During Friday's Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting in Canberra, where federal, state, and territory attorneys-general met to discuss the possible introduction of an R18+ classification for video games, Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor held a press conference to announce the final decision of ministers on the issue.
After four and a half hours of deliberation, the attorneys-general agreed to draft preliminary guidelines on the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia, effectively delaying the decision on whether or not to introduce the adult rating.
What follows is a video and transcript of the press conference where O'Connor told the media of the ministers' decision.
Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor:
Thanks very much everyone and thanks for waiting.
The attorneys-general meeting today agreed to consider guidelines for R18 classification for video games. There’s a general view that we need to ensure we have the most effective classification scheme for video games in this country.
Firstly, to provide better protection for children, for minors, and better parental guidance. So that when parents buy video games they know what they’re buying, what the likely content of that material is...and there’s been questions around whether in fact we have suitable classification levels. And for that reason, whilst there is not an agreement upon introducing R18 classification for video games today, there is a view that we should draft guidelines.
Those guidelines should have regard to the difference between film and video games. Those guidelines should also contemplate, for example, possibility of redefining MA15 if there was to be the introduction of R18 classification. Refused classification will be maintained because there is some material--that is the view of the attorneys and I--that is offensive and should not be accessed by anybody. As is the case with film.
So this, in my view, is a step forward to ensuring we properly consider the current classification scheme in this country.
Gamers have grown up, games have grown up; we need to make sure we have a classification scheme that’s grown up as well. We have to deal with convergence of technology; we have to deal with convergence of forms of entertainment like film and games. We have to deal with the constant downloading of information by people in this country.
So this is a huge challenge that will require not just regulation, in my view, but better information, better education, a more informed public so that we can do the right thing insofar as allowing adults to access certain material for their entertainment, but, importantly, ensure better protection and better parental guidance for families in this country.
I’m happy to take any questions on that matter.
Journalist: So you don’t have a specific agreement today, but is there "in principle" support from all the states and territories for R18?
Brendan O'Connor: What needs to happen, of course, is we need to ensure that the guidelines are agreed upon. Until guidelines are drafted, it is very difficult for people to agree upon the proposition. So, what I’m very comforted by is the attorneys and I agreed that we needed to flesh out this particular proposal. So that we know what we’re talking about. What is RC? What is R18, if there is to be R18? And what is MA15? What I do know is that there are MA15-classified games in this country that are only accessed by adults in comparable countries. I think that’s a concern to parents. I think that’s a concern to adults who play games as well. And I believe that there’s a consensus around the table about some of the material getting into MA15, but I’ll allow the attorneys to speak for themselves on that matter. But what’s important now is that we work on those guidelines to properly define what we mean by those classification levels with a view to introducing R18 classification for video games.
But it’ll only be at that point where we reach agreement on the guidelines themselves, authored by the government--not by independent bodies--but by the attorneys, their offices, advised by others, of course, if required. It’s only until we’ve done that...can we really know whether we’ve reached agreement on this matter. So, there is some way to, but this hasn’t been stopped here. This is now moving forward, and that’s a good thing.
We’ll be looking to bring back, well, the drafting will commence quite soon. We’ll be looking to bring this particular matter back to the next SCAG meeting early in the new year. So, there will be a lot of work to be done in relation to drafting guidelines for a potential change to the classification system for video games in this country. After those guidelines have been drafted, the respective governments can make their call on their position.
Journalist: WA said it was willing to support an R rating for video games providing M and R were properly defined, as you were talking about?
Brendan O'Connor: Again, I’m not going to speak for other jurisdictions. I can only say that everyone agreed that we needed to look at the guidelines; look at the detail. The devil’s always in the detail in these matters. Look at what we are looking to define. If we’re to have an R18 classification level, we have to look at how that impacts on MA15.
Now, we are concerned that some of the games have got into MA15 classification level in this country. That is, some of the games that are played by 15-year-olds in this country are played by adults only overseas, and I think around the table, there was concern about that issue.
So we have to look at how would an R18 level relate to an MA level, as well as an RC level? And I think there is a lot of goodwill about considering a new approach, if we can reach agreement on the detail.
Journalist: So you’re saying that a lot of these games that would likely be given an R rating now are probably already being played in Australia under an M rating anyway?
Brendan O'Connor: I know there are games--some of which are modified, some of which are only modified in a negligible sense--that are played in this country by 15-year-olds that are only played by adults overseas, and that is the case. I think that is an issue. And the other issue is the average age of gamers is 30. People want to be able to enjoy their form of entertainment, and I do think there’s a good argument about the need to have a classification level for adults. But in the end, it will come down to the guidelines because that will be the detail, which will provide opportunities for all governments to consider whether we can reach a consensus.
Journalist: And you are confident that you will get an R rating?
Brendan O'Connor: I'm confident that everyone is genuinely looking at improving the classification scheme in this country, to protect children, to provide better parental guidance for parents, and where possible, of course, allow adults to access information and forms of entertainment, which they expect to be able to do...which adults around the world get to do.
I think there is a genuineness in the room. There’s been a genuine effort to consider how we do those things. It’s not just providing access, particularly games by adults; it’s protecting children, providing better parental guidance but also allowing for the opportunity for adults to access information that children shouldn't.
For more on the issue, visit GameSpot AU's previous coverage.