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Wednesday, 16 December 1992
Page: 5146

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (12.16 p.m.) —In fact, quite the contrary will be the case. I understand the point that Senator Walters is making, but the Government anticipated the need to do this right from the first time that we started debating this proposed change here in Parliament. There is no question that free to air television is considered to have a greater opportunity to access viewers than the cinema where some supervision is exercised. In most cinemas there is such supervision.

  One of the things that I really do commend to the Senate is what I believe to be a greatly enhanced sensible regulatory regime at cinemas, which I know has worried cinema owners. What happens in the real world—and there is no question that it happens—is that parents drop their kids off at a multi-cinema complex, which is the norm now, even in small towns like Darwin, where four or five cinemas are served by the one front door. Children go into the cinema to watch Never Ending Story and end up watching something a lot more violent.

  If Senator Walters looks at the fundamental change between M and MA, which I am told will be of great assistance to cinemas in providing better supervision, she will find that the difference is that the M classification will be fundamentally for 15 years and over, and the MA classification will be for children accompanied by an adult. I am not talking about television for the moment, but I am just saying that I think that the broad new classification has provided a better classificatory regime for film.

  What the television industry is doing is no more than it has already done. I said a few moments ago that the actual percentage of R rated films that can be modified without completely losing the story and the continuity is very small. From memory I think only about 2 to 3 per cent of material broadcast is R modified. R rated films are currently broadcast on television under the AO classification, because they have been heavily modified for television, but there is no special classification or advice to the viewer that that modification has been carried out. This causes confusion now to an informed viewer. It does not matter that there is an R classification on the film because people know that the movie they are watching on TV has been broadcast at their local cinema in an R rated category. People are very broadly aware of those classifications.

  As I said before, research has shown that people place a high value on classifications. The new proposals will in fact give better protection and better advice for parents in this sense. Currently, the only way for a concerned parent to access the detailed codes—and Senator Walters is one of these people who wants this in detail, and many people do—is to access the material which is made available by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. Senator Walters would know that it tries to promote this material as much as it possibly can. A recent series of national seminars has been run at cinemas. I attended the one that was held in Darwin to launch the office's published material so that parents who really want to know the detail of how these classifications are made—none of which could actually be put on the screen because it would take too long—can access this material from the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

  The modification classifications that will be made for television will be made available in exactly the same way but with one additional benefit. The television operators have already made it clear—this is contained in the letter that has now been incorporated—that detailed code requirements for classifying and modifying where necessary will be published. So as well as the classification divisions, which, as Senator Walters knows, are quite complex in terms of their determinants, these requirements will be published in precisely the same way as the Office of Film and Literature Classification publishes the current material. But instead of it being done without any publicity, as it currently is in terms of R films being modified for television, that advice to the viewer will be put on the screen. What it does provide is at least broad similarity between the classification structures in cinemas and the classifications structure on television, which is currently absent.

  We conceded from the first jump in this debate that one could not get a total classificatory regime, and I do not think it is desirable to have it. The television operators believe that further modification is required to most of these films if they are to be broadcast at all on television. So a national television campaign will be run by the broadcasters explaining in detail the new classifications, how they are going to work, and the modification differences with television. They will give advice to viewers as to where people who are interested can access the detailed material. This will be done in the same way as the Office of Film and Literature Classification does that now. Of course, when being broadcast the material will actually have the tag attached to it. So there will not be any confusion that the material has been modified for television. If viewers are watching a program for which an M classification has not been qualified, they will know that that is the same M classification that applies to the material being shown at the cinema.

  The tag `modified for television' may be put on a program. Anyone concerned enough—and I will be one of them—to want to know what that means will have easy access to the detailed classificatory standards that will be applied to effect that modification. In essence, this will not be more confusing. It will provide a far more specific and far more information rich, if you like, regime for parents who are seriously interested in what their children are going to watch.