Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (10:46): With these things, we usually get up and say we are pleased to speak on the bill. From my perspective, I am relieved to be speaking on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012, because it has taken 10 years to get to the point where we make a decision about the classification of video games and, as the member for Pearce indicated in her contribution, the feedback on this matter was phenomenal. There were 54,000 public submissions received on this issue alone showing a huge amount of interest in this matter. I think it shows the degree to which this is not just something that is seen as a kids’ domain; this is something that has been embraced and featured in homes across the country for many years by people of different ages. As I said, for the past decade, the Commonwealth, the states and the territories have been unable until recently to agree to the reforms required for the introduction of this classification for computer games.
It is an important reform, not only for the Australian adult population who have long asked for the right to make personal decisions about their entertainment but in recognising that we have a flourishing industry that is involved in the design and development of computer games right here in Australia. The development industry is growing and has got itself a fantastic international reputation. I commend to the Federation Chamber the Working in Australia’s Digital Games Industry: A Consolidation Report, which was released last year by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation and the Queensland University of Technology. It was done in conjunction with the Game Developers’ Association of Australia. That association described the local industry in the following terms. It said:
Australia has a dynamic and sophisticated game development industry. With experience developing and marketing products for the largest game publishers in the world, Australia offers the best in creative talent, advanced technology and management experience.
In the report it seeks to demonstrate the breadth of the industry in the country by relying on the Australian Bureau of Statistics report, which in 2008 released the first issue of Digital Game Development Services, Australia. As at June 2007, it noted—and I imagine these figures continue to increase but they are worth noting—that 45 game development businesses operate in Australia, with three-quarters operating out of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Of the 1,431 workers employed in the games development industry, 695 are located in the member for Herbert’s great state of Queensland, representing 48.6 per cent of all workers in the country. Artists, animators and programmers combined account for over 63 per cent of games workers and nonresidents account for 6.1 per cent of those workers. In terms of export, the figures are fantastic. Bear in mind, too, that a lot of small businesses operate in this sector—close to 50—and it is indicated that they employ up to five workers. There are 11 small- to medium-sized businesses employing six to 50 workers and large businesses operating with over 200 workers.
I sit on another committee, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, and, as part of our work last year we went around the country in the course of developing our report on the NBN and our report Broadening the debate talks about a lot of the creative and visual arts businesses that will now be able to collaborate with businesses overseas and, off a platform of superfast broadband, be able to shift large packets of data overseas. If you look at the industry now and at what we are doing in revitalising our technological infrastructure, you see this will open up huge sections for our local economy, particularly the one that we are referring to today in terms of games development. It will give people a head start in an industry that young people in particular want to be able to work in.
The classification issue we discuss here is enormously relevant because it opens up the scope of work that can be done by local businesses where people do not want to see their work, their time and the investment that they put into it suddenly held up because our classifications have not kept pace with the rest of the world. As I said, there is that $161 million of revenue, most of it export earnings, with the revenue from games development growing at a rate of 16 per cent annually for the five years leading to 2010-11. So this bill gives the industry the certainty that they had long hoped for and it lets them attract much-needed investment particularly from overseas and there is that collaboration that I referred to earlier. It will also achieve for them parity with the much larger film industry, which for many years has enjoyed investment and incentives that they can only dream of accessing. The games development industry, a relatively small player compared to their global competitors, continues to compete with developers overseas who in some cases receive industry assistance for their work. Without doubt this bill will improve their competitiveness in what is globally a $25 billion industry.
I want to pick up on some statistics as to one recent game that was released—Modern Warfare 3, developed by Activision. It had the largest on-day, or early, shipments registered in history. Some 1.5 million people queued at 13,000 stores across the UK and the US to buy this one game. In the US and the UK over 6.5 million copies of the one game were sold on one day and grossed, in the first 24 hours, $400 million, a huge amount of money. So you can see the interest that is there. I want to come back to that game later because it is absolutely relevant in the context of what we are discussing now.
The bill that has come before parliament today reflects in a sense our nation’s growing up. It was not that long ago, as I indicated earlier and as the member for Pearce reflected upon in her contribution to this debate, that these games were seen as the domain of children and adolescents. As many of these young people matured so too did their taste in games and so did the games themselves. The present regime fails to take into account that computer gaming is no longer the sole domain of young people. The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association estimates 55 per cent of gamers are now over the age of 18 and the average age is now 30 years old. If you want an indication of how far things have come, look at how many members of parliament will actually speak in this debate alone. I have estimated close to 25 MPs will be devoting some part of their time to debating this very bill.
