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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 3503

Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (20:44): I rise to indicate my support for the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. I participated in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into this legislation as, I believe, did you, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin. Although I began with an instinctive belief that we should not be widening the net so as to allow more of what one might call offensive material to be available in regulated form to the general public, particularly children, I did come to the view expressed in this debate by both Senator Brandis and Senator Ludlam that it is better to regulate a particular product for which there is evidence of some quite heavy market demand to ensure that it is possible to provide some limits on what might be available to younger people and even to adults in certain categories of product and to ensure that we offer some satisfaction that people are not buying things which are inappropriate for viewing under any circumstances.

Unlike Senator Brandis, who obviously spoke about these games in what I think would clearly be an absence of any personal experience of them, I have two teenage sons and they are both enthusiastic users of these games and so I can profess to some small experience of how they operate. I have to confess the sorts of games that we are talking about here in the R18+ category are not to my taste or, I suspect, to the taste of most members of this Senate, but it is important to acknowledge, as has been stated in this debate, that we have here products which are very widely sought out by younger people in our community, noting as Senator Brandis did that the average age of computer game consumers in this country is approximately 32 years of age.

It is also very clear that we have had a number of problems with a system which has regulated to the highest level at MA15+ and not to the equivalent level of R18+, which other countries administer. It is true that, with the passage of this legislation, some games which have hitherto been refused classification—that means banned—will now be available in this country. Some might regret that and wish that they were not available. It is also true, however, that some games which properly would have been classified as R18+—available only to adults—have until now, for whatever reason, received an MA15+ classification perhaps because they experience very heavy con­sumer demand. It was felt that they ought to be available in some form at least in the Australian market. We should not be engineering these sorts of outcomes based on getting around loopholes or inadequacies in the law. We should be attempting to classify material according to the appropriate age group that should be viewing it and, where possible, we should be placing appropriate limits on the sort of material we are talking about, and so minimising the interaction between violence and sexual references. I accept that there is good and bad in this, but I believe that it is better to ensure that we keep games and other material out of the hands of children to the extent that we possibly can, certainly in categories below the age of 15 and categories above the age of 15, or between 15 and 18. I think it is also important to provide some level of assurance that a quality control, if you like, has been imposed on this process.

As a believer in capitalism, I know that where there is a market people will attempt to satisfy that market. At the present time, we are seeing a lot of penetration of that market by material which is not regulated. These days it is possible to get almost anything available over the internet. As a parent, I might not particularly like the sorts of games or things that my children might want to amuse themselves with, but I am greatly reassured if I know that the material that they have legally purchased somewhere has been regulated in a way so as to exclude certain content that might be considered to be completely unacceptable. I would rather that my children were able to access material which had been regulated by the Office of Film and Literature Classification and was available to them rather than something which might be obtained over the internet. That is the point, I believe, of a system such as this.

We need to be realistic about what people expect to be able to see. These days there are wide expectations about what people, even younger people, should be able to look at, and completely ignoring that desire is dangerous and unrealistic. I believe that the government's proposal for an internet filter—which, although it has not been spoken about much in recent years, is still the policy of the Labor government, of Senator Conroy—represents quite an unrealistic attempt to regulate material. A measure such as this is much more realistic because it does hold the prospect of being capable of being regulated and of being applied in a way which is generally fairly uniform. There are always some people who will step outside the system. They will know how to do so and will be able to step outside the system, and no doubt there are some people of quite tender age who are capable of doing that. But if we provide a pathway which is easy and accessible but which is regulated, I think we are doing our younger people a favour.

I might say that these arguments, Madam Acting Deputy President—and I am particularly aware of your own background as a representative of the Northern Territory—are also arguments in favour of the preservation of the X category for erotic material. Given that there is so much which is deeply offensive in relation to sexual content available on the internet, I think there is much to be said for having a category of material which consists only of non-violent erotica available legally for Australians to purchase if they are intent on using such material. So I endorse comments of other colleagues in this debate. I under­stand that a Bond University study not long ago found that nine out of 10 Aussie homes had a gaming console of one sort or another in them. There is a very large degree of interplay between different forms of media and if something hits the market which people seem to want it is very easy for people to know it is there and get hold of it. The proposed guidelines are certainly an improvement and I think it is important to be able to offer adult users of computer games some assurance about the content of what they are looking at.

There is a question about enforceability. There is some evidence that other aspects of the system of regulation of video materials are not well enforced. This may reflect the fact that there is some unrealism about the way in which the system is constructed, that in the case of X-rated material it is theoreti­cally only available in the two territories but, as we all know, it is widely available throughout the states. Why? Because enforcement is not really undertaken at all. I hope that with a stronger, more effective regulatory system in respect of computer games we will not see that problem occur, that we will be able to say that there is a legal product to consume and those who attempt to peddle material which is not classified should be very strongly sanctioned by the operation of a law which is rigorously enforced.

I commend the government for this process. It has taken a long time. As a former member of the censorship ministers council myself, I know it is extremely difficult to get change to happen through that process, but this change is one which is worth while and I think will help improve the level of protection for vulnerable people in our community who use these sorts of products.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.