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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3157

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (10:23): I too rise to support that Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. This issue was first raised with me by many of my constituents from Adelaide's western suburbs in the seat of Hindmarsh who contacted me, largely by email, a couple of years ago. They were very frustrated with the state of affairs at that particular time. As members in this place would be well aware, films—including those publicly shown—DVDs and computer games may be classified G, PG, M or MA15+. Films can also be classified R18+ or X18+. There has been no classification for computer games beyond that of MA15+.

We had a situation where the federal government, and every state and territory in the Commonwealth—bar one—supported the introduction of an R18+ classification for computer games. Without that classification, MA15+ continued as the highest, or the most restrictive, classification of games. The effect of this has been seen to be largely twofold. Firstly, materials which had not met the MA15+ classification have been refused classification and have been unavailable for sale in Australia. Importing such material, if caught, would result in fines or at least confiscation. Piracy thrives in such environments. Secondly, those responsible for the development of these games can tweak or resubmit their games and, I understand, in at least some cases eventually have those games passed as under MA15+ classification.

The bottom line of this is that kids can end up with games classified as MA15+ that have content that should much more appropriately have been classified as R18+. Kids can access material that they, on balance, should not or that we should not want them to access. There is good reason for having a well-graded, well-tiered system that enables the niche allocation to appropriate levels of restriction and access. It facilitates finely tuned classification and finely tuned marketing. This benefits all of us. We know what a product is, we know who should not be accessing it and we can know that we most probably do not want to access it when you have good classification. But this awkward, clumsy classification regime that can shed little light on what the content actually was has been the situation endured by many for some considerable time.

There has been universal support for change for quite some time, apart from the one state. Queensland supported change; Western Australia supported change; New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania supported change; the ACT and the Northern Territory supported change; the federal government supported change. Because my own home state, South Australia, opposed the change, change was defeated. It was unilaterally vetoed. So, when contacted by many of my constituents who were very concerned by South Australia's veto of the clear and unambiguous national will, I responded with my view that the will of the minority dominating or vetoing the will of the overwhelming majority is undemocratic and wrong. It is undemocratic for the few to rule contrary to the will of the majority—to dominate the majority or to veto the majority. That was my opinion at the time, which I communicated to all those that contacted me on this particular issue. It might be surprising that this view was very welcomed by most of the people that did contact me on this issue.

I certainly welcomed South Australia's new Attorney-General's agreement with each and every other state and territory in the land and the federal government. I welcome the fact that the will of the overwhelming majority will be respected and acted upon through this bill. I also welcome the benefits that this new classification should have for the gaming community in Australia: that is the protection of younger gamers from inappropriate materials and content and the better honouring, I hope, of the copyright law that should come with this bill. But it remains a curious issue that we can have eight players being vetoed by one sole state, territory or federal government. It goes, of course, to the creation of the National Classification Scheme under the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission concerning censorship procedure in 1991, over 20 years ago now. The recommended national approach to classification makes absolute, perfect sense. This is appropriate and it is good, in my view. The Intergovernmental Agreement on Censorship which underpins the scheme confirms that certain changes to the scheme, such as amendments to the National Classification Code and classification guidelines must be considered and agreed to by censorship ministers. It must be unanimous.

The intergovernmental agreement reads in part:

B. The aim of the new scheme is to make, on a co-operative basis, Australia’s censorship laws more uniform and simple with c onsequential benefits to the public and the industry;

C. The new scheme accurately reflects, and maintains, the balance of responsibilities that has been arrived at between Australian jurisdictions. It also recognises that, in relation to the Code and classification guidelines, the Commonwealth, and the Participating States are equal partners and that policy on these matters is derived from agreement between all jurisdictions

I observe that the preceding paragraph notes that it was not an agreement of national uniformity as such, as it contains the observation that, 'Western Australia and Tasmania will not participate in the new scheme in relation to publications.' It goes on to say:

Under the Act each Participating Minister and the Commonwealth Minister are to agree:

(a) on the classification guidelines;

(b) on amendments to those guidelines; and

(c) on amendments to the Code ...

Apparently publications were out, but, in relation to games, the required uniformity of opinion, the required unanimity of determination, is without exception and has, as a consequence of the position held by one of the nine ministers, held back what almost all have long considered positive change. This has been of immense frustration to my constituents that contacted me on this particular issue. It has been imbalanced, unfair, undemocratic and most unwelcome.

There probably is not much call for changes to the actual classification structure around Australia. It is not like the system requires ongoing maintenance and adjustment on a regular basis, so one might just write off this exercise as a bad experience and forget about it, but it is of concern to me that one of the nine can uphold reform. We saw something vaguely similar with Western Australia being the sole state not to sign up for the first national health deal. At least this was able to be negotiated, put through a process of give and take and manipulated into a form that does attract the agreement of each negotiator. There was sufficient detail to actually have negotiation. In this case it has been binary—it is a straight yes or no. I will leave my discontent there and move on in support of this bill. I commend it to the House.