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Tuesday, 7 December 1993
Page: 3990

Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Can the minister advise on the progress that has been made in the development and implementation of a national system of classification and regulation of video and computer games?

Senator BOLKUS —I am pleased to be able to inform the Senate that work on a new regulatory scheme for computer games and computer generated images is very much at an advanced stage. As part of the background to this, federal, state and territory ministers agreed last month on a national approach for a regulatory scheme and asked for legislation to be drafted as a matter of priority.

  The scheme will classify all computer games which are available for sale or hire or for use in places such as amusement arcades. The games will be classified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification according to age groupings to help parents decide which games are suitable for their children. The classifications will be based on the age categories for film and videos. However, all ministers agreed—the classifications will reflect this agreement—that the guidelines will be tighter in all categories, given the concern about the powerful influence these games may very well have on young people, particularly when they are played time and again. The games will also be labelled with consumer advice so that parents in particular will have full details of the strongest elements of the games.

  In terms of the categories, all governments share the concern of others in the community about violent and sexually explicit computer games being marketed in Australia. We have taken steps to ensure that unacceptable material will not be sold. The scheme provides for restrictions on the stronger games to keep them away from younger children. A new category called G8 is also being created to warn parents about games that might be suitable for older children but not for the very young.

  Ministers have also made it clear to the classification enforcement authorities that the scheme should operate in such a way to ensure that such inappropriate material does not become available to younger people. They will be backing up this particular measure with heavy penalties for breaches. As well, there will be an MA category preventing children under the age of 15 from buying or hiring such videos in that category or playing them in arcades. There will also be a restricted category which will be available only to those over the age of 18.

  The guidelines for this particular scheme were released for public comment on 13 November and they, and any suggested improvements, will be considered at a meeting scheduled for 20 December. This question is timely in that it is getting close to Christmas when parents are always asked to buy these games for their children. I think parents should also play their part if the new scheme is to be effective. The best advice we can give parents is to look carefully at the labels and the advice on each game before deciding whether or not to buy it. While the scheme is not yet in force, there is very much an appeal to parents to take this approach. I think it is fair to say that the industry has generally reacted responsibly to community concerns about its products and many businesses have introduced their own system of labelling ahead of compulsory schemes.

  The federal government intends to take urgent action early next year to develop a model ACT legislation for the classification of these computer games. This model can then be picked up by states and territories with their own enactments.