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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12626

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (12:49): I rise to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Online Games) Bi11 2011. As the member for Stirling said, the bill seeks to establish clarity around the classification of mobile phone and online games by providing a two-year moratorium on the formal classification of online games. The proposed amendments to this bill will see the insertion of a new category of exempt online games into the classification act which removes the requirements for mobile phone and online games to be classified.

The coalition supports the bill, which seeks to simplify the classification process of online games and the self-regulation amongst the telecommunications industry, pending the results of the Australian Law Reform Commission review. It is worth noting that it 20 years since the Australian Law Reform Commission has been given a reference relating to censorship and classification. Twenty years hence the Australian community, as a result of the rapid advancement of technology in terms of media, has access to a plethora of applications that are now available, for example, on iPhones or iPads. The member for Stirling was talking about Angry Birds. I have not played that game but I have seen many people on planes playing it.

Globalisation of media in the complicated modern communication space requires legislation particularly to do with classification that must be adaptive and reflective of advancing technologies. The feasibility of the Classification Board tracing online media content is impractical when a large proportion is distributed from offshore. Classification information available to the community must be improved. The coalition supports such improvement in the understanding that, in particular, parents require information so they can make informed decisions when allowing their children to be exposed to social or online media, which includes the purchase and participation of online games. I know as a parent I have always used the movie classifications as an important part of my decision-making process.

I fully support the call to improve classification information. Technology has advanced exponentially—so much so that today's consumers have access to an ever-increasing variety of online games that are available on many platforms, including, as I have said, mobile phones, iPads, iPods and other similar electronic network devices. Currently, the classification of mobile phone and online games is regulated under the National Classification Scheme, as the member for Stirling said. This cooperative scheme between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments contains the procedures for classification of mobile phone and online games, but the responsibility to enforce this legislation remains with the states and territories.

A large number of mobile phone and online games which are currently available to the public are not classified before being made available, and therefore are potentially in breach of current state and territory legislation. This is of considerable concern to the coalition, particularly when you consider the thousands of application submissions each month for the licensing of Apple products alone.

When established, there was never an expectation that the National Classification Scheme would be involved in processing the level of content currently available. In consideration of the current legislation, it is clear that the Classification Board does not have the administrative resources to assess even a portion of the mobile phone and online games that would be submitted for classification. The telecommunications industry has expressed concern about the current regulatory uncertainty and they require clarity on the present legal requirements for the classification of mobile phone and online games.

This bill seeks to amend the principal act to create a much needed category of exempt online games and, as a result, remove the requirement for mobile phone and online games to be classified for a two-year period. The drafters of the current legislation could not have foreseen the significant and rapid development of gaming technology, particularly of online games and mobile phone applications.

The aim of the bill is to provide regulations for mobile and online games which the local industry and community can understand. It is intended that the industry can still submit these types of games to the Classification Board of Australia for classification but, importantly, as the member for Stirling said, they will no longer be in violation if they do not do so, as the industry will be required to self-regulate under the proposed two-year moratorium. The proposed changes to the act are intended to remain in place for two years, after which long-term reforms to combat this issue will be established following the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission after its review of the National Classification Scheme, which is expected to be finalised in 2012. The coalition believes that it is important to ensure that the proposed exemption will not apply to computer games which are likely to contain offensive material and would normally be refused classification. It is highly important that existing protections against the category of offensive material will continue to apply to online games. Children today are already over-exposed to violent and immoral images through their widely unrestricted ability to access the internet and online games. There is a strong feeling within the community about introducing R-rating-plus ratings on video games such as Grand Theft Auto. I must say I was shocked when I first saw teenagers playing Grand Theft Auto. This is a game in which players score points by stealing cars, bashing policemen and displaying violent sexual behaviour towards women. I am by no means a prude but I do have some concerns about a game that promotes bashing policemen and being violent to women. I do not think this is the type of game our young people should be playing.

I have in this place already raised my concerns about the increased levels of violence and lack of respect shown to our police officers. With games like Grand Theft Auto being so lifelike and so available, I suspect—but I may be wrong—that there might be a slight link somewhere between violent games and the increased violence within our community, particularly towards police officers. I certainly think that this has to be one of the contributing factors and I believe that the classification is an essential tool in assisting parents to make some key decisions.

The classification of online games like Grand Theft Auto is absolutely essential, as I have said, to provide better information and advice to parents to help prevent their children and teenagers from accessing games that may contain gratuitous sex, violence or drug use. I know that, when my son was growing up, my husband and I reviewed all of his console games and movies to ensure that they were appropriate for his age. As a teenager he was not allowed to access games or movies that we considered to be unsuitable. The classification level was a key consideration in these decisions.

In some circumstances, there is arguably a need to restrict access to some online gaming content on the basis of our community standards. The coalition understands that a large majority of the games played online are played by adults. As adults they have the capacity to make up their own minds as to whether they can play games that contain particular content. As the member for Stirling has already stated, stakeholders, including Apple, accept that policing the output of this type of material in the traditional sense is nigh on impossible. Having said that, it is understood that Apple takes great care in compliance-monitoring of its products before making them readily available for wider distribution.

The coalition knows it is essential to keep many of the other regulatory protections in place and under the Broadcasting Services Act individuals can lodge a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority when they are concerned that an online game contains prohibited material. The director of the classifications board will still retain the power to investigate any computer games that it suspects contains contentious material that likely requires the game to be classified at a higher than an M-rating.

Ideally, outcomes from the Australian Law Reform Commission findings would see measures recommending streamlined financial and regulatory processes for the telecommunications sector whilst providing clear and precise classification for the gaming industry and the wider Australian community. The significant increase in volume and variety of online games has made the existing classification regime impractical. The coalition does support the two-year moratorium on formal classification for online games pending the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Whilst the coalition supports the bill it is our firm belief that it is essential that any refused classification material not be subject to the moratorium. We must continue to balance the rights of adults to make informed choices with the right to protect our children.

This legislation will require the telecommunications industry to self-regulate their products and they will still face sanctions for the incorrect classification of inappropriate material that they make readily available to consumers. It is absolutely vital to reform the current classification framework in Australia. Otherwise we can run the risk of damaging our creative industry in the ever-increasingly globalised media environment. As my colleague the member for Stirling has already said, the coalition supports this bill.

Sitting suspended from 13 : 00 to 16:04