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Australia: Agreement Reached on National R18+ Video Game Classification

(July 28, 2011) On July 22, 2011, the Australian Minister for Home Affairs, Hon. Brendan O'Connor, announced that the relevant ministers from each Australian jurisdiction, except New South Wales, had reached an agreement to introduce a nationwide R18+ (adult category) classification for computer games. (Press Release, Hon. Brendan O'Connor, Agreement on R18+ Classification for Computer Games (July 22, 2011).)

Australia's current classification system includes an R18+ rating for films, but the highest rating for video games is MA15+. Games with this rating can only be purchased by people under the age of 15 years if they are accompanied by a parent. A game may be classified “Refused Classification” if it is considered that it cannot be given the MA15+ classification. Such a ruling means that the game cannot be sold, hired, advertised, or demonstrated in the country. (Compliance for Sale or Hire of Computer Games, Australian Government Classification website, (last visited July 22, 2011).) There has been discussion for many years in Australia about whether an R18+ classification for video games would be a better approach, given that it may allow more games that might otherwise have been refused classification to be sold to adults.

In 2010, the Australian federal government undertook extensive public consultation and conducted surveys and research on whether there should be an R18+ category. These processes revealed considerable support for its introduction. (An R18+ Classification for Computer Games, Australian Government Attorney-General's Department website (last visited July 22, 2011); Press Release, Hon. Brendan O'Connor, R18+ Computer Game Classification Review Released (Dec. 1, 2010).)

In May 2011, the government publicly released draft Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games, which had previously been distributed to state and territory Classification Ministers to assist their decision-making on whether to create the new rating. (Press Release, Hon. Brendan O'Connor, Draft R18+ Computer Game Guidelines Released (May 25, 2011); Proposed Draft Guidelines for R18+ Computer Games, Australian Government Classification website (last visited July 22, 2011).)

The national R18+ classification for computer games can only be introduced if the states and territories agree to it. Under the Classification (Films, Publications and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth), all Classification Ministers must agree upon any changes made to the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games. The Classification Board applies the Guidelines and the criteria in the National Classification Code in determining what classification to give individual items. (National Classification Scheme, Australian Government Classification website (last visited July 22, 2011).) Under the proposed Guidelines, “games containing high-level violence are restricted to adults. Games containing extreme violence will continue to be refused classification and banned from sale altogether.” (Press Release, July 22, 2011, supra.)

New South Wales abstained from endorsing the proposal at the recent meeting of the Classification Ministers. The current New South Wales Attorney-General only took office three months ago and stated that the state's Cabinet would consider whether to give approval after he had undertaken further community consultation on the proposed Guidelines. (Asher Moses & Ben Grubb, 'Historic Agreement' on R18+ Video Games, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (July 22, 2011).) Hon. Brendan O'Connor indicated that the federal government would look to override New South Wales and implement the R18+ classification, but that he hoped there would be full agreement soon. (Id.) He stated that the agreement

is a big step forward in the long running debate on classification of computer games for adults … .

The introduction of an R18+ classification for computer games will provide better advice to parents and help prevent children and teenagers from accessing unsuitable material … .

Once introduced, the new classification will also afford adults the opportunity to view material designed for adults. (Press Release, July 22, 2011, supra.)

The video game industry supports the proposal for an R18+ category and welcomed the agreement. The vice president of Electronic Arts stated that “the current policy of the Australian government forces arcane censorship on adults who play games … cuts they would never impose on movies, books or other forms of artistic expression.” (Moses & Grubb, supra.)