the arts—at the time a very concerted effort was being made by a number of people across Australia to see the realisation of this particular bill, which involves the introduction of an R18+ classification.

Coming from the Gold Coast and my electorate of Moncrieff—where there has historically been a very strong computer game development industry in my city—this also provides new opportunities for game developers to explore the full repertoire of games they are able to develop and market. So, in many respects I think this is a positive step forward.

It is not without stating that there is some controversy about this. The separate issue is whether or not that controversy is warranted. That notwithstanding, there is no doubt that there is some controversy around the creation of an R18+ computer game classification. There are many in the community who would ask, 'Why is there a need for an R18+ classification for computer games?' Computer games are played by children and surely there would not seem to be a need for an R18+ classification. Furthermore, I know that many parents have concerns that children are exposed to overly violent computer games and, increasingly, it would appear that there is a blend of both violence and sexual activity in computer games. It is understandable that a number of parents have concerns about this issue. As a parent of a three-year-old boy I can draw linkages as to why those concerns are there. But, as always, what is important is to recognise that you need to be appraised of the facts. The facts in this matter make it very clear that the introduction of an R18+ classification is a step in the right direction. As speakers in this debate before me have highlighted, there already exists around the world R18 classifications in other Western democracies that have access to computer games, and that these days is virtually everybody. In addition to that, of course, there is also the issue that there already exists an R18+ classification when it comes to certain magazines and with respect to the film and television industry. It already exists in other mediums, so one could logically ask, 'Why wouldn't it exist with respect to computer games as well?'

I know the argument that is sometimes put is that it has to deal with the degree of immersion—the view that when you play a computer game there is a high degree of emotional immersion in the computer game which could arguably make it more realistic. I have no doubt that there are many psychologists and psychiatrists that have dealt with this issue over a great period of time. What we know, though, is that—with the convergence that is taking place in the digital economy, with the fact that, for example, computer games are no longer simply limited to something that you buy a separate Xbox or PlayStation or Wii or whatever for, it might be that you purchase and use that platform solely for playing games—computer games are now able to be played across a whole range of different platforms. Certainly, yes, there are still dedicated game platforms like the Xbox, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Wii, but broader than that there is the opportunity today to play computer games on computers, on those dedicated game platforms, online and, in addition to that, on mobile devices.

I was sitting here during the debate looking at my iPhone and noted that you can actually purchase Grand Theft Auto III and play it on your iPhone. There is nothing particularly unique about an iPhone. It is perhaps the most ubiquitous smartphone around. It just underscores the convergence that has happened and the fact that what was historically an exceptionally controversial game is now able to be simply downloaded for $5.99 off the Apple iTunes App Store and in a matter of five or 10 minutes you can play that game on your telephone.

The reality is that we see across the world now the convergence, as I said, with games being available to be played online, on computer, on dedicated gaming platforms, on telephones. In each and every one of these respects there is one thing, though, that has not changed since the beginning of the information technology industry, and that is that, virtually guaranteed, a 14-year-old is going to be better at it than anybody over the age of 30. So, mindful of what should become some kind of new law when it comes to IT, the fact is that 14-year-olds today can play 18+ games even without an R18 classification under the actual legislation that is before the House today. The reason is that it is so ubiquitous now. There are opportunities to download what they refer to as 'patches' off the internet, to purchase a computer game that might be rated MA15+ and download off the internet a patch that enables you effectively to open up those elements of the computer game that have been censored to fall within that classification.

That is effectively how it works currently. It is not a case that game developers develop a computer game for the rest of the world and then develop a different computer game for the Australian market so that they can fall within the MA15+ category rather than being under the R18+ category. What actually happens is that game developers develop a computer game for global release, which of course then has certain scenes edited or censored within the program itself so that when it plays that particular scene or sequence of events it does not occur within the Australian context, given that it is an MA15+ classification rather than an R18+ classification. But because that code sits in the computer game it is relatively easy for any slightly savvy person to be able to download the patch off the web, which enables that person then to be able to play the full computer game on their device. That is already occurring. The reality is that anybody who tries to pretend that that is not already taking place is completely ignorant of the reality. So I say to parents that this is in fact a tool that can be used for observing and controlling what your children are exposed to. The creation of an R18+ classification does not in any way, shape or form mean that children are going to be exposed to more violent or more sexual computer games. What it means is that parents will be better informed about what their children are playing. It means that parents will be in a better and stronger position to make a decision about what they want their children to be exposed to. There is absolutely no doubt that many parents—and indeed, I would suggest, based on anecdotal evidence, most parents—are mistakenly of the view that, because their child is playing an MA15+ game, it is in some way less violent or less sexual than an R18+ game. The fact, for the reasons I outlined earlier, is that in all likelihood the child is actually playing the R18+ version of the game but the parents got a false sense of security because it said on the packaging that it was an MA15+ game.

For those reasons, the creation of an R18+ classification means that parents would see, in the store, that that version of the computer game is R18+ and therefore should be confined to adults and adults only. That means it is less likely that Nanna will buy that particular product off the shelf and give it to her little grandson on his 15th birthday. I think it is a step in the right direction because it empowers parents to make good decisions.

We also need to look at this in a broader context. As the shadow minister mentioned, it is no longer the domain of simply 14-year-olds to be playing computer games. The reality is that today a whole host of Australians play computer games, and the average age of computer gamers is 32. I can plead guilty: I play computer games—though not a lot and certainly not as much as I used to. One of my first purchases was in fact Grand Theft Auto, so I have some degree of familiarity with the computer game. In fact, I think I may have been one of the first people to talk about it in this chamber, many years ago. There is a huge market for computer games. It is a bigger industry than the film industry. It is easy when you think about the mathematics behind it to recognise that, while a punter goes to their local cinema and pays $15 to watch a movie, when someone purchases a computer game they normally pay in the vicinity of $80 to $120. It is a bigger industry that grosses more revenue than the film industry. That underscores the size and significance of this industry. Australia has a toehold in this market. Indeed, we could do much better than we do. That notwithstanding, there are many Australians whose livelihoods depend on the creative juices flowing in the development of computer games which they then can sell to a global market. In many respects it presents an opportunity for Australia to really punch above its weight when it comes to the development of these kinds of creative industries.

So, mindful that we live in a free society, mindful that we take the view that adults have the ability to determine what is appropriate for them to play or watch, and mindful that the average age of a computer gamer is 32 and not 14, I think it is in every way, shape and form a common-sense decision to introduce this classification. For that reason, the coalition is supportive of the bill as well.

The point I will end upon concerns the operation of the R18+ classification, which requires a unanimous agreement between attorneys-general at the state government level. I hope that outcome would occur naturally following the passage of this legislation. I know it is important that people have the chance through an inquiry process to get their concerns on the record, and I and many others have taken into account their concerns. That notwithstanding, though, for all the reasons I outlined I hope that attorneys-general across the states support the creation of this new classification, because it is in Australia's long-term interests as a game-developing country and because we are mindful of the fact that so many Australians play computer games.