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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 3024

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (19:13): I rise today to welcome the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012, which is before the House today. This is a long-running matter that has finally come to fruition. I think it will be welcomed by many parents and the gaming industry in Australia today.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to speak in this place calling exactly for what is being delivered in this legislation in relation to an R18+ classification for computer games. At the time I was approached by some local parents who had raised their concerns with me about classification of video games with adult themes, and their inability to distinguish those themes by means of the ratings and classifications. In 2008 we were hopeful that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General meeting of that year, in March, was going to produce some action. Four years later I am happy to say that the states in our wonderfully constructed federation have finally come to the conclusion that there should be an R18+ category for video games—just a little bit later. However, this is a good development. I am, of course, not one who seeks to impose censorship or regulation on what free-thinking adults can view or think. I made that point in 2008, but in my role as Deputy Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety we learnt of similar issues in relation to children and the application of many laws and schemes to very young and profoundly young children who are able to access video games and online content. I think this is a welcome development. I agree with the argument that there should be consistency between different forms of media under the act, and I believe this approach to video games is common sense.

However, I do not think that this is any substitute for good parenting or responsibility. Indeed, I would make the point to parents in my electorate and more generally in Australia that it is still very much incumbent on them to take responsibility for the video games their children are viewing and to be aware of their content. Any simple or cursory look through most video games in stores today would be enough, I think, to frighten any responsible parent when it comes to the advanced concepts and violence and other graphic depictions within them. I think it is very important that parents do not take the passing of this legislation as a panacea for understanding what concepts exist in video games. It is still going to be first and primarily the responsibility of the parent to determine what their child should be viewing and whether it is appropriate for them and their families.

There is a good argument here about the industry itself which the member for McEwen pointed out: it will be worth $2.5 billion by 2020. This is a large industry today and is only going to get larger. Indeed, the member for Canberra put me onto a book. I do not often read publications recommended to me by the member for Canberra, but it was quite a good read. It concerned an emerging field of neuroscience—this is why I do not read books recommended to me by the member for Canberra—and studies of the development of young people's brains in relation to their use of gaming and online resources. It is a cutting-edge study and approach. We hear a lot about the bad effects of computers or the bad social effects of gaming, but there are positive effects and experimental areas of the brain are being activated by the use of computer games. There is a lot more for us to understand about the interaction of the computer, the brain, gaming and innovation in other areas that will become apparent over time.

Of course we should do what we can to ensure that we do not hinder the development of gaming in Australia or the ability of people to produce and sell games. I think an R18+ classification is a sensible accommodation given the times and where we are today. Speaking of R18+ classifications and adult concepts, I note the member for Moreton has entered the chamber. He is an expert in adult concepts in publications. I also enjoy his publications—that is two publications from Labor members that I have endorsed in this chamber today!

On a more serious note, Australia has 25 major game development studios, which export over $120 million worth of products a year. That achievement should be recognised in the chamber. It should also be noted that Australia is the only Western country that does not have an R18+ classification for games. For the sceptics out there about rating systems and censorship, consistency across markets to ensure that we are competing internationally is a simple and logical argument for us to follow. The UK, EU member countries, the USA and New Zealand all have adult classifications for computer games, and we know that about 88 per cent of Australian households now own a device for playing computer games and that children are engaging more and more in these activities.

The gaming industry in Australia is maturing. A high proportion of today's gamers are now adults; the studies tell us that the average age is about 32. There is a development of more and more computer game titles suited to an older audience, which we are less concerned with in relation to this bill. But we do need this R18+ category, at least as a minimum, to ensure that with this growing demand and the development of gaming in younger and younger children that adult content and advanced concepts are at least identified such that parents are able to understand them in a simple way, consistent with other forms of classification by the federal government. With all of that I am happy to say regarding my earlier statement on behalf of parents who had approached me in my electorate some years ago that it is being done. It took some time to get the states to do something, which of course is a constant frustration shared I think by every member in this place—getting the states to move on any matter; getting them to agree on something can be more difficult. The bureaucracy of our federation, of course, is something I am keen to see improved in the future. But 3½ years after I first spoke about the need for this to be done, it is being done. I welcome it, it is a good development and I support this bill.