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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3174


Mr IRONS (Swan) (11:34): I rise to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Longman. I know he has careful insight into video games. I sat in awe for years watching my son, who is about the same age, play PlayStation and Xbox and all the various games that came along, and I am sure that, along with you, Mr Deputy Speaker, we do not have the skill that these young people have.

I support the expansion of Australia's video game classification system to include an R18+ category. In our rapidly growing technologically centred world, this legislation is important in ensuring consistency between games and other entertainment mediums. This bill will bring the classification categories for computer games into line with existing categories used to classify films. Currently, if the content of a computer game is considered inappropriate for an MA15+ classification, the game is refused classification and banned from sale in Australia.

This bill enjoys wide support amongst the Australian community. According to a Bond University report, 91 per cent of adults believe there should be an R18+ classification for video games. This is not necessarily because they want to access video games containing adult content but because they would like the right to choose which video games they use, in the same way that they choose which film to watch or magazine to read. According to the Bond University study, Australian game players have an average age of 30 and that number is set to rise over the coming years. With this statistic in mind, it is important to recognise that the demand for games containing adult content will rise with it.

The National Classification Scheme regulates the availability of films and computer games and is a cooperative arrangement between the Commonwealth, states and territories. The National Classification Scheme allows buyers of these products to make informed decisions about what they consume and what they allow their children to access. The Commonwealth Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 establishes which classification should be appointed to publications, films and computer games. The Classification Board is an independent statutory board that makes classification decisions under the act. The classification act of 1995 and the Classification Code create a range of classification categories from general to parental guidance, mature, mature accompanied, restricted and refused classification. The code sets out principles for the application of these classifications. The principles are that adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want; minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them; and everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive. When making decisions, the Classification Board must take into account community concerns about depictions that condone or incite violence and the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

These classification guidelines apply to both films and computer games, with the same content in either category having to meet the same description of appropriate content. Where the current act differs is in what categories of classification are available. The R18+ rating available for films and DVDs is not available for computer games. Under the current system this means that the same content produced in the form of a DVD can be legally sold in Australia, whilst that content used in a computer game would be made illegal. This is the inconsistency that the current bill before this House will address.

It is important at this point to point out that having an R18 classification added to the code for computer games will not mean that no restrictions will be placed on computer games sold in Australia. The code will still hold the RC, or refused classification, category used to make illegal the sale of games with gratuitous or exploitative depictions of sexual violence. It could also apply to games that depict violence which is judged to have a very high impact and can reasonably be assumed to offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. This would see games containing such themes not classified and unavailable for purchase in Australia.

I strongly support the bill's principle that minors should be protected from material likely to harm them. In 2009, I successfully campaigned for a drinking board game to be banned from sale to minors. I was astonished to find that a game which claimed to be the world's best-selling adult drinking game was being advertised alongside family and children's games in a junk mail brochure. The game was available to minors but was promoting behaviour that was potentially harmful and not appropriate for people under the legal drinking age. My campaign for the drinking game to be banned from sale to minors was successful with the Australian Classification Board classifying the game as Category 1 restricted. This decision led to the game being sold in only a small number of registered shops, only in special packaging and only out of view. In his response to the campaign that I started, the Classification Board Chairman, Donald McDonald, wrote to me stating that the Classification Board is:

… mindful of current community concerns regarding alcohol consumption and refers to one of the underpinning principles of the national Classification Code, being 'minors should be protected from material that is likely to harm or disturb'.

I am happy to say today that the game is now legally restricted to adults. I have brought this example to the House's attention as it demonstrates the Classification Board as an independent statutory body in action and how effective they can be at dealing with these sorts of content issues.

The classification bill seeks to ensure that a similar process is available through adult content in computer games. I acknowledge that some critics may feel that a blanket ban on all adult content is necessary. Some have raised concerns with the R18+ classification used for DVDs also applying for computer games, because it would allow legal sale of material they consider to be offensive. I believe, however, that actions such as prohibiting the sale of certain games in Australia will have the opposite effect and bring games containing content inappropriate for minors to greater prominence. The reality is that Australia's classification system is being used as a selling point in other countries around the world. For example, computer games have been marketed in New Zealand as 'the game that was banned in Australia'. Our restrictive classification system is unintentionally promoting games containing explicit and adult material by drawing attention to them. A marketing campaign that states, 'the game that was banned in Australia' as a selling point is using our current classification system as a tool for promoting the game and its content, instead of simply ensuring minors do not have access to games inappropriate for their age group and development level.

