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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3171

WYATT ROY (Longman) (11:24): Once again I find myself rising to speak on matters of freedom of choice and individual responsibility. This morning I rise to speak to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R18+ Computer Games) Bill. This bill comes on the back of 12 months of public consultation, with 98 per cent support for its main measure, which is to introduce an R18+ category for computer games. The introduction of an R18+ category for computer games is an important step in the advancement of the computer game industry, as well as for the media industry generally. This measure will bring Australia into line with many other countries around the world that have a classification process for computer games and will create consistency across Australian classification for other film classification categories. Currently in Australia, the highest legal classification available for computer games is MA15+. Computer games that are deemed to have content beyond the scope of the MA15+ level are currently not classified and instead are deemed to be refused classification in Australia. This scenario has wide reaching impacts on the gaming community and on society more broadly. These impacts present a compelling and valid argument to create an additional category for computer games, that of R18+.

The real issue at play here is not the video games themselves; there is a more basic ideological belief that compels this argument. We on this side of the chamber believe in individual rights, liberties and freedom. We believe that the lives of adults need not be governed by Big Brother but that individuals deserve to have the opportunity to make decisions about the way they live their own lives. Certainly, in terms of entertainment, we believe that, so long as a particular behaviour or activity does not adversely impact on others, an individual should be able to have every choice about what entertainment media they want to consume. The inclusion of this additional classification of the R18+ category will restore liberty to adults, giving them choice to legally consume gaming entertainment. The video games that adults choose to engage with should be their decision alone, not the decision of a government. This is exactly what this bill seeks to address. Not only should it be an individual's freedom and responsibility to determine their own entertainment; it should also be a choice to access the same standard of content across different mediums. In Australia at the moment there is a strange circumstance where the medium is determining the maturity of the content allowable to consumers. But why should we determine that R18+ content, which at the same level of classification across other categories is allowable, is instead disallowed simply for a different medium, namely video games?

This is a flawed system with no logical grounding. There is no reason that content at the maturity level of R18+, regardless of the medium in which it is located, should be treated similarly. Again, for a country that prides itself on fairness and equality, this is an interesting contradiction. Beyond the scope of personal freedom, our current system of classification is leaving us open to more sinister loopholes, which have been exploited to the detriment of both the gaming industry and society in general. Presently in Australia, gaming content is being down rated simply to move around the lack of an R18+ category, in order to minimise the number of video games that are being refused classification. Content has been modified to manipulate the existing classification system, which is in fact posing more of a risk to young people than extending the classification system would do. Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV and House of the Dead are all examples of the down rating of games to prevent causes for refused classification. In the cases of Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV, the games have undergone minor cosmetic surgery to manipulate our flawed classification system to result in an MA15+ classification. More concerning still, was that the House of the Dead, which has been classified for adults only around the world, has been classified as MA15+ in Australia, with no changes whatsoever to its content. Fallout 3, even with minor changes, was refused classification in Britain, across Europe and in New Zealand. Similarly, Grand Theft Auto IV has been restricted to R18+ in other countries, while being available to anyone over 15 in Australia, after some small changes. Clearly there are major disparities between classifications in Australia and elsewhere that demonstrate that our existing classification system is not working. These disparities indicate that Australia needs to lift its game and make changes to its classification system to ensure that it is effective. The best way to do this is to add the category of R18+.

I fear that attempts to hijack this debate are being made by some in the public sphere who are trying to make this a debate about the safety of young people and their exposure to content that is deemed unsatisfactory for their years. Safety is always an issue; protecting our young people is always important. But the argument that expanding the classification system will expose our young people to inappropriate content is fallible and untrue. By regulating classifications more through the creation of an additional level of classification, it is less, not more, likely that young people will be exposed to content beyond their maturity.

Unfortunately it is the human condition to break rules, to push boundaries and to obtain the impermissible. Across many different countries for many different goods and services, in our history we have seen evidence that banning products usually results in an underground illegal market. Such markets thrive on the illegality of a product and exist generally below the radar of law enforcement. I do not condone this behaviour but merely note its existence. In the case of what we have here to debate today, we have observed that part of the problem with our current situation is that individuals are still sourcing these games illegally and without any regulation. The indiscriminate nature of this illegal market for games means that there is absolutely no parameter for who is able to access them. Savvy teenagers are getting their hands on content that is undeniably beyond their maturity. This is a problem, one that should be presented with a solution.

An effective solution is simple: classify this content so that there is no illegal demand and instead the oxygen is sucked out of the illegal market for these games. By classifying content as R18 rather than refusing classification, it is more difficult, not less difficult, for young people to be exposed to content beyond their years.

The introduction of the new media technologies has always caused moral panics in our society. There are many examples to choose from, but let me just choose a few. When the Gutenberg printing press was first developed, social panic surrounded the initial mass printing of Bibles. What would happen to society if the Catholic Church were to lose absolute control of the biblical message? After a few years when Bibles became more commonplace, the fear and anxiety around mass access to the Bible and the hype about the potential degradation of society as a result was soothed. More recently, the increasing prevalence of televisions in the lounge rooms of families around the world inflamed a moral panic when it was assumed that the institution of the family would come to a grinding halt and fade from society, as it was presumed that the television would become the all-absorbing central aspect of people's lives, deadening their cognitive function and destroying an individual's capacity and desire to interact with others.

The truth is that moral panics have surrounded the introduction and rise of most new media technologies and video gaming is no exception. The current discussion about video games has been framed with a very negative light. The fear of this new technology and its integration into society has seen emotions inflamed. But there is no reason for fear to prevent a logical, common-sense decision to expand Australia's classification of video games to include an adult R18+ classification. This does not undermine social values and it will not degenerate our cultural esteem. It will not provide easier access or exposure of children to this media; it will, however, allow informed adults to make their own choices about the media they consume.

The point is this: by creating an additional classification category, adults will have the freedom to choose to engage with computer games, which is their imperative. There is a fundamental concern when we as policymakers are playing Big Brother with the people in our communities, preventing sensible adults from making decisions about their entertainment, which has no bearing on the lives of anyone but themselves. This represents a common-sense and practical solution to a very real problem, and it is for this reason that I speak in support of this bill today.