PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: I rise this afternoon to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. I would like to say at the outset that this is a bill which I have spent considerable time thinking about, and I have had great difficulty in coming to a position as to whether or not this is the right way to go. On balance, I have come to the conclusion that the provisions in this bill are the right way to go, and, along with my fellow members on the Coalition side, I will be supporting this bill.
The bill creates an adult category for computer games, a category that is legally restricted to persons 18 years of age and over. As you would be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, an R18+ category currently applies to other forms of entertainment, like films and some magazines, but at the moment it does not apply to computer games. The highest classification level for computer games is currently ‘mature accompanied’, or MA15+. MA15+ games are not recommended for people below the age of 15 and are legally restricted for such people. The only thing which this bill does is create an R18+ category for computer games.
The reason why I have had difficulty in coming to a decision on this bill is in part because there are two conflicting principles which arise here from my perspective. On the one hand, I am a firm believer in liberalism and individual responsibility, which would lead me to say that, yes, of course we should have an R18+ category and we should have those games come into Australia. On the other hand, however, I abhor some of the violence in our society and am concerned that more violent games coming into our community may exacerbate that.
Let me briefly touch on those principles and outline some of my other reasoning for supporting this bill on balance. As I said, a core principle which guides the decisions of many of us on this side of the chamber is the principle of individual responsibility and liberalism. I am a firm believer in this and I am a firm believer that people have the right to take responsibility and to do things they want to do without the government interfering, unless those activities are going to harm other people. That is a principle which John Stuart Mill articulated many years ago and it is a fundamental principle which guides a lot of thinking on this side of the chamber. We are not saying that everything should be completely unfettered, but we are saying that, if there is doubt, then the government should step back, rather than step in, and allow people to take responsibility for themselves and to have freedom of choice. They are very important principles.
From that perspective, then of course we would allow the R18+ category and we would allow games which presently might be prohibited from coming into this country because we only have an MA15+ category. On that basis, we would say that the people who are using these games are adults—indeed 75 per cent of all people who play video games are adults, with an average age of 32—and they are sensible people and they are sensible enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want to play a particularly violent game or a game which has a large amount of nudity or sex or whatever in it.
On the other hand, I have a concern—and it is a concern which many people in this chamber and across our community have—about the level of violence which is in our community presently. While there is no research which says that there is a direct link between violence in video games or films or other media and violence which is propagated out in the community, I am sure that, at the very least, violent films, games and magazines change people’s perceptions of what is acceptable and contribute to a changing of the culture in our community. My concern is that, if we have additionally violent games coming into our community, that will exacerbate that culture and may indeed lead to greater violence down the track.
Those are the two conflicting principles we have to grapple with in relation to this bill—on the one hand, a very strong principle in relation to individual responsibility, freedom of choice and liberalism and, on the other hand, the principle of not wanting to exacerbate any culture of violence that may exist in our community presently and on which video games could have an impact. On balance I have come to the conclusion that the right thing to do is to have the R18+ rating so I support this bill, in part because I think that if ever it comes down to a balance between individual responsibility, liberalism and something else, we should err on the side of liberalism. That is the first point.
The second point is in relation to the evidence suggesting that having the R18+ classification may be beneficial in reducing the propensity for violent games to be used by minors. That is because of the argument, which is quite forcibly put, that some of the games that presently come into this country are games which, in other countries, would not be allowed to be used by people who are between the ages of 15 and 18, but because in this country we have only a 15+ rating these games get slightly edited and are then able to be used by minors from the ages of 15, 16 and 17. I will give you two examples of that. The first example is Grand Theft Auto IV, which is the latest in the adult Grand Theft Auto series. The publishers, Rockstar, self-censored the game for Australia, making minor cosmetic edits regarding sex acts and blood spatter. It is now available for sale to children in Australia aged 15 and up, while it is still being restricted, even in edited form, to adults in other countries who are 18 years of age or over. Similarly, the game called House of the Dead: Overkill was not refused classification. I understand it has excessive violence and a high amount of profanity and it is still available for children aged 15 and over. Meanwhile, I understand that overseas rating agencies have classified the game for adults only. It may be the case that having games with an R18+ classification, which may not be appropriate for people who are 15, 16 and 17, may mean less access to such games because they would be properly classified as 18+ years of age. I think that is also an important part of this bill in front of us.
I will conclude by going back to the core principles I looked at in this bill—on the one hand the principle of individual choice, liberalism and individual responsibility and, on the other hand, a concern that we have too much violence in our society and that any additional violent games may exacerbate that. As I said, on balance, I have come to the conclusion that liberalism, individual choice and individual responsibility should be paramount in this instance. I trust that the people who use these games will be 18 years of age and older and that it will not be distributed to minors, although that is a very difficult thing to police, and that, in passing this bill, it will bring games into line with other forms of entertainment such as films and magazines.