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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 321

Mr DEBUS (Minister for Home Affairs) (10:05 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The National Classification Scheme operates to classify the content of a range of entertainment media and provide important information to consumers about that content.

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Assessments and Advertising) Bill 2008 contains two areas of reform to classification procedures. First, it changes the way the Classification Act deals with the advertising of unclassified product and, second, it changes the classification procedures for box sets of television series that are released for sale or hire.

The bill makes these amendments to improve the operation of the National Classification Scheme and to respond to the ever-changing technological environment for entertainment media.

The first initiative is part of a package of reforms which, together with amendments to state and territory legislation, will replace the prohibition on advertising unclassified films and computer games with a new scheme that will allow advertising, subject to conditions. Those conditions will be set out in a new Commonwealth instrument. The new advertising scheme was developed following public consultation on a discussion paper and has been the subject of discussions with state and territory censorship ministers.

The package of reforms will update the definition of advertisement to explicitly include advertising on the internet, and to exclude what is commonly known as product merchandising such as clothing. This recognises where consumers get their classification information from.

Currently there is a prohibition on advertising unclassified films and computer games. A limited number of exemptions is available for cinema release products. The increasing risk of piracy and rapid advances in technology have led to products being available for classification very close to their release date. The current system therefore causes difficulties for marketing of classifiable products. In light of these changing circumstances, it is no longer tenable to prohibit the advertising of unclassified material.

This bill enables a legislative instrument to set conditions on advertising unclassified films and computer games. The instrument will establish a strong new advertising message advising consumers to: Check the Classification.

The public expects, if a film is advertised before a film at a cinema, or on a DVD, that it will be suitable for the audience for the feature they have chosen to see. The same applies to advertisements accompanying computer games. So the instrument will permit unclassified films and computer games to be advertised only with films or computer games likely to be of the same or higher classification.

The instrument will establish an industry based self-assessment scheme whereby the likely classification of an unclassified film or computer game is assessed when advertising together with classified films or computer games. The instrument will introduce a stronger commensurate audience rule so that advertisements for films likely to be classified PG may no longer be screened to an audience for a G film.

The new scheme contains safeguards to ensure that audiences will not be confronted by advertisements for material likely to be classified at a higher level than the product they have chosen to view or play. For example, the Classification Act will be amended to enable applications to be made to the Classification Board for an assessment of the likely classification of an unclassified film or computer game in difficult cases or where it is not cost-effective for industry to self assess. Other safeguards include giving the director the power to revoke an assessor’s status or, in serious cases, bar a distributor from accessing the scheme for up to three years. These powers are designed to deter users from abusing the system or making lax or inadequate assessments. Decisions by the director to revoke an assessor’s status or bar someone from using the scheme will be reviewable by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Further safeguards include initial and annual training for individual assessors, random and complaints based auditing of advertising material and the retention of existing powers which allow the director to call in advertisements.

The second initiative contained in this bill is amendments to the classification procedures for films that are compilations of episodes of a television series that have already been broadcast in Australia. This bill enables a television series assessment scheme to be established. Under the new television series scheme a person appropriately trained and authorised may provide a report and a recommendation to the Classification Board to assist them in their classification of a box set of episodes of a television series. The Classification Board will retain responsibility for classifying the film. But its consideration will be assisted by the assessment of an authorised assessor.

To provide flexibility to respond to changing technology, and the increasing capacity of storage devices, the details of the scheme will be included in a legislative instrument.

The television series assessment scheme also contains safeguards to ensure the integrity of the classification system and consistency of advice to consumers. These include requiring the board to revoke classifications in specified circumstances such as when the assessment on which the classification was based was highly unreliable. For example, an assessment may have lacked enough information about classifiable elements, or been misleading, incorrect or grossly inadequate.

In addition, the director has a power to revoke, in specified circumstances, an assessor’s status. In serious cases, the director has the power to bar a person from being an assessor for up to three years, or bar an applicant from using the television series assessment scheme for up to three years. These powers are permissive, and only exercisable under certain conditions. They are designed to deter users from abusing the system or providing lax or inadequate assessments of additional content. Decisions by the director to revoke an assessor’s status or bar an assessor or applicant from using the scheme may be reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

These amendments have been developed in response to concerns expressed by industry about the application of the existing laws in light of developing technology and changing marketing imperatives. The purpose of this proposal is to reduce the cost to industry and to streamline the classification process for the Classification Board.

The amendments contained in this bill will ensure the National Classification Scheme continues to serve both industry and the public well, responding to the needs of the rapidly evolving world of entertainment media by providing reliable classification information for consumers.

I join several of my colleagues in recognising Mr Warren Mundine in the gallery. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mrs May) adjourned.