South Australian Attorney-General John Rau has taken the R18+ for games issue into his own hands today, declaring that his state will introduce the adult rating regardless of the decision made by other states and territories at the upcoming Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting in July.
Currently, the introduction of the R18+ classification requires the unanimous agreement of all federal, state, and territory ministers. However, in March this year, Federal Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor told GameSpot AU that the federal government would be considering "other options" should the R18+ issue not reach a unanimous "yes" vote come July. O'Connor hinted at the possibility that each state and territory could adopt different arrangements should consensus not be reached.
This is exactly what South Australia has now done. According to Rau, the South Australian cabinet endorsed his proposal to introduce the R18+ classification for video games in the state, and at the same time, phase out the MA15+ category.
"I've been consulting very broadly on this [issue] for a year now," Rau told GameSpot AU today. "I've been listening to parents and gaming advocates, and I have come to the conclusion that both points of view are legitimate and need to be accommodated. Recent moves by the federal government suggest that there will be an R18+ classification for video games in some form after the July [SCAG] meeting."
Rau believes that the federal government has the capacity to go ahead with introducing R18+ for games without the unanimous agreement of other state and territories, something that he believes will happen, at least at a federal level, if unanimous agreement is not reached in July. If this happens, Rau says it will be up to each state to either adopt or reject an R18+ classification for games.
"Of course, it would be ideal to have a uniform national scheme. That's why we need to wait now to see how the federal arrangements will shake out. If there is a national opportunity to embrace R18+, South Australia will do it with the quid pro quo that MA15+ is eliminated as a classification and all games that are now rated MA15+ will be made R18+. This is what I want to happen in South Australia.
"We do this [different legislation in different states] with film now--the ACT and NT have different legislation when it comes to X-rated films compared to the rest of the country. This already exists and the sky hasn't fallen in. I don't think that it will be a problem if South Australia has a slightly different regime in respect to games than the rest of the nation."
The reason Rau wants to abolish the MA15+ classification for video games in South Australia is he believes that there should be a clear gap between content that is for children and content that is for adults. He says the view that film classification can be applied directly to video games is wrong; firstly because films are not interactive, and secondly because while the idea of parental supervision in relation to film is justifiable, it is "ludicrous" when applied to video games.
"It is also important to note that there are some games that are rated MA15+ in Australia, which are rated R18+ in other countries. At the moment, there is an unbroken continuum from G to PG to M to MA15+, which includes some pretty violent games. What we want to do is make sure there is a clear gap between material for adult and material for children and empower responsible parents by making sure game classifications are helpful. No adult would be any worse off [with the abolition of MA15+ for games]; in fact, adults would be better off because there would be more games available in the R18+ category."
While Rau thinks that it is inevitable that R18+ for games will be brought out in either late this year or early next year on some level in Australia, his focus has now turned inward: The support of his cabinet means that what was once just Rau's opinion is now South Australia's opinion.
"The next step [for me] will depend on what happens in SCAG in July. Certainly, in order to implement R18+ for games here in South Australia, there will need to be some regulation or possible statutory amendments made, but I don't think it will be hard to do this. We just have to wait until the federal position becomes clear."
UPDATE: John Rau's office has contacted GameSpot AU to expand on the Minister's comments. A spokesperson now says South Australia will definitely introduce R18+ in the state if the federal government first passes the adult rating at a national level. This will happen regardless of whether other state and territory attorneys-general reach a unanimous decision on the issue at July’s SCAG meeting.
GameSpot AU will be reporting live from the SCAG meeting in July. For more on the issue, visit our previous coverage.