The Commonwealth Classification Act 1995

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Date: 1995
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Australia

After controversy concerning the Sega game Night Trap, released internationally in 1993, the classification guidelines were found lacking in terms of regulation for video games. The regulatory framework was amended from state legislation to reside in a national framework — the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) — which came into effect in 1996. This Act updated the intricate network of state laws residing over VHS video, publications and film for public exhibition, making them uniform through a set of national guidelines, although the states could still rescind Commonwealth classification decisions, as previously. As part of the wider National Classification Scheme, national guidelines laid out the principles of classification as:

(a)    adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want;

(b)    minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;

(c)    everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;

(d)    the need to take account of community concerns about:

(i)    depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and

(ii)    the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

(Classification code, as part of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995)

The Commonwealth Classification Act also brought the consideration of artistic and educational merit into federal legislation (before this the Film Censorship Board registered the film and then classified according to the different guidelines and legislation of the states) also taking into account “the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults” (Guidelines for the Classification Act).

Structural changes to the classification authority also occurred at the same time. The Act updated the Film Censorship Board and Film Board of Review to the Australian Classification Board (ACB) and Classification Review Board (CRB), the current classification authorities as of writing in 2019. The titles of Chief Censor and Deputy Chief Censor changed to Director and Deputy Director. The Act made the classification of publications compulsory, and brought them under the remit of the ACB and CRB. They could be classified as either Unrestricted; Category 1 could not to be sold to those under eighteen (or available at all in the state of Queensland), and could not be openly displayed without an opaque plastic cover; Category 2 was also legally restricted to adults and not for purchase in Queensland but could not be publicly displayed. Continuous with previous processes, publications could also be refused classification (RC).

The Act also brought in a classification system for video games similar to that of film. Video game categories included G for general audiences of any age; PG for parental guidance recommended for under 15; M, not recommended for anyone under 15; MA15+, legally restricted to over-fifteens unless supervised by an adult, and RC. These categories would not be accompanied by the R18+ category for over-eighteens until legislative amendments in 2013, meaning video game content thought to be above MA15+ would be RC in Australia. For a time, this made Australia’s classification systems one of the most prohibitive in regards to video games in the numerous countries acting under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Driscoll & Grealy, 2013, 91). Since 2017, decisions made on video games that are accessed online and through mobile apps have been made by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), a transnational body that classifies on behalf of 36 countries using an online classification tool.

Further Reading:

Chapter in edited collection. Driscoll, C. & L. Grealy (2013) “Media classification and parental guidance”, (Classificacao etaria e orientacao parental). In Mayra Rodrigues Gomes (Eds.), Comunicacao e controle: Observacoes sobre liberdade, controle e interdicao de expressao (Communication and control: Notes on freedom, control and interdicted expression), (pp. 61-82). Sao Paulo: Intercom.

Commonwealth Legislation. Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995

NSW Parliamentary Report. Griffith, G. (2002) “Censorship in Australia: Regulating the Internet and other recent developments”, NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service.

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