Page 726 - Week 02 - Thursday, 12 February 2009

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Two sets of recent amendments to the commonwealth act required consequential amendments in the states and territories classification legislation: firstly, the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment Act 2007, the first set of amendments; and, secondly, the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Advertising and Other Matters) Act 2008, the second set of amendments. In April 2007 all state and territory censorship ministers agreed in principle to both sets of commonwealth amendments and to amend their corresponding enforcement legislation to reflect those commonwealth amendments.

The first set of amendments integrates the Office of Film and Literature Classification into the commonwealth Attorney General’s Department and makes improvements to the National Classification Scheme to ensure that the scheme adequately keeps abreast of technological changes in the industry. The amendments address industry concerns about the current practice of reclassifying already classified material when modifications, such as subtitles, captioning and navigations menus, are added. The amendments provide for accredited assessors to recommend the classification and consumer advice of the additional content. Reclassification will not be needed in the future for this additional content.

The second set of amendments will enable unclassified films and computer games to be advertised prior to classification, in accordance with specified conditions. Currently, products are only available for classification very close to their release date. This prohibition aims to protect the industry from piracy but restricts its ability to market products effectively. The amendments will allow a new advertising scheme message to be displayed with the product, directing consumers to check the classification.

The proposed amendments were circulated to all ACT government agencies and to film licensees in the territory. Representatives of the ACT X18+ film licensees expressed some concern about the potential impact of amendments on the X18+ industry. The amendments will remove the prohibition on advertising films likely to be classified R18+ but will not affect current arrangements for films likely to be classified X18+. I have met with representatives of the X18+ industry to assure them that the amendments do not affect NCS policy on advertising of X18+ films. An advertising scheme will be developed in early 2009. The states and territories can address the impact of these changes at that time, and the Department of Justice and Community Safety will brief me during that process to ensure that the rights of the ACT industry are preserved.

The proposed amendments do not alter the substantive limits placed on freedom of expression by the current regime for film and literature classification. In principle, they promote free speech by facilitating the modification of already classified material and the advertising of material yet to be classified. Report No 2, made by the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety under section 38 of the Human Rights Act 2004 notes that the penalties in the bill are within the range considered acceptable where there is provision for strict liability. The report also notes that the provisions comply with the Human Rights Act and are not otherwise an undue trespass on personal rights and liberties.

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