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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3179

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (12:21): I rise today to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. The objective of the bill being debated today is to introduce an R18+ classification for computer games, allowing for adult players to purchase games that have up until now been refused classification or been modified to suit the current classification system. It will provide Australian consumers—including gamers, parents and retailers—with the information to decide which computer games are and are not suitable for minors to play. This bill is also the result of an in-principle agreement made by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in 2011.

Currently, all films and computer games, and some publications, are examined by the Classification Board before they can be released to the public. However, the current classification system for films ranges from general, or G, up to R18+ for high level content and X18+, which usually accompanies sexually explicit content only. The principles that guide the way in which the Classification Board makes decisions about films and computer games are contained within the Classification Code 2005, which states that:

Adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want, and minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them.

The measures being discussed today are intended to strike the appropriate balance between these two interests. We must have consideration, though, to the fact that we as part of a responsible community bear an obligation to ensure the welfare of our youth and their healthy development in the years to come.

Currently, the highest classification available to the video gaming industry is mature accompanied, or MA15+. This means that any viewer of the media in question who is under 15 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Because the maximum classification has been maintained at an MA15+ level, it has meant that any computer game with adult themes exceeding what could be classified as MA15+ has been refused classification, meaning that the game in question is unable to be sold, distributed, hired, exhibited, displayed, demonstrated or advertised in Australia.

Presently, there are only a very small number of games that are refused classification. For a game to be sold in Australia when it does not meet classification requirements for an MA15+, the computer game must undergo modification to make elements of it less graphic and to fit within the MA15+ classification. However, this inadvertently means that computer games that would otherwise be reserved for adult players in other countries are playable by those computer game players that are between the ages of 15 and 17 here. This is the opposite of the original intention of such classifications, which is to protect minors from content that they should not be subject to.

Where we in Australia would either refuse classification or allow modifications to games to suit our classifications schemes, other countries have introduced adult classifications. The United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and European Union member nations, all have adult classification for computer games, whereas Australia is currently the only Western nation that does not carry such a classification. Video gaming is not a small phenomenon in Australia. Studies from 2008 show that 88 per cent of Australian households have some form of device for playing computer games, with 50 per cent of Australian players reporting that they play games daily or every other day. The Digital Australia 2012 report, which was produced by Bond University School of Communication and Media for the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, revealed that the number of Australian households with a computer game device increased to 92 per cent in 2012 with 57 per cent of gamers now playing either daily or every other day. In 2008 the computer game industry saw sales rising to $1.96 billion with the sales of games software increasing from 57 per cent from the previous year, and consoles sales rising 43 per cent.

On top of this there are 25 major game development studios in Australia which export $120 million worth of products a year. Forecasts from the PricewaterhouseCoopers report entitled Australian Entertainment and Media Outlook 2011-2015 expect that the Australian computer game industry will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5 per cent per year and eventually reach $2.5 billion by 2015. Globally this number is expected to reach $90.1 billion by 2015 through a compound annual growth rate of 8.2 per cent. The industry not only hires many people in the retail sector but also provided employment for the designers and developers who create the games as well as many other professionals who are required to ensure the successful operation of a business. It is therefore obvious that the computer gaming industry is not a fringe industry but one that contributes significantly to the Australian economy.

This was also reflected by the findings of the public consultation on the possible introduction of R18+ classification for computer games. Submissions for the public consultation were called for on 14 December 2009. By the time submissions formally closed on 28 February 2010, more than 58,000 valid submissions had been received by the Attorney-General's Department. The final report into the public consultation found that 98 per cent of those submissions were in favour of an R18+ classification for computer games, with only two per cent opposed.

There are clearly two issues that need to be dealt with: firstly there are issues with gamers who are 18-years old and over and their right to choose what games they wish to play; and, secondly, there are issues with those who are less than 18 years old and are therefore minors and should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them. I will now discuss the issue of choice with gamers who are over 18 years. There is a common perception that many computer game players are under the age of 18. The evidence, however, shows the contrary. In the public consultation over 72 per cent of respondents were aged between 18 to 34 years old. And just over two years on, the data from the Digital Australia 2012 report confirms this ratio, with the report finding 75 per cent of computer gamers are over the age of 18. The report also found that the average age of computer gamers is 32, which rose from 30 in 2008.

An Australian Law Reform Commission issues papers revealed that Australian computer gamers want the ability to choose what they play. Adult Australians are currently given the ability to choose what films and television programs they wish to view. If they do not like what is on the TV or in the cinema they can simply choose not to watch it, whilst those who do want to view it are given the opportunity to do so. It should be no different for those who wish to play computer games.

This leads me to the second issue, which is the need to protect minors from material and games that are likely to harm or disturb them. Many interest groups have come forward saying that the introduction of an R18+ rating will lead to children being able to access with greater ease computer games which are deemed inappropriate for their age. As I said before, the discrepancy between our classification system for computer games and the classification system of other countries already contributes to this, with young Australian gamers being able to access games that other children of a similar age would usually not be able to get hold of.

Under current laws, a person under the age of 15 is unable to purchase a computer game with a classification which is rated above their current age unless an adult is present. This is a similar circumstance to a minor attempting to purchase films or publications which carry a classification for above their current age. I previously mentioned that some R18+ games have been modified for Australian distribution and have since been sold under the MA15+ classification. In this circumstance, the parent has the discretion whether or not to buy the MA15+ game for the child. The parent may be under the impression that the game is appropriate for their child to play due to the labelling, but they are more than likely unaware that the game they are buying with good intentions was previously deemed to be completely inappropriate for their child. With an R18+ classification, however, there will be an added disincentive for parents to purchase games for their younger children, due to the non-discretionary nature of an R18+ classification, which clearly stipulates that the computer game is inappropriate for a person of a younger age.

I will conclude today by reiterating that I do have a concern for minors and that it is our need and our desire to provide the necessary protection from material that is likely to harm or disturb them. We do have an obligation to our youth to ensure they are protected from things that could be detrimental to their upbringing.

Debate adjourned.