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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 3019


Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (18:54): I rise today to support the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. This bill introduces an R18+ classification into the Australian computer game classification categories. It also allows existing games to be submitted for reclassification once the R18+ classification is included.

The current Australian classification regime under the classification act involves film, magazines and electronic game producers applying to the Classification Board for classification of their products. Applications must include supporting material that will assist the board in deciding the appropriate classification. For example, an applicant seeking a classification for a computer game must include with their written application a copy of the game and a document outlining the details of the game, including a description of the game play experience. Once the application and supporting material have been submitted to the board, the relevant entertainment media is then classified according to the principles and categories detailed in the 2005 National Classification Code and the guidelines for the classification of films and computer games.

The 2005 code sets out the classification tables for publications, films and computer games. Examining these tables reveals that computer games currently do not enjoy the capacity to be awarded an R18+ classification under Australia's entertainment media classification regime. Consequently, computer games that would otherwise fall in an R18+ classification currently face two prospects. Firstly, these games can be refused classification. In that case, they cannot be sold, hired, exhibited, displayed or advertised in Australia. Alternatively, these games can be modified by the producer to comply with the lower criteria of the MA15+ classification. These outcomes have significant implications for consumer choice in the computer games market and the ability to protect Australian children from unsuitable material in that market.

It is a universally recognised economic principle that consumer welfare is enhanced in a market if the consumers have a large degree of choice between products. Indeed, such a principle is supported by Australia's classification regime, with the National Classification Code mandating that classification decisions are to give effect to the principle that adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want. The average age of a contemporary Australian computer gamer is 32, a person well into their adult years. In fact, 70 per cent of computer game players in Australia are 18 years or older. This market characteristic has been recognised by computer game producers, who are now producing an increasing number of computer games for distribution in Australia that are more suitable to the maturity levels of adult game players. It is therefore curious that Australia remains the only developed nation that does not have an adult rating for computer games.

Computer game producers should not be denied the opportunity to develop games that appeal to the largest consumer group. Nor they should be forced to modify their games so that they comply with the more restrictive MA15+ classification if they wish to distribute their games to adults in the Australian market. This country has always encouraged through appropriate and sensible supply side regulation the development of products by businesses that most effectively meet the demands of their markets. The market for adult computer games should be no exception to this.

On the demand side of the market, adult consumers should not have their choice of computer games restricted by a classification system that does not allow them to access games that would otherwise fall within an R18+ classification. This is as much said in the National Classification Code guiding principle of adult freedom of choice. This bill will address these concerns by allowing those games to be made available to Australia's adult game players under the R18+ classification scheme.

Additionally, the bill will allow games that have been refused classification previously to be resubmitted to the Classification Board for reclassification as R18+ so that they can be made available in Australia's computer game market. By improving consumer choice in this way, the bill will ensure the sustained growth of the Australian gaming industry, an industry that is forecast to grow at a rate of 10 per cent per year.

The second issue that I would like to raise about the absence of an R18+ classification for computer games in Australia is protecting Australia's children from unsuitable material. As I said earlier, games that would otherwise be classified R18+ can be modified by their producers so that they can meet the criteria of an MA15+ classification, therefore making them available to children. This is not a suitable outcome from our country's classification regime. This has been illustrated by a number of games that were initially deemed unsuitable for child game play being made available to Australian children through attaining an MA15+ classification. For example, the game Fallout 3 was initially refused classification by the Australian Classification Board for its realistic depictions of drug use. However, after some minor producer edits, Fallout 3 was able to be classified as MA15+ despite the fact that it was rated as only being suitable for those 18 years and older in Britain, New Zealand and Europe. Again, Grand Theft Auto IV provides a similar example as it too, after some minor cosmetic edits, was able to be distributed to children under the MA15+ classification. Moreover, some games that are classified as being suitable for adults only in other countries are classified as MA15+ in Australia. Again House of the Dead: Overkill is an example of this. It was classified MA15+ in Australia despite the fact that it was classified as R18+ abroad. This bill will overcome this issue by introducing an R18+ classification for such games, thereby preventing their distribution to children.

The bill will also allow games that are already in the Australian market to be submitted for reclassification by the minister or a person who has been aggrieved by the prior classification decision. In this way the regime will give effect to the National Classification Code guiding principle that minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them.

When it comes to entertainment media there is a need to ensure that everyone is protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive. In order for this to occur, people must be made aware of the content of such media before they experience it. This is particularly the case for computer games where consumers are not truly aware of the nature and content of games before they begin playing them. Whilst not being able to totally inform the consumer of the content of a games game play experience R18+ will go a long way in enabling consumers to perceive the nature of the game play experience and content when making their purchasing decisions. More importantly, the R18+ classification will allow parents to make informed decisions about the suitability of particular games for their children.

The introduction of an R18+ classification for computer games in our classification regime is well supported. Indeed, when the issue of introducing such a classification was put to public consultation 98 per cent of those involved in that consultation supported introducing an R18+ classification for computer games. Moreover, Galaxy Research's national telephone poll on the issue found that 80 per cent of those people polled supported an R18+ classification. I know that people in my electorate of Macarthur also support the R18+ classification and want uniformity in classification for films, television series and computer games. This will allow them to make an informed decision when purchasing computer games for themselves and their children. That is why I support this bill today, because it is good policy.