I draw the attention of the House to the classification systems in comparable overseas jurisdictions that have an adult restricted rating for computer games in place. The list includes the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. Of great concern to me is the inconsistency of classification across international borders leading to a large number of computer games that are restricted to 17-and 18-year-olds in Europe and America receiving only an MA15+ classification in Australia

The absence of an R18+ classification in Australia would appear to be making more violent games available to younger people in Australia than in other comparable countries. Many parents rely on the classification system to guide them as to what content they make available to their children. The R18+ classification sends a clear and unambiguous message to parents that the game material is unsuitable for minors. It is worrying to think that games that may receive a higher classification overseas are being subtly tweaked here in Australia so that they only just qualify for the MA15 classification. This means that minors have access to games that would otherwise be restricted to those who are 18 years old due to our lax classification procedures.

The Bond University study showed that 63 per cent of respondents to the survey of video games did not realize Australia has no R18+ classification for video games, reflecting the lack of understanding consumers have of the difference between film and video game classifications. With no R18+ classification available for video games, games featuring violence, nudity, and adult themes are instead being classified as MA15+ and are available to minors. This is inappropriate and a failure of the original legislation. Games originally intended for adults should be classified as such and not repeatedly modified to fit only just inside the criteria for MA15+. Games of this classification are readily available to minors and R18+ classification will ensure all games containing content deemed to be of an adult nature are available only to adults.

As a parent I find this concerning and the passing of this bill will ensure these games receive a classification that more appropriately reflects content and the appropriate consumers of that content. Having an R18+ category will also reduce the number of refused classification games, reserving that classification for games containing content unsuitable for sale to anyone in Australia. Currently, games which contain adult content, as well as games containing extreme content, such as sexual violence, fall under the same RC category, making it difficult for consumers to ascertain whether a game is simply unsuitable for a minor or for all consumers. The introduction of this bill will strengthen the meaning of the 'refused classification' category in the internet age we live in, where a whole range of content is able to be accessed and downloaded instantly. An RC classification under this proposed bill will signal to consumers who may consider accessing an RC classified game over the internet that the game contains extreme content deemed to be unsuitable for use by anyone, as opposed to containing material that is not suitable for a minor, as is the case under the current legislation.

A Bond University study highlights the fact that 78 per cent of parents are involved in the purchasing of games for their children and that 92 per cent are aware of the games that their children are playing. The absence of a higher restricted classification level sends confusing messages to parents, who may not realise the MA15+ games are the highest-rating games available.

As is currently the case for DVDs, the R18+ rating carries a strong warning which indicates the game content is highly inappropriate for minors and sends a clear message to parents and adult consumers alike. The current classification system is ineffective—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11:46 to 12:01

Mr IRONS: The current classification system is ineffective in restricting strong-impact video games being accessed. It encourages consumers to circumvent the domestic market and instead turn to online illegal downloads of games that are otherwise unavailable in Australia, costing our economy $100 million a year in illegal downloads. The R18+ level of classification will help prevent the illegal download of unclassified video games unable to be sold in Australia. This will be incredibly beneficial to Australian retailers, distributors and copyright owners who are missing out on revenue for a small but nevertheless significant part of the market. Australia has a growing games sector, and pragmatic and sensible legislation is important in supporting it. This bill will benefit not only consumers of video games but also those in industry, including manufacturers and retailers. The proposed legislation will enable Australia's game development sector to be better able to compete in international markets by ensuring that games containing adult material developed in Australia can be developed and sold at home first before entering overseas markets.

This legislation reflects a pragmatic approach to video game availability in Australia. It upholds the rights of adults to access adult level content while ensuring minors are not exposed to graphic strong-impact content. Adults should not be prevented from playing R18+ level computer games simply because they are unsuitable for minors. This bill strikes the right balance between allowing adults to be free to read, hear and see what they want and community concerns about protecting minors from explicit content.

Just as I was able to have the drinking board game banned from sale to minors in 2009, the same option should be available for computer games without having the contents completely banned from sale in Australia. A clear and unambiguous message about computer games' content will benefit parents, particularly those who are not familiar with computer games and are dependent on classifications as a guide. This bill is a positive step forward for our classification system and, given the strong support for an R18+ from parents, I urge the House to support its passing.