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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3177

Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (12:03): I rise in support of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012, which seeks to extend existing restraint on the purchase of video games with potentially damaging content from 15 to 18 years of age. It is not often that I rise in this place in support of greater regulation. However, R18+ classification is common-sense legislation regarding content that includes violence, coarse language, nudity, drug use and other adult themes. Games designed for adults and classified as such overseas can finally be classified in the same way in Australia.

In 2009 the Attorney-General released a discussion paper on the introduction of an R18+ classification category for computer games. Respondents to this paper included a broad range of stakeholders, including industry representatives, family groups and social commentators. Ninety-eight per cent of 54,437 submissions received in response to the discussion paper supported the introduction of the R18+ category. As a father of three, I speak with experience. I am genuinely concerned for the welfare of not just my own children but of all those in Tangney and right across our nation. Australia remains the only Western nation not to have an R18+ rating for video games and an overwhelming majority of my constituents in Tangney—and indeed Australians—wish to see this change as soon as possible. This bill allows such action.

From the outset, I note that the coalition recognises the contribution of the game development industry to the Australian economy. Australia is home to 25 major game development studios, which export over $120 million worth of products. Our computer gaming industry is expected to grow at a rate of about 10 per cent per year, with forecasts predicting that it will reach $2.5 billion annually by 2015. The significance of this industry must therefore not be understated.

Some may argue that the introduction of this restriction may cause economic harm to the game development industry. However, I remind the House that 75 per cent of gamers in Australia are aged 18 years or older and will remain unaffected by these changes. The industry sees great economic and social benefit in these amendments. Game importers have also long complained that a lack of an R18+ category in Australia has meant that a number of popular games have either been banned from sale or modified to meet an MA15+ rating, an obvious restriction of trade.

More than 88 per cent of Australian households own some of computer game console. There is no doubt that computer gaming entertainment forms a significant part of Australia's pastimes. I do not question the legitimacy of computer games as enjoyable sources of entertainment. Nor do I question the right of adults to choose what sort of content they do or do not wish to view. I do, however, wish to ensure the wellbeing of younger Australians, particularly in the highly impressionable age bracket of 15 to 18. The current highest classification of MA15+ does not go far enough.

As the legislation stands, games with content deemed to exceed this classification are modified to fit classification guidelines or simply refused classification—in other words, banned. Australia's lack of an R18+ rating has led to a number of mainstream releases that are readily available to adults in other countries being refused classification here. For instance, Syndicate was refused classification in December last year because of violence that was high in impact. This first person shooter is readily available to adults in other countries, including the United Kingdom, under their R18+ equivalent and 18 certificate.

Conversely, a significant number of games rated MA15+ in Australia have been rated for 17- or 18-year olds in Europe and the United States, with a mere handful edited to genuinely earn their Australian rating. Fallout 3 was initially refused classification for its realistic depictions of drug use. But after some minor edits it was made available to children in Australia while still being restricted to adult sales in many other countries. The publishers of Grand Theft Auto IV self-censored the game for the Australian market, making cosmetic edits to acts of a sexual nature with a splattering of blood thrown in for publicity purposes. With these minor edits, the game was made available for sale in Australia to children aged 15 and older while still being restricted for sale to adults overseas. House of the Dead: Overkill should probably have been refused classification due to its excessively violent content. Yet it was given approval and continues to be available to children aged 15 and over. Again, overseas rating bodies have classified the game for adults only.

In the context of film, if an R18+ classification was not in place, well-known titles such as Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction and Fight Club would have been banned in Australia or edited into a lower classification because they were outside the MA15+ category guidelines. In this context, it is unthinkable that such films would be deemed illegal. This legislation allows this commonsense approach to film classification to be extended to other forms of electronic entertainment. I recognise that there is a place for sexual content, coarse language and perhaps violence in the realm of entertainment. This does not mean that this content in games should escape proper and diligent regulation. As a scientist by training, I have a keen interest in understanding the world about us through a prism of cause and effect. Things do not just happen. There is a consequence propelled by a prior cause. It is an established fact that children are at the peak of their developmental vulnerability in their mid-teen years. Children do not just grow up with a propensity for coarse language, drug use et cetera. While nature plays a significant role in biologically determining our behaviour, nurture plays a role in shaping and defining an individual's cognitive process. Given the influence of social conditioning on cognitive development of children aged between 15 and 17, it is important to ensure that they are afforded every advantage. Each and every one of us in this place is a reflection of our life's experiences. This is precisely what adds to the diversity and functionality of this parliament. But the younger we are, the more vulnerable we are likely to be. As we grow older we find our personalities and behaviours are shaped by the sorts of exposures that we have formed during our formative years. Just as exposure to scientific process and content makes young students more inquisitive and gives them the ability to think critically and compete in a professional world with great competence, so exposure to violence, sexual content, coarse language, drug use and other adult themes can just as easily impact development.

This bill is about choice—the opportunity to protect children between the vulnerable ages of 15 and 17 from accessing content that is clearly inappropriate for these ages. The R18+ category gives consumers, parents and retailers the right to choose in an informed manner the content with which their children engage and will prevent minors from purchasing unsuitable material. Such classification also gives us the opportunity to police these types of games more effectively. Presentation of a drivers licence or proof-of-age card at the time of purchase allows a simple and non-burdensome way of ensuring younger Australians are restricted from inappropriate content at the point of sale and hire. My coalition colleagues and I wish to extend the protections of the current legislation to ensure younger Australians to the age of 18 are not exposed to content that may be harmful or adult themes that they might find distressing or difficult to comprehend and process. Current classifications fall short on protecting minors from this harmful and disturbing content. This is why we support this bill. Games of an adult nature clearly deserve classification that fairly reflects this R18+ rating. I commend this bill to the House. It has bipartisan support towards a good and noble cause.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Proceedings suspended from 12:13 to 12:21