Aussie R18+ decision impossible in March

NSW attorney general confirms nonattendance at March SCAG meeting due to upcoming state elections; any decision on R18+ requires the unanimous agreement of all state and territory attorneys general.

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Last December, state, territory, and federal attorneys general unanimously agreed to draft a set of preliminary guidelines for the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia.

After hours of deliberation at the Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG) meeting in Canberra, Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor told media that attending attorneys general had agreed to spend the next three months drafting the legal parameters which will be used by the Australian Classification Board to classify R18+ games if or when the rating is officially voted on and introduced. The deadline for the proposed R18+ for games guidelines is March 4, 2011--the date of the next SCAG meeting, which will be held in Wellington, New Zealand.

Now, it appears the decision to introduce R18+ for games once and for all will once again be delayed. This time, the culprit is the upcoming New South Wales state elections, which will be held on Saturday, March 26. The NSW attorney general's department has confirmed to GameSpot AU that NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos will not be attending the next SCAG meeting on March 4 because of the proximity of the election and will therefore be unable to partake in any voting process. Because any decision regarding R18+ requires all state, territory, and federal attorneys general to vote and reach a unanimous decision, it will be impossible for any voting to take place.

The NSW attorney general, John Hatzistergos.
The NSW attorney general, John Hatzistergos.

Even if Hatzistergos were to attend SCAG on March 4, the NSW government will be in the midst of a "caretaker" period (which begins on March 4). These conventions cover the period immediately leading up to a general election and continue until either the government is returned or a new government is commissioned. According to the NSW premier's department, "no significant new decisions or initiatives, appointments, or contractual undertakings should be made during the caretaker period."

"Our caretaker period begins on March 4, which is also the first day of the SCAG meeting," Hatzistergos' spokesperson told GameSpot AU. "However, the NSW attorney general will not be attending the SCAG meeting. So he will not be able to participate in any voting that takes place on any of the issues discussed."

In December, Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor told media there was general consensus from all attorneys general that Australia's classification system is in need of an overhaul, a decision that was reached following presentation of pro-R18+ evidence, including 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 federal government's 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.

GameSpot AU raised the possibility of NSW's incapacitation at the March 2011 SCAG meeting with O'Connor in December last year. "Assuming that the Opposition wins in NSW, it will obviously depend on what policy they are going to take towards the [R18+ for games] 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 common-sense approach to adult-only entertainment. This approach will be the most useful in bringing about change."

Stay tuned to GameSpot AU as we bring you more news closer to the March 4 SCAG meeting. For more on the issue, visit GameSpot AU's previous coverage.

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