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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12628

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (16:04): I rise to speak in support of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Online Games) Bill 2011. The Gillard government is well aware of the dramatic uptake of mobile and online gaming in recent years. Unlike the controlled environments of our local clubs, these 'pokies' can be in any pocket, anywhere, any time.

As at October 2010, 43 per cent of Australians owned a smartphone, and in fact my wife just received one today—against my advice! One year on, I am sure that that percentage is even higher than 43 per cent. At least 40 per cent of mobile phone owners use their phones for games and, in 2009, 69 per cent of children used the internet to play online games. I know, with your youngish children, Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath, you would know how hard it is to make sure that the games they play online are appropriate. With a six-year-old, I try to make sure the games are appropriate, but there are the ads that come up alongside, and some of the avatars they have always seem to be a certain type of female—one that I would not necessarily want a six-year-old boy to be seeing.

Faced with these statistics about our mobile phone use and the use of the internet for games, the government must rise to the challenge of ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place for these emerging and present technologies. The laws relating to how we classify or rate media are important for allowing consumers to make informed choices about what they see and what they hear. They are also very important for protecting children and young people from viewing inappropriate material or material that they did not wish to see. The laws also provide a degree of regulation for a highly competitive industry.

The National Classification Scheme classifies films, including videos and DVDs, computer games and some publications, not billboards. With a flood of new computer games available on a variety of platforms, including mobile devices and other network services, it is not possible for the Classification Board to classify all of these games. I understand that they already review more than 800 games a year. And to review a game is not easy, as I know, having had a brother who worked in this area. You must make sure you go through all of the game to make sure you go to the different areas where there might be inappropriate material; it is not an easy job.

To impose a strict classification scheme would not be viable because it would place an unrealistic financial burden on the industry. However, I understand that the industry is also crying out for certainty and clarity regarding the legal requirements for the classification of mobile and online games. The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General agreed in March that mobile and online games should be treated like other online content rather than stand-alone games. Therefore, this bill before the House amends the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to exempt mobile phone and online computer games from classification for two years.

This will not apply to computer games likely to be refused classification or RC. That is material that any reasonable adult would find would offend decency, morality and propriety. This is material that nobody should see.

So, despite the two-year grace period, there will be safeguards remaining to regulate these mobile and online games. They include the following. Individuals can still refer an unclassified computer game to the Classification Board. So, as MPs, we can still be contacted by someone who has a concern about a game and we can notify the Classification Board. The Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, will retain the power to investigate potential prohibited online content including computer games likely to be classified MA15+ or above. The director of the Classification Board will retain the power to call in games for classification if they contain contentious material. That power—the power to call in—is a very important power; it is one not used frequently but always to great effect. Law enforcement agencies will continue to be able to apply for classification of any unclassified computer games—maybe some of the games that come on phones already. These protections ensure that there are avenues for consumers to raise complaints when necessary when community values are being crossed. They also send a strong message to the industry that, if they want to push the boundaries, they will most likely face classification.

This bill is not the end, but it does give certainty to the industry and it gives the government time to work with industry to develop a more considered approach to the classification of mobile and online games. I know that, as a Queenslander, Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath, you would realise how important this industry is for Queensland, because there are a lot of gaming 'factories' in Brisbane city. From there we export those games all around the world.

So this is a fast-evolving medium—too fast for me, that's for sure—and it would be foolish for the government to rush in with an unworkable and unsustainable system. The two-year exemption is the right approach for now. The government is expecting a report from the Australian Law Reform Commission early next year which will provide some recommendations on how we can better address these classification matters in the long term. I look forward to that report and I commend the bill to the House.