Australia is "out of step" with the rest of the developed world due to its lack of an R18+ rating for video games, Victorian deputy premier and attorney general Rob Hulls says.
The deputy premier's strong critique comes after Australia's Federal, State, and Territory Attorneys-General met last week and agreed on starting a public consultation process to explore the games-classification issue. Currently, the top rating available for video games in Australia is MA15+, as opposed to R18+ for films and DVD. Any game deemed unsuitable for the MA15+ rating is illegal for sale in this country, with titles like Dark Sector and Soldier of Fortune: Payback recently running into censorship problems.
Australia's federal government has still not decided on whether it supports the introduction of an R18+ rating for video games, saying it wants to first gather community opinion before formalizing its stance. A spokeswoman for Federal Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus says the government will soon ask for community submissions about whether Australia needs to expand games classification to include an R18+ rating. The spokeswoman said that the minister was particularly keen to hear from parents to see if an R18+ rating would further "empower" them. No date has been set for the start of the consultation process.
For any change to the ratings system to be made, all of the Australian government's Attorneys-General will have to agree on the decision. South Australian Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Multicultural Affairs Michael Atkinson has consistently opposed an R18+ rating. In a recent parliamentary statement, Atkinson said, "I do not want children to be able to get their hands on R18+ games easily. I understand that the lack of an R18+ classification denies some adults the chance to play some games, however, the need to keep potentially harmful material away from children is far more important."
However, Victorian deputy premier and attorney general Rob Hulls has welcomed the move for a new round of public consultation, saying that research compiled by Victoria suggested there were persuasive arguments to support the introduction of an "adult only" category of computer-game classification in Australia.
"It seems inconsistent that in Australia, adults are allowed to view 'adult only' films which have been classified R18+ by the Classification Board, but not computer games with an equivalent high level content," he said in a statement. "With the increasing convergence between films and games, the different approach to classification principles is difficult to sustain."
"At the moment, Australia is out of step with the rest of the developed world on this issue."
The Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (IEAA) has also welcomed the move, saying that the community in general was accepting of an R18+ rating.
"Since the creation of the computer and video games scheme in the mid-1990s, the community attitude towards an R18+ classification has only been tested once -- during the guidelines review in 2001/02," IEAA CEO Ron Curry said in a statement. "Community response to the guidelines review in 2001/02 was strongly in support of an R18+ classification for computer and video games, and research by Bond University in 2005 and 2007 also indicates that the Australian community strongly supports an R18+ classification for computer games.
"The IEAA maintains that the introduction of an R18+ classification will more accurately reflect the true nature of people who enjoy interactive entertainment. Seventy percent of people using computer and video games are aged 18 and over, while 20 percent are 39 years and over. It's incongruous that Australian gamers are prevented from playing games adults in other countries can freely access."