The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) met on Friday, with the creation of an R-18+ category for computer games a top agenda item. Because changes to the classification code require unanimous agreement by all states and the Commonwealth, this is the body where the games reform is going to live or die.
With the commonwealth government strongly behind the reform, there was almost feverish excitement amongst gamers that the AGs would finally get this over and done with. Michael Atkinson, former South Australian Attorney-General, almost single-handedly stalled reform in this area for years, but his departure at the last S.A. election also raised hopes that the stars had finally aligned and Australia would join the rest of the developed world in allowing adults to play games designed for them.
As you probably know by now, there's been no such luck. Although we haven't been able to find out the exact details, it appears that once again one or two of the state AGs have decided to prevent things moving forward. Comments by the WA Attorney General, Christian Porter, strongly indicate that he at least was not ready to push forward with reform. So the outcome of Friday's meeting was a "no" - but it might still be a "no, not yet."
What SCAG did agree to was to make an inquiry into possible changes to the MA-15+ category that would be necessitated by an R-18+ rating. Some of the recent debate has been around the fact that games that would otherwise be rated R-18+ are slipping into the MA-15+ category to avoid being banned, so this might be the reason for the decision. More likely, in our view, is that was all the committee could agree to do on the day. But it does mean the debate is not over.
Reports from the day indicate that the AGs continued to be lobbied by the Australian Christian Lobby and were shown footage of the most violent games on the market today. It's a shame that the focus of the debate appears to still be on whether violent games are ugly, and not whether they can be better restricted to those who are old enough to decide to play them.
This was a very disappointing result after three years of extensive research, consultation and lobbying. But we know the issue will be back on the agenda in the first half of next year, probably in March. There's still time to ratchet up the pressure and get the states to see the light. We'll be launching a campaign in the new year to help focus this pressure in the places, and on the people, where we think it will be most effective.
In the meantime, there's been a bit of good news. The Western Australian Liberal Party State Council has already passed a motion calling on Porter to support the R-18+ reform in the future. Perhaps there's hope that the recalcitrants really can be brought into line by a bit of gentle pressure from all directions.
On behalf of EFA I had a bit of a debate on-air with the Australian Christian Lobby's Jim Wallace on this subject on Friday night. If you'd like to have a listen, download the audio here.