R18+ games legislation hits parliament

Expected to take effect from 1 January 2013

Minister for home affairs, Jason Clare, has introduced legislation into parliament that will pave the way for an R18+ classification for video games. The state and territory governments will also have to introduce legislation to allow adults only games.

“The R 18+ category will inform consumers, parents and retailers about which games are not suitable for minors to play, and will prevent minors from purchasing unsuitable material,” Clare said in a statement.

Australia's highest current rating is MA15+ and games that exceed that classification's criteria are refused classification.

"This reform has been a long time coming," Clare said in his speech to parliament introducing the legislation. "Agreement to introduce an R 18+ category has been reached after 10 years of negotiations with the States and Territories. Over these 10 years the Australian computer game industry has grown, along with the number of Australian computer gamers."

Clare said that it is anticipated the new system will come into effect on 1 January 2013.

"This bill will implement the Commonwealth's obligations as part of this agreement, and state and territory jurisdictions will follow with their own legislation later this year."

In May 2011 the federal government publicly released new draft guidelines for the classification video games ahead of a July meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. The guidelines spelled out the conditions under which violence, sex, swearing and drug use could be depicted in video games, as well as under which criteria games would be refused classification.

At the July meeting state and territory attorneys-general endorsed the idea of an R18+ classification for video games. An adults only classification for games received unanimous support with the with the exception of NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, who abstained. In August NSW came on-board the idea.

In September 2011 the Australian Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper that proposed a "fundamental change" to the classification scheme. The proposals in the discussion paper address whether the classification can in some cases place an onerous burden on media creators, issues of industry self-regulation, and the disparity in the treatment of different forms of entertainment media under the current system.

The ALRC review was the first review of Australia's classification system undertaken in 20 years. The last review took place in 1991 and led to the Classification Act of 1995. The legislation will merely amend the Classification Act to insert an R18+ classification.

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