Aussie R18+ video game debate to be opened to public

Australian censorship ministers could not reach a unanimous decision on R18+ discussion paper; Commonwealth minister for Home Affairs takes over public consultation.


Canberra--The much-anticipated discussion paper on the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia will be released to the public by the office of the Commonwealth Minister of Home Affairs, Bob Debus, after censorship ministers stood divided over its contents at the Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG) meeting in Canberra today.

It is expected that the discussion paper will propose changes to Australia's current classification guidelines and will include relevant research and literature on the classification of video games. No specified timeline has yet been given for its release.

"Because there was no unanimous agreement amongst all states and territories about the release of the discussion paper, the commonwealth is circumventing our requirements for unanimous agreement and will release the discussion paper under their own name," ACT attorney general Simon Corbell said today. "The paper will be released shortly."

The paper will ask Australians to voice their opinions on whether the country should have an R18+ classification for video games. Once the consultation period expires, it will be up to the censorship ministers to decide whether or not to introduce the R18+ classification. Once again, their decision must be unanimous before any changes to Australia's current classification system can be made.

The contents of the proposed discussion paper have suffered several setbacks since it was first introduced by Victorian attorney general Rob Hulls at a SCAG meeting in March last year. It was initially slated for release before the end of 2008, but was delayed when South Australian attorney general Michael Atkinson withdrew his support. He later agreed to release the paper under the condition that he be allowed to make changes to its "biased" content.

However, as recently as March this year, Mr Atkinson had still to make his proposed changes to the discussion paper, leaving its fate in limbo. Today's SCAG decision seems to indicate that Mr Atkinson was not alone in his stance against the R18+ classification.

"The standard line is that I was the only one responsible for stopping this discussion paper," Mr Atkinson said today. "I think it's important that a discussion paper be released. I believe the changes I proposed to make [the inclusion of images and gameplay footage of games rated MA15+ and above] would have been useful in making this discussion accessible to the majority of Australians, for whom this debate is inscrutable."

Mr Atkinson acknowledges the fact that Australia's current classification system may lead to the incorrect classification of some video games, but attributes this to a misapplication of the federal government's classification guidelines by the Classification Board of Australia.

"I don't doubt gamers when they say that some games that are classified MA15+ in Australia should have been classified R18+; that is a possibility in my experience. I am critical of the OFLC [the Classification Board of Australia]. I believe it bends over backwards for the industry rather than the public interest."

Mr Atkinson is proposing a separate set of classification guidelines for video games--one that is separate from film and other materials. Speaking about his long-running opposition to R18+, Atkinson said he was willing to change his mind, given the right circumstances.

"I'm open to discussion. My position now is that I'm opposed to an R18+ classification, but let's see how the debate progresses. Let's see what concessions gamers and the industry are prepared to make. This would involve the Classification Board applying the guidelines correctly."

Stay tuned to GameSpot AU for more information about the R18+ public-discussion paper as it comes to hand.

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