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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2772


Senator REYNOLDS (4.01 p.m.) —I present a report of the Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies on video and computer games and classification issues.

  Ordered that the report be printed.


Senator REYNOLDS —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate my tabling statement in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows—

SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY STANDARDS RELEVANT TO THE SUPPLY OF SERVICES UTILISING ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGIES

REPORT ON VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAMES AND CLASSIFICATION ISSUES OCTOBER 1993

TABLING STATEMENT BY COMMITTEE CHAIRPERSON, SENATOR MARGARET REYNOLDS

In the report tabled today, the Committee has examined two issues: the availability of unclassified video and computer games and the system for the classification of films and videos.

In relation to video and computer games, the Committee's concerns are directed at the proliferation in Australia of games with unacceptable levels of violence or sexual activities as their themes. The Committee's concerns are shared by the Standing Committee of Censorship Ministers, the meeting of Federal, State and Territory ministers with censorship responsibility. At their meeting in June 1993 the Ministers announced that they had agreed to bring video and computer games under the control of the national censorship system, and requested the Chief Censor and State and Territory officials to formulate a scheme for regulation to be presented at the Minister's next meeting, to be held on 4 and 5 November. The Committee has expedited its inquiry in order to bring down this interim report for the consideration of the Censorship Ministers at that meeting.

The Committee's recommendations envisage a scheme of regulation of the content of video and computer games with the classification set by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The Committee concluded that the absence of classification of such games, and reliance only on industry self-regulation, threatens to undermine the community's efforts to regulate the availability of graphically violent and sexual material in games to minors.

The Committee will monitor the decisions of the meeting of Censorship Ministers, and will continue to take evidence in relation to video and computer games, and will be in a position to report to the Senate on progress.

The Committee's concern about the system of classification of films and videos was prompted by the decision in January 1993 of the Film and Literature Board of Review to release the film Salo with an `R' rating, overturning a decision of the Film Censorship Board to maintain a ban on the film's release of 17 years standing. The Committee's terms of reference include a requirement that it consider whether material which would be classified in the `R' and `X' categories should be permitted on pay TV. The Committee was able to use the consideration of Salo by the classification authorities as a "window" into the operations of the system which has the potential to eventually permit `R' or `X' material onto pay TV.

The Committee's inquiry highlighted a number of systemic flaws in the classification system and its report has recommended the implementation of a number of important remedial measures, particularly in relation to the restructuring of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, which is the umbrella Commonwealth agency housing the Film Censorship Board and the Film and Literature Board of Review. The Committee recognises that the adjudication of community standards will always fall to certain individuals tasked with that role and that there will inevitably be differences of opinion about decisions which arise from such a system. The Committee was concerned, however, about the idiosyncratic nature of the current system, which gives little certainty to the community about what material will or will not be released. The Committee's recommendations are directed at ensuring that the classification system, as far as possible, meets prevailing community standards.

The Standing Committee of Censorship Ministers is scheduled to discuss these issues at its forthcoming meeting in November, when it will examine in detail the proposals of the Law Refom Commission for greater uniformity in film and literature classification as contained in its September 1991 report Censorship Procedure. As with its recommendations in relation to the regulation of video and computer games, the Committee urges the Ministers to agree to the early implementation of the Committee's proposals for reforms in the film and video classification system.