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Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2015

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 9 September 2015.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 12:23 ): I rise to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2015. The Liberal opposition will be supporting this bill and we will not be seeking to pass any amendments to the same. The bill amends the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 in order to reflect some commonwealth amendments that have been made in response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of the national classification scheme.

When conducting this review, the Australian Law Reform Commission identified eight guiding principles for reform directed at providing an effective framework for the classification and regulation of media content in Australia. These principles underpinned 57 recommendations that were made in the final report that was published by the commission in 2012.

One of the key terms of reference of the review was the rapid pace of technological change in media available to and consumed by the Australian community. The review therefore considered how the national scheme would continue to address community expectations coupled with the rapid and continuing changes to technology and challenges of media convergence.

Following the publication of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, a number of amendments were made to the commonwealth legislation last year. These amendments did not incorporate all of the recommendations, as it is proposed that they will have a staggered commencement. The bill before the chamber makes amendments to reflect these commonwealth amendments. In particular, the bill:

•amends the act to expand the exemptions to the modification rules so that films and computer games that are subject to certain types of modifications do not require reclassification;

•broadens the scope of existing exempt film categories and streamlining exemption arrangements for festivals and cultural institutions; and

•simplifies exemption arrangements for festivals by removing the requirement to apply to the director of the Classification Board for formal exemption and replacing it with a deregulated self-assessment exemption process.

In respect of the first amendment I mentioned, previously section 21 of the commonwealth classification act provided that if a classified film or computer game was modified, it became unclassified. The requirement to have it reclassified where, for example, the content had not been changed but a caption was added or removed, is both costly and time consuming for the publishers.

The commonwealth act has been amended to allow for modifications of a prescribed kind to occur without reclassification. This bill amends the South Australian classification act to reflect the commonwealth amendments. The bill also provides for amendments that mirror the recent amendment of section 5B of the commonwealth act to expand the scope of exempt film categories from the requirement to apply for a classification.

Two new content categories have been added to the exempt content list to include social sciences and natural history. This will accommodate a range of documentary-style films. Where it was previously required that a film ‘wholly comprise’ particular content in order for it to be exempt, it now includes films that ‘mainly comprise’ this content. I note these exemptions are only available for material that is up to and including the PG level of classification, but no higher. The Liberal opposition is pleased to see this safeguard in place, which will help ensure that the proliferation of offensive material cannot be inadvertently permitted through the exemption from classification.

The third reform deals with the exemption arrangements for festivals and cultural institutions. This reform simplifies the process for festivals obtaining exemption by removing the requirement to apply to the director of the Classification Board for formal exemption and replacing it with a deregulated self-assessment exemption process. It enacts one of the recommendations contained in the Australian Law Reform Commission review.

The act sets out who is eligible to exhibit unclassified content and provides safeguards to ensure that the public is also protected. These safeguards include, for example, restrictions on the screening, exhibition or demonstration of unclassified content to particular age groups and the provision of warnings to patrons about the content. This amendment balances the need to remove some of the more burdensome and bureaucratic processes with the need to provide flexibility and support to the arts and the cultural sector. It also aims to maintain a satisfactory level of safeguards for the public’s protection, which should always remain a key consideration when dealing with the reforms in this area.

These amendments reflect the first stage of reforms that are being introduced to streamline the classification process and ensure that we are adapting to the continuing advances in technology. Indeed, one of the terms of reference of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review was to have regard to the impact of media on children and the increased exposure of children to a wider variety of media, including television, music and advertising, as well as films and computer games. At the heart of the classification debate is the contention between preserving and promoting freedom of expression and protecting our community, especially our young and vulnerable, from accepting as normal extreme violence and obscenity. Never has this been so poignant than in a world where new media, such as computer games, are increasingly being viewed by youth on a daily basis.

On the information provided by the government, we have formed the view that the amendments before us appear on their face to be a reasonable attempt to strike the right balance between these competing ideals. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. G.A. Kandelaars.

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