Yesterday in Canberra, Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor announced that after four and a half hours of deliberation, federal, state, and territory attorneys-general had agreed to draft preliminary guidelines on the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia.
Ministers met yesterday at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) in Canberra to discuss the future of the adult game classification. O'Connor told media that there was general consensus from the meeting that Australia's classification system as it relates to games is in need of an overhaul. He stated that the proposed guidelines--to be drafted by the state and territory governments--on how the possible introduction of an R18+ rating would affect the current MA15+ and Refused Classification brackets will be presented at the next SCAG meeting, scheduled for March 2011.
Following the SCAG meeting, GameSpot AU talked to O'Connor to get his thoughts on the process that is to follow and the reaction of his fellow ministers on the possibility of an R18+ rating for games. Below is a transcript of that conversation, in which O'Connor states the importance of redefining the MA15+ genre should an R18+ classification be introduced. He also states he will appeal to the Classification Board to reclassify MA15+ titles in the advent of an R18+ rating for games and offers his thoughts on how a possible change in the NSW State Government may affect the next SCAG meeting.
GameSpot AU: Tell us more about these proposed guidelines. Are we talking about the same guidelines that exist within the National Classification Scheme that define how films and video games should be rated?
Brendan O'Connor: What we mean by "guidelines" is, actually, law. These guidelines will be the legal parameters to be used by the Australian Classification Board to classify R18+ games. This is a prerequisite to introducing R18+ for games. All the federal, state, and territory attorneys-general's departments will work together to draft these guidelines, which will be presented at the next SCAG meeting in March 2011.
GS AU: By the time SCAG meets again in March 2011, it is very likely that one or more states will have a new attorney-general (if, for example, NSW acquires a new Liberal state government). What will this mean for the R18+ for games decision? What will happen if the new attorneys-general do not support the introduction of the classification, after coming this far?
BO: Well, it all depends, doesn't it? Assuming that the Opposition wins in NSW, it will obviously depend on what policy they are going to take towards this issue going into the election. I cannot determine what will happen. But, I can say that there is a commitment by all nine governments to move forward with this, and I believe that if we build a consensus around the proposed guidelines, it will make it more likely for change to occur. We have to keep in mind that this is not a left or right argument--this is a commonsense approach to adult-only entertainment. This approach will be the most useful in bringing about change.
GS AU: You've stated in the past that you want to look at the possibility of reclassifying those MA15+ titles that you believe should be rated R18+, should Australia acquire this classification. If we do acquire R18+ for games in the future, will you petition the Australian Classification Board to look at reclassifying MA15+ titles?
BO: Yes. I will ask Classification Board to reclassify MA15+ games to R18+ if we do get an R18+ for games, and if they do not already do this on their own without being prompted. I just want to stress that this is something that will have to happen if we introduce R18+, because clearly there are some games that do not fit into the MA15+ category but are classified as such. I am very concerned about the MA15+ category at the moment--we need to redefine it when we look at giving the R18+ classification a definition. We need to do both these things before an agreement can be reached on introducing R18+ for games.
GS AU: It sounds like you feel very strongly about the MA15+ category. Will you pursue the redefinition of this category separately to the R18+ draft guidelines, or is this something that will be done together? Say, for example, if a decision on R18+ continues to be delayed, will you instead switch your focus to redefining the MA15+ category, or is it a case of one cannot happen without the other?
BO: The MA15+ issue is part of the same process; it's contextual. Redefining MA15+ is about children and minors using games that are suitable for them and being protected from games that are not suitable for them. It's all going to be done together as part of the same process. The draft guidelines will address both the R18+ and the MA15+ category definitions.
GS AU: Let's talk about today's SCAG meeting. What was the general feeling inside that room? Do you think the other attorneys-general share your passion for reworking Australia's classification system as it applies to video games?
BO: What we had in the room today was genuine interest in looking at improving Australia's classification scheme. It was a feeling of goodwill towards this process, and all of the attorneys-general showed an open mind to the process.
GS AU: Did you actually vote on introducing an R18+ classification for games?
BO: We didn't vote on R18+; we voted on the process. We looked at things like: What will an R18+ classification mean? How will the MA15+ category be affected? Only by determining the answers to these questions in more detail through the proposed guidelines can we ever hope to reach a decision.
GS AU: What about the pro and against R18+ presentations that were made to ministers during the SCAG meeting today? Were they helpful? Did they manage to sway anyone's opinion this way or that?
BO: The presentations were useful; I'm sure that people took different things from them, but it was important to have a cross-section of views represented, and I think it was worthwhile.
GS AU: Will the attorneys-general have to make a unanimous vote on introducing the draft guidelines before making yet another unanimous vote on introducing R18+ for games at the next SCAG meeting in March?
BO: We will look to agreeing to the guidelines first; then, depending on the outcome of that vote, we may then look at R18+. We have to get an agreement on the guidelines first with a unanimous vote of course; however, if there is agreement, the matter can move forward effectively.
Look, the thing is we have nine governments who all have different concerns, so it's not simple! People think this decision is easy, but it's not. It's not as simple as "introduce it" or "don't introduce it." It's a concern and it's not easy to come to a decision, particularly given that technology is changing, and we have so many things to factor in. I don't criticise people [the other attorneys-general] for wanting to look at all the facts carefully and consider all these things before making their decision. I've spent a lot of time considering this, and I know more about this than some of the other attorneys-general.
GS AU: How do you think the public debate around the issue of R18+ for games has progressed? How do you think the games industry has carried itself in this debate particularly?
BO: To be honest, I'm not concerned with how people act; people can say what they want. At the end of the day it is the government that has to make the decision. But from what I have seen, I think the debate has been handled very well.
GS AU: Thanks for your time, Minister.
For more on the issue, visit GameSpot AU's previous coverage.