Page 674 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 8 March 2005

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The national classification code has some underlying principles, which I am sure all members would agree with: fundamentally, that adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want; that minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them; and that everyone really should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material they find offensive. There is also, of course, the need to take into account community concerns about depictions that condone or incite violence, especially sexual violence, and also films or material that might portray people in a demeaning manner. Other states have already made these amendments, or are in the process of making them, as has, of course, the commonwealth.

I think it is important to have national legislation such as this. I was pleased to see, in 2003, computer games also included for classification. I think the highest classification for those is a sensible one. It will mean that, unlike some films where you have classifications for audiences over 18, you will not get that in computer games. I think that is a sensible safeguard. I believe there is an MA 15+ classification for computer games and, whilst that is a relatively high one, I think the reason for that is the recognition that minors, especially, might be able to play computer games when the adults might not necessarily know they are doing so. So it is important to ensure that computer games are perhaps a little bit more regulated than films.

The scrutiny of bills committee has made a number of comments in relation to this, which I commend to members, setting out the various positions, given the fact that we also have a duty now to the Assembly in relation to section 38 of the Human Rights Act. Late last night I received a copy, and have now received an original, of the Attorney-General’s comments in relation to the scrutiny report, and I thank him for that. Members hopefully will have read the scrutiny report by now. I think it provides helpful insight into the scrutiny issues in relation to this important bill. This is a vexed issue. There are probably still a number of people in our community who would wish classifications to go further, whilst there would certainly be a number of people who do not want that. It is a question of balancing rights. The opposition is happy to support the national approach taken by all states and territories, which this bill replicates.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (10.37): This bill provides for the enforcement of a national classification scheme for publications, films and computer games in the ACT. As the minister said, this bill follows on from the modified classification system, with each state and territory responding appropriately. The explanatory statement for the bill and the scrutiny of bills report discuss the frequent use of strict liability offences and the several absolute liability offences in the bill. I was a bit concerned that the government had not provided a response to the scrutiny of bills report until this morning.

As noted in the report, it would be useful for the explanatory statement to provide reasons for imposing a legal burden of proof on the defendant. The explanatory statement goes into reasons for the use of strict liability offences, but I would like to note our concerns about these provisions. The scrutiny of bills report notes the guidelines from the Senate for use of strict liability. Firstly, it says that strict liability may be appropriate where it is necessary to ensure the integrity of a regulatory regime such as those relating to public health, the environment, or financial or corporate regulation, or where its application is necessary to protect the general revenue. Second, strict liability

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