If we are going to talk about declaring interests, I actually own an Xbox 360 and for my birthday my wife bought me a Kinect, which we both use as well. All this reflects the diversity as consoles change, and you have the Wii, which has been used in nursing homes of all things to keep people who are older mobile and active. A few years ago I had the opportunity to read a really novel book by Stephen Johnson called Everything Bad is Good for You, which reflects on movements in popular culture and what those are actually doing to us as people. So the complexity, for instance, of what we watch on TV in terms of storylines but even of video games themselves calls on us to think and to use our motor skills and to be a lot more imaginative and innovative. He charts how changes in popular culture and changes in scores, for example, by students in schools with those and IQs actually going up and he talks about the interaction of TV, popular culture and games on those. So this is having a big impact.
A 2011 report, which I referred to earlier, found that currently almost half of gamers are female and that 55 per cent of seniors, age 65 and older, play games. So in this context it is well and truly time that we permit the introduction of this R18+ classification for games. The bill will bring the classification of games into the 21st century. It will make the system much more relevant to the community and, whilst not every adult will want to access R18+ video games, it has long been the view of a large proportion of the adult population that they should have the right to decide what entertainment is appropriate for them to consume.
Under the present regime the Office of Film and Literature Classification will review a game and, if they find that game to be too violent or not fitting with community standards for a MA15+ rating, they will effectively ban it from sale in Australia by refusing classification for the game. That system has not served us well in recent times. There have been a number of well-publicised occasions on which games have received classification only to have it later withdrawn. The most notable example was in 2005, with the introduction of the game ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,’ which was rated in the US as MA15. However, the authorities in the US later discovered a feature which allowed users to engage in explicit sex scenes through software modification called ‘Hot Coffee.’ The game in the US subsequently had its rating changed to the higher R18 rating, but the lack of such a classification in Australia meant that the game was banned, despite 250,000 games having already been sold here.
There are also other examples. Going back to the modern warfare example, many people would not realise that Modern Warfare 2 has a scene in it where you take on the role of a Russian ultranationalist terrorist. You walk through an airport where you gun down people in that scene. That, frankly, is too violent and graphic for younger audiences and, if parents knew that it existed, they would be horrified. We need a classification system that takes it out of that age group and puts it into a much older age bracket. To be honest, I found that scene very confronting. Frankly, I do not know why you would need to have that in a game, because of what the member for Pearce indicated about the virtual world and reality. We definitely need a move whereby we do not see a game entirely banned but see absolutely reasonable concerns addressed through a classification system that is keeping pace with modern times.
This bill is not without its detractors. Many representations have been made opposing the introduction of an adult-only classification. Among the concerns is that games will include content currently refused classification, as I indicated earlier, deemed distasteful or excessively violent. While I do not doubt that some of that content may be offensive to adult members of the community they, equally, have the choice not to play these games. What has not attracted much attention is the introduction of the R18 rating, which will give the Office of Film and Literature Classification the scope to apply that rating to games currently rated MA15+. I am sure many parents would be horrified at the level of violence contained in games that children can already access. Current guidelines allow MA15 games to contain pretty violent, explicit and extreme content. The bill may reduce that level of violent and offensive content.
Views have been expressed that, in some places, R18 games will eventually make their way into the hands of underage people. My view is that you cannot blame that on the classification system. The system is essentially there to guide people’s choice of what to view, what to read, what to play and for parents to make choices for children. Obviously, it is the responsibility of parents to know what their children are viewing and playing, but sometimes they just do not know and will not necessarily follow what is contained in a game because they are not going to play it themselves. However, having a classification system in place allows parents the ability to make active decisions that they believe are in the best interests of their family, particularly young children.
If anything, the R18 rating will only make that job easier as most reasonably minded parents will not permit their child to play something with an R rating but may contemplate allowing them to play a MA rated game. Again, it is up to families to make that choice. I think the level of interest in this matter has been terrific. I think it reflects a broader societal move. I think the classification, as I have said, is long overdue. It is good that it has come in and I certainly commend the bill to the House.