LONG-AWAITED reforms of Australia’s censorship of computer games look set to fail after Victoria declared its strong concern that the move will legalise games with ‘‘high levels of graphic, frequent and gratuitous violence’’.
Backed by a groundswell of support from the gaming community, the Gillard government is determined to fix the classification system for computer games, which allows unsuitable games to be rated for 15-year-olds, yet bans popular games for adults.
But the Baillieu government’s Attorney-General, Robert Clark, has echoed the concerns of the Australian Christian Lobby, putting him on a collision course with Canberra, which requires the backing of all states and territories to change classification laws.
Australia is one of the few developed nations with no R18+, or adults-only, category for computer games, which means many violent games are ‘‘shoehorned’’ into the MA15+ category and made available to children. Some games, such as Grand Theft Auto, are censored in Australia but are still rated for 15-year-olds despite containing prostitution and drug-use themes.
In February, the Classification Board banned from Australia the latest version of the popular and long-running Mortal Kombat franchise — because it decided its realistic depictions of ‘‘brutal forms of slaughter’’ made it unsuitable for an MA15+ rating — angering thousands of players and raising the ire of the $1.7billion computer game industry.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor has told the states and territories that the July meeting of attorneys-general is D-Day for a decision on the reform, which has sat on their agenda for almost a decade. The reform will create an R18+ category for games, providing, Mr O’Connor says, adult gamers with more choice and better parental advice about the suitability of games.
Mr Clark told Fairfax that he welcomed one impact of the reform — that some games classified MA15+ would move to the higher rating of R18+. But the move, he said, would also mean allowing games to be sold in Australia that are banned because of their high levels of violence.
‘‘[This] needs careful scrutiny and public debate,’’ he said. ‘‘The Coalition government is very concerned that the draft guidelines currently being proposed by the Commonwealth would legalise games with high levels of graphic, frequent and gratuitous violence, including violence against civilians and police.’’
Mr Clark said the community should have a chance to discuss the draft guidelines — which have not been made public — and see what sort of games would be legalised. ‘‘The Victorian government will decide our position based on our assessment of whether the final proposal will adequately protect the community,’’ he said.
Victoria’s position drew a rebuke from the federal government, which for many years has been frustrated by South Australia’s refusal to back change.
‘‘The public has been consulted extensively on this matter and overwhelmingly support the introduction of an adult classification for games,’’ Mr O’Connor told Fairfax.
‘‘About 60,000 submissions were received in the last consultation round, showing huge community support for the introduction of an adult computer game classification,’’ he said. ‘‘I await state and territory governments’ views on the draft guidelines and remain open to sensible suggestions consistent with community expectations and good public policy.’’
South Australia is no longer stridently against the reform and most other states also support change, but the position of the new New South Wales Liberal government is unclear.
The Australian Christian Lobby remains a key opponent to the reform because it does not want games now banned, such as Mortal Kombat 9, available at all.
Rob Ward, the lobby’s Victorian director, accused the Classification Board of being ‘‘asleep at the wheel’’ in rating some of the more violent games MA15+. ‘‘But that’s not a reason to create an R18+ category,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s a reason to clip them behind the ear.’’
Mr O’Connor recently told the ABC that leaving the system in its current form was ‘‘not fair on adults in this country, the tens and tens of thousands who play video games’’.