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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 3017


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:48): I rise to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. I am sorry that I cannot join in the debate about slide rules and slates, but, like the member for Solomon, I do remember having the Commodore 64. I do remember that, to play a computer game, you had to sit and wait for a tape player to load a game for about half an hour, and hope that it did not get caught some way through it, so that you could play a game of Aztec Challenge or Soccer. The most violent it got then was that a gorilla might throw a barrel at your head while your character was playing, but that was about it. But things have moved on enormously since then. There have been advancements in technology, advancements in innovation and advancements in people's creativity, and that is a good thing. It is extraordinarily to be welcomed. But it is time for the law to catch up.

The Australian Greens will support this bill because it will put in place important protections for minors while ensuring that adults have the right to access the range of computer games that are available on the international market. If there is one area where it is fruitless to try to stand behind and keep the tide back from what is happening globally, it is anything that happens on the internet. But this bill will create greater consistency in our classification system by creating an R18+ category while improving the civil rights of gaming adults and will relieve the burden of the computer-gaming industry.

This important reform has been 10 years in the making. It has involved extensive consultation, as previous speakers have noted. For a long time, reform to the National Classification Scheme along these lines had been blocked by South Australia and New South Wales, which opposed the integration of computer games into the scheme. Now that these objections have been overcome, it is important that this legislation is passed so that states are able to pass complementary legislation enabling the changes to come into force by the beginning of next year.

This bill has widespread community and industry support. In December 2009, the Attorney-General's Department held a consultation on R18+ for computer games and there were 58,437 respondents, with 98 per cent in support. In May last year, a further 2,000 people were surveyed on R18+ to help inform the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. In July last year, agreement was reached on reform. There have been two inquiries examining this bill. On 29 February, the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs reported on the bill, and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee is also examining the bill. The Australian Law Reform Commission has also supported the changes proposed in this bill.

As I said at the outset, the Australian Greens support this bill because it will bring greater consistency to the classification system while putting in place important protections. It will mean that parental supervision of computer game use will become more straightforward, with clear demarcation of which material may be appropriate for particular age groups. The bill will also remove a particular consequence caused by the lack of an R18+ classification which meant that some material, which will now be classified R18+, was previously or is currently being allowed at 15 plus. This is a serious problem and it will now be overcome.

Of course, not everyone who plays computer games is young. In fact, gaming is a popular adult pastime, a fact that this legislation reflects. Surveying by the department showed that the average age of gamers is 32 and, despite popular misconceptions, 47 per cent of gamers are women. So this change will be very welcome to the millions of adults who enjoy gaming, and it represents an important improvement in their right to choose.

Industry will also welcome the legislation. Up until now it has been burdened by the significant compliance costs of modifying games to fit with a restrictive classification system. Some estimates suggest that the worldwide value of the video-gaming industry is over $100 billion and growing, so these restrictions were also a barrier to Australia's full participation in a growing section of the world economy. I know that video game developers in my electorate of Melbourne will welcome this change.

In conclusion, I know that many members have concerns about the negative impact of excessive video game consumption and much of the content, and I understand those concerns. But these reforms will better enable parents to assist their children to adopt positive gaming habits and make informed choices, and they will contribute to a rational, integrated classification system that properly supports the media and entertainment industry.

However, the passage of this bill is not yet the final step, because the implementation of these changes will rely on the revised classification guidelines, which are yet to be released. I want to make clear the commitment on the part of the Australian Greens to work with the industry and with stakeholders such as the Western Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Australian Council on Children and the Media on the guidelines process to ensure that the guidelines get the balance right between the right of gamers to access content and ensuring that the best interests of children are protected. I commend the bill to the House.