Aussie R18+ decision delayed

Censorship ministers in Canberra fail to agree unanimously on adult rating for video games in Australia; new guidelines being sought to determine impact of possible R18+ rating.

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After nearly three years of political stalling, public consultation, and industry-wide debate, the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia has been delayed once more due to the failure of federal, state, and territory attorneys-general to reach a unanimous decision at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting in Canberra today.

Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor told media that attorneys-general failed to reach the decision to introduce R18+ for games despite being presented with the final results of the federal government's public consultation, which showed 98.4 percent of respondents supported the introduction of the adult classification for games. The attorneys-general were also presented with the government's recent R18+ classification review, which showed no conclusive link between violent games and aggressive behaviour, as well as the results of a nationwide Galaxy survey, which showed 80 percent of the 2,226 people contacted supported the introduction of R18+ for games.

Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor.
Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor.

In interviews conducted with all state and territory attorneys-general by GameSpot AU on Monday, only Tasmania and the ACT publicly stated a pro-R18+ stance; other states and territories chose to wait until the SCAG meeting today to make up their minds. O'Connor told media today that not all attorneys-general were behind the introduction of an R18+ rating, but did not disclose which AGs voted for what.

O'Connor, however, has said that there was general consensus from the meeting that Australia's classification system as it relates to games needed to be overhauled. Therefore, SCAG is now seeking new guidelines on how the possible introduction of an R18+ rating would affect the current MA15+ and Refused Classification brackets. These guidelines will be presented at the next SCAG meeting scheduled for March 2011.

Following the release of the R18+ public consultation preliminary report in May, classification ministers requested further research to ascertain the views of the silent majority. The R18+ classification review and Galaxy survey were made public by O'Connor just last week, shortly before he announced both his and the Gillard Government's full support for the R18+ classification.

O'Connor and the Labor Government were not alone in their pro-R18+ stance: in the few weeks leading up to the December 2010 SCAG meeting, Labor ACT Senator Kate Lundy voiced her support, while the Federal Coalition has also tentatively stated its desire to see an overhaul of the current system.

Previous attempts to introduce the R18+ classification were thwarted by former South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, who publicly opposed the adult rating for fear that "it will greatly increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages."

Atkinson quit as South Australian attorney-general in March this year, replaced by John Rau, who chose to remain ambiguous on his views towards R18+ until today.

The federal government's R18+ public consultation was first announced in 2008 but suffered a number of delays before finally being passed in April 2009. The preliminary report found that of the 59,678 public submissions received in total, 98.2 percent were in favour of introducing an R18+ rating for games. The majority of responses in the consultation came from retailer EB Games' in-store petition, which scored 34,938 submissions, and pro-R18+ group Grow Up Australia, which organised 16,056 submissions. Other groups who made formal submissions included the Australian Christian Lobby, several Western Australian politicians (including the Minister for Water and Health, Graham Jacobs), the Australian Council on Children and the Media, the Commissioner for Children Tasmania, and the Sporting Shooters Association. Groups who strongly supported the R18+ rating included the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Telstra, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association, Save our Souls Gaming Clan, and more.

GameSpot will continue to update this story as more news comes in.

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