Australian Government still silent on R18+ public consultation process

Five months since announcing a tentative release date for a discussion paper detailing the R18+ classification for video games debate, the Australian Government remains tight-lipped about its progress.

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It’s been several months since any news has surfaced regarding the progress and release of the public consultation discussion paper into the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia. When pressed, the Federal Attorney-General’s department--which has taken the lead on the issue--has remained quiet, offering no new information about how the public consultation will work or when Australians can expect to see the discussion paper.

Last April, the Censorship Ministers meeting at the Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG) in Canberra failed to come to a unanimous decision regarding changes and the release of the R18+ discussion paper, prompting then-Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus to take matters into his own hands, announcing his department would take over handling the R18+ public consultation and see to its release.

When GameSpot AU interviewed Debus in April, a proposed deadline of July 31, 2009 was given for the public consultation process. However, Debus was replaced as Minister of Home Affairs by Brendan O’Connor in June as part of a cabinet reshuffle, and since then, no news about the public consultation has surfaced.

GameSpot AU contacted O’Connor this week in the hope of getting some answers. These are his responses.

GameSpot AU: The discussion paper on the R18+ classification for video games in Australia was slated for release to the public in July. It did not go ahead, and we have heard nothing since Bob Debus’s departure. Can you confirm that you are working on releasing this discussion paper? And can you give details on what stage this is at and when it will be released?

Brendan O’Connor: The content of the discussion paper and the timing of its release are under consideration by the Australian Government.

GS AU: Upon its release, how will the discussion paper work? What will people have to do in order to voice their opinions?

B.O: The government carries out public consultations in a variety of ways. The consultation mechanisms for an R18+ classification are being considered.

GS AU: It’s obvious that gamers want the introduction of an R18+ rating in Australia. Do you think the wider community also supports this stance?

B.O: The government is aware of diverse community views on a possible R18+ classification for computer games.

GS AU: Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls said Australia is "out of step" with the rest of the developed world because it does not yet have an R18+ classification for video games. Do you agree with this statement?

B.O: Internationally, there is a range of approaches taken to classification issues. The government looks at overseas models. However, these do not necessarily determine an appropriate approach to Australian policy and legislation.

GS AU: An average of two video games per year are actually refused classification in Australia and therefore banned. Do you believe that the current legislation does a good job of keeping extreme material off the shelves? Do you think not having an R18+ classification means video games are being incorrectly classified in this country?

B.O: In accordance with the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games and the National Classification Code, computer games are classified MA 15+ by the Classification Board if they contain classifiable elements that are strong in impact and justified by context. Computer games, which contain classifiable elements higher than strong and are not suitable for a minor to see or play, are Refused Classification (RC). The National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games also set out other types of material in a computer game, which would warrant an RC classification.

Under the National Classification Code, classification decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to a set of principles. One of these principles is that minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them. The Classification Act requires the Classification Board to give consumer advice about the content of films and computers games it classifies (other than G classifications, when the Board has the option of giving consumer advice).

This information enables consumers to make informed decisions, including by supporting parents and guardians in selecting material to be viewed by children in their care.

GS AU: Do you believe Australia will see the introduction of the R18+ classification for video games in the next year?

B.O: It is premature to give an indication about when an R18+ classification for computer games could be introduced.

GS AU: Thank you for your time, Minister.

GameSpot AU will continue to cover this important issue as more information on the upcoming public consultation process comes to hand. Check back regularly for updates.

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