Aussie R18+ public debate still waiting on Atkinson

South Australian attorney general yet to make proposed "minor" changes to R18+ public consultation discussion paper.

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The much-anticipated public consultation on whether Australia should have an R18+ rating for games remains in limbo, with South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson yet to make his proposed amendments four months after initially delaying the process.

In 2008, the Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG)--a body made up of state, territory, and federal censorship ministers--agreed to release by year's end a discussion paper which was to serve as the start of a public consultation process for the introduction of an R18+ rating for video games in Australia. The paper included an overview of the relevant research and literature and a proposal to amend the classification guidelines. The first delay was suffered when Atkinson withdrew his support for the paper without citing a reason, before agreeing to back the paper's release only on the grounds that he be allowed to make some "minor" changes.

Atkinson proposed changes to the paper and has still to act on these changes since agreeing to make them at the SCAG meeting in November 2008. When GameSpot AU contacted Atkinson's office to ask about the status of the minister's changes, a spokesperson said: "Discussions are continuing between the [South Australian] attorney general's office and the SCAG Secretariat about amendments to the discussion paper."

Atkinson's office could not offer any indication of a timeline in regards to the completion of these changes to the discussion paper by Atkinson, or when the discussion paper is being considered for public release.

Atkinson initially said the wording of the original draft paper was biased, and he made this statement to GameSpot AU in November 2008: "I believe the draft discussion paper did not adequately represent both sides of the argument. I voiced my concerns to other attorneys general and we reached agreement that some minor changes will be made to the discussion paper," Atkinson said. "I am not opposed to a public debate on the merits of introducing an R18+ classification for electronic games--in fact, I welcome it. But it's unhelpful to commence that debate with what I believe is a biased discussion paper. I look forward to contributing to the development of a fairer discussion paper."

Four months on, it appears Atkinson has yet to make these changes to the paper, further delaying its release to the public. Other attorneys general--including ministers from Victoria, Queensland, and the Commonwealth--have already acknowledged that it is Atkinson they are waiting on.

"I fully support there being consultation on this issue, but ultimately SCAG is waiting for the South Australian attorney to agree to consult on the matter," Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls said.

The office of Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland had this to say: "At this stage, censorship ministers are considering the content of a draft discussion paper and awaiting comments on the draft from South Australia. Any changes to classification categories, including introducing an R18+ classification for computer games, require unanimous support of the Commonwealth and all state and territories."

Once finalised, the discussion paper will be made available to the public via the Internet and will ask opinions on a number of issues relating to the introduction of the R18+ classification for video games in Australia.

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