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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 3501

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (20:37): I rise to add some comments on behalf of the Australian Greens that will effectively align with the contribution of Senator Brandis. It is remarkable that, after such an extraordinarily long period of time, finally the parties have come into alignment in this place and are recognising, formally in legislation, that adults should be able to access adult content. So it is a good day: finally, we have got there. The Australian Greens are supportive of the aims of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012 on the basis that adults should be able to view content whether or not it may be appropriate for children.

Senators would be aware that this issue has been under discussion for a great many years. It has been the subject of a number of extensive surveys and consultations. We note, of course, the government's haste, given the bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 15 February and that the committee was expected to conduct an inquiry in 11 working days. But this issue has been extensively canvassed over a long period of time.

Bringing games into Australia's classifi­cation system and aligning all materials into the one classification system does make sense, at least at this stage—and I will add some comments towards the end about the limits of the system, as pointed out by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its recent inquiry. Harmonising the system to clearly label and classify games will assist parental supervision of children and minors, as long as the interpretation of various categories is consistent and appealable. That is what I believe the government has done in this case, and we now have a system that meets those basic benchmarks.

The importance of educated and informed parental supervision is only enhanced, in the light of research in the academic and professional community, on the impact of immersive games on children. I think the gaming industry has pointed out the ambiguity in the literature. I think the position we would normally take, whether it be a health or communications related bill, is that we err on the side of caution—we take an approach that is basically precautionary, and I think, again, this bill allows us to do that.

We have a responsibility, while the jury is out on the psychological impacts on young people of immersing themselves in what can be extraordinarily violent environments for hours and hours at a time, to deliberately, carefully protect children, and a classifi­cation system that is clear and appealable can only assist in this task.

The committee noted that the actual substance and consequence of the bill lie in the guidelines that will determine how content is classified. A number of submitters who were opposed to the bill, and opposed to creating this tier of classification, pointed out the void where those guidelines should be—and that a lot of work is going to need to be done to make sure that the games that Senator Brandis raised in his contribution, for example, will in fact be reclassified. But, in the absence of the guidelines, we will simply have to make sure that that occurs. The Greens will evaluate those guidelines when they are published to ensure that the process offers the opportunity to re-evaluate and re-classify the material that is currently inappropriately available in the MA15+ bracket. Nearly all submitters, including those representing gamers, acknowledged the introduction of an adult category should be used to re-classify material that had been wrongly classified or amalgamated, as Senator Brandis indicated. The WA Children's Commission and others made specific suggestions for the guidelines, which I think are worthy of consideration. When those guidelines are published, we think that that should probably go back to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

The ALRC has done us something of a service in looking not just at how we classify games that are distributed according to traditional means, whether they are purchased on DVD in shops or downloaded in online form, stored and played off a computer platform—because we know, just from the development of smart phones, apps and tablets and so on, that it is rapidly becoming an impossible task to identify and then classify, according to Australian standards, the hundreds of thousands of game-like apps and things that are out there. It is simply going to swamp and overwhelm the system. I think the ALRC report is worth reviewing for how it proposes to handle that in the same way that we handle, for example, standards on social media platforms and video file-sharing hosting services—that is, you actually require the audience; you start to rely on the audience to identify content that is offensive or should be age-locked or taken a look at. I think that is something we need to point to.

I am glad that we have got past the suggestion that some overarching government censor be filtering content before the public get to see it. It is something of a relief, actually, that that agenda appears, for the moment at least, to have been set aside from the debate on classifying computer games. This is an industry in relation to which—because of, I guess, a mix of legitimate concerns, but also moral panic because the medium is so new—we have tended to focus on a particular and in fact very narrow strand of the industry. This is an industry that has enormous potential for innovation, for creativity and for Australia to really mark out a niche. We are a very connected, very wide society. We have skills, we have talent—and, I think in one sense, the fact that we have not had an adult category has been a block to that creativity. We are looking to government support for this industry—in the same way as we offer producer offsets for film productions—that involves creative and immersive online entertainment or educational products. We have a big role to play here. I think Australian creative people can really make a big contribution if we give them the support that they deserve.

The industry did go out of its way to make sure that its views were known, which is why it is surprising that it has taken so long for us to get here tonight. To be honest, I was not sure that we ever would. There were 60,000 respondents to the Attorney-General's 2009 consultation—60,000!—98 per cent of which said, 'Yes, of course, adults should be able to view adult content, whether it is online or not. So I look forward to the passage of this bill. I congratulate the government for bringing it forward, and acknowledge also that this is a delay not of the Com­monwealth's making—this was held up for a very long period of time, I believe, by the South Australian Attorney-General and the need for these sorts of matters to proceed by consensus through COAG. We got there in the end, so I look forward to voting on this bill.