Today's Your Last Day To Have Your Say On The Review Into Australia's Classification Laws

australian classification laws review

The review of Australia's classification guidelines has formally begun and today's your last day to get involved.

The Classification Board last year made a public point of noting that a review was in the works, through public statements following the ban of DayZ and more directly when the board's director, Margaret Anderson, appeared on a PAX Australia panel.

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The review is an opportunity to modernise the classification guidelines, which is effectively the fine print that determines what games fall under what ratings and, more importantly, which games are Refused Classification.

Some of those fine-print guidelines include the long-standing rule on drugs as an incentive in video games which has caused issues for Katana Zero, DayZ, Fallout 4 and many others. The guidelines were put in place when the R18+ rating was officially introduced, and the formal review is an opportunity to bring the classification of video games more into line with current community expectations.

But the review isn't just about video games. The terms of reference will cover external classification tools, like what Netflix currently uses to have content rated in Australia, what content should be classified, and how to imrpove consistency across classification categories.

The review's main aims are:

  • How best to harmonise the regulatory framework for classification across broadcast content, online content and physical product such as DVDs and boxed games.
  • Whether the criteria for classifying films and computer games are still appropriate and useful and continue to reflect community standards and concerns.
  • The type of content that should be required to be classified.
  • Who should be responsible for classifying content and what level of government oversight is appropriate.

The terms of reference note that "regulation of sexually explicit content online" won't be covered in the review, nor will any "broader content regulation issues" outlined in the ACCC's recent inquiry into online platforms.

Here's the exact terms of reference:

The review will cover:

1. Opportunities to harmonise the classification of, or restriction of access to, content across different delivery platforms including broadcasting services (commercial free to air, national broadcasting and subscription television), online stores and services, cinema releases, and physical product (e.g. boxed video games and DVDs).

2. The design of a contemporary Australian classification framework, including:

a. What content requires classification

b. Consistency of classification categories, standards and access restrictions across media formats

c. Classification decision-making processes, including mechanisms for review, and

d. Governance arrangements, including the suitability of the current cooperative scheme.

3. Opportunities to update classification decision-making standards, including a comprehensive review to update the National Classification Code, the Films Guidelines, and the Games Guidelines.

The department has also published a discussion paper that "all computer games made available in Australia continue to be classified apart from exempt ones, using the same categories as for film," but not including the X18+ pornographic exemption in the ACT.

The paper suggests creating a separate body to review classification decisions from the current Review Board (which operates separately to the Classification Board), or moving the current body into the Classification Board itself. There's also recommendations on how the public can have their say, with all submissions to be made via a form on the Classification Board's website.

Public consultation for the review will close by 5:00pm AEDT on Wednesday, 19 February 2020, with the review to be completed and submitted to the Communications Minister in April.



    Im a bit lost in how submit and this process works do I need to make up documents from scratch

    Last edited 09/01/20 12:07 pm

    I'm glad 2d is on the table. The current requirement that 100% of attorney-generals must agree to changes is a load of crap.

    And really it's stupid to think that a group of older white male lawyers represents the majority view of Australians when it comes to media.

      Is it weird that you know the age, ethnicity and gender of 100% of those who oversee this kind of stuff - or are you just assuming?

        It's not difficult to check, since there is just one AG per state or territory. However, it looks like they aren't all men:

        At present, it looks like half have women in the role: NT, Qld, SA, and Vic.

          Thanks @jamesh. Let's see how far off the mark I was:

          * Natasha Kate Fyles for NT (41) (white female)
          * Gordon Ramsay for ACT (white male probably in his 50s, and no he doesn't have another career as a famous chef :) )
          * Mark Raymond Speakman for NSW (60) (white male)
          * Yvette Maree D'Ath for QLD (49) (white female)
          * Vickie Ann Chapman for SA (62) (white female) (I'm so glad to see John Rau gone, he really dragged down the state)
          * Will Hodgman for TAS (50) (white male)
          * Jill Hennessy for VIC (47) (white female)
          * John Robery Quigley for WA (71) (white male)

          So we actually have 50/50 representation of men and women now, which is great. They are younger than I expected with Natasha Fyles actually being younger than me. So things are improving !

        I assumed, and I probably should have checked. Thankfully @jamesh did the checking for me :)

          Worth noting the Vic and QLD AGs also came out pretty strongly about loot boxes - QLD AG's response was the best of the lot from any of the public submissions.

            Do you know if SA is still the problem state when it comes to updating our classification laws?

              No but the system that led to that amount of power - any one AG can veto the whole lot - is still in place.

      That unanimous agreement is probably what single handedly held back any progression. It really needs to go very dated.

        it actually was. SA was the only state AG that was preventing the introduction of the R18 for games. the moment Michael Atkins retired, SA was immediately onboard with the introduction

          Atkins was a real knob. Not just for the gaming thing, but because he was pretty blunt about the fact that he voted on his personal opinions alone. Even when they were completely opposed to the will of the people in his state.

    Am I wrong in thinking this has the potential to go pear shaped? If they decide that that all digital content must be officially rated before going on sale in Australia will potentially gut the Indie scene.

      It's already the case that all digital content is supposed to be classified before going on sale in Australia. I doubt we'll see that change.

      If you look at the what has actually been happening over the last few years, most of the effort has been focused on making the classification process simpler, cheaper, and faster with Netflix's classification tool and the IARC survey tool for games. If anything is going to change, I suspect that the use of such tools will extend to platforms that used the older classification system such as films shown in cinemas and games sold in retail stores.

        That's my hope, and my assumption. But I do have this niggling worry that it gets turned around as the current system being unfair to traditional media and trying to force digital content to jump through the same hoops. Including putting pressure on content providers like Steam to restrict access to content that hasn't gone through the correct channels.

          There hasn't been any scandals related to the new systems that socially conservative politicians or advocacy groups can point to. There have been a few game developers that lied on the IARC survey when uploading to Google Play or Apple's App Store, but they got caught fairly quickly and we've still got the classification review board as a watch dog. I suspect that the small government and economic conservative types would favour a system that costs less money and requires fewer public servants.

          As for Steam in particular, I wouldn't be surprised if Valve adopts IARC in the next few years. People call them out for being inconsistent when they police the content of the store (e.g. the crack down on visual novels/dating sims), so delegating the decision making to a third party without introducing any extra costs to developers could be appealing.

            Amazing breakdown. Stuff like this is the sort of thing that sneaks past me sometimes, and I've grown to be dubious around believing that everyone thinks the same way I do when it comes to the current classification system.

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