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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 2761

Senator REYNOLDS(11.10 a.m.) —I present the report of the Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies entitled Report on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Regulations, as contained in Statutory Rules 1995 No. 401 , together with submissions and Hansard record of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator REYNOLDS —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The regulations contain a range of 32 fees for the classification activities of the classification board introduced by the former government. They came into effect on 1 January 1996 in conjunction with the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 which represented the Commonwealth government's contribution to the introduction of a virtually national scheme of censorship and classification.

The Senate referred the regulations to the committee for inquiry and report after receiving representations from several major industry groups that some of the fees were a 100 per cent increase on the previous fee and had been imposed with only 12 days notice and without prior consultation with the industry as had been foreshadowed by government representatives.

The committee had a public hearing in Sydney on 15 July 1996 at which government and industry representatives were able to put their respective positions on the regulations. The committee was informed that the fee increases represented the first stage of the former government's plans for the introduction of a substantial cost recovery for the classification activities of the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

In recognition that the fees had not been increased for the major classification function in relation to film and videos for some 12 years, the then government had decided that as an interim step it would increase these fees by the CPI increase. A firm of private accountants is currently conducting a study of the Office of Film and Literature Classification with a view to assessing the manner in which it carries out its classification tasks and to determine the appropriate user-pay fees.

The committee has found that the fees contained in the regulations are set at a realistic level for the classification services that the Office of Film and Literature Classification provides and is recommending to the Senate that the regulations not be disallowed.

The committee took particular note that after some six months experience with the new fees, there was no evidence of adverse effects on the industry's operations. It also noted that the fees charged by comparable overseas classification bodies for equivalent services were considerably higher than those in the regulations.

The committee did accept, however, that a number of concerns raised by the industry groups about the operations of the Office of Film and Literature Classification had some validity and it made recommendations to ensure that all elements of the industry are closely consulted in future about the process of introducing user-pay within the industry.

The committee also believes that because of the significance for both the community and the industry of the reforms currently under way, it should closely monitor the review process and it has recommended that no future fees be imposed on the industry until the basis of those fees has been subjected to a detailed examination by the committee.

Question resolved in the affirmative.