Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Amendment Bill 2015

Mr BROOKS (Bundoora) — It is a pleasure to join the debate on this very important piece of legislation. The bill before the house makes changes to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Act 1995. As previous figures have mentioned, it makes a series of amendments to bring the Victorian legislation into line with the national legislation, which is the instrument under which the national classification scheme operates. Of course there is a cooperative arrangement between the states and the commonwealth in this area, and for obvious reasons it needs a national approach. These arrangements are obviously very worthy of support, and it is good to see that all members of this house who have spoken on this bill have spoken in support of these changes.

I will not go into detail on the changes, but they are important. It was great to hear the member for Eltham speak very eloquently about some of the really important aspects of a strong and fair classification scheme. What I want to focus on is not so much the importance of that scheme, because that is a given, but the area of media content of a whole range of media — videos, images — now available to the Australian community in their homes that sit almost entirely outside of the classification scheme. I understand the intent of the changes to the scheme are to capture more of that content. That is a good thing. An Australian Law Reform Commission report, Classification — Content Regulation and Convergent Media, was the basis of these changes: The title of that report sends a very clear message that it was intended to look at how classification would work better in the era of convergent media.

It is important to recognise, and the report recognises this, that people are accessing so much content that is not classified and people do not have the benefit of the protection of information about the material that they are either about to view or that their children are viewing.

For that reason I think it is important to go back to the very principles behind the reason for a classification system. Why do we have a classification system? If you go back to the 1984 report on the national scheme for classification of publications and videos, it sets out the principles for that scheme, and I think they remain. Even though the media has changed, the principles are still a good starting point for a debate around classification and media content. Those principles were that adults are entitled to read, hear and see what they wish in public and private; that people should not be exposed to unsolicited material offensive to them; and that children must be adequately protected from material likely to harm or disturb them.

Out of those three key areas the one that probably concerns me the most in the current media and technology environment is the last one: that children must be adequately protected from material likely to harm or disturb them. We now have access to things like YouTube, which has more than 1 billion users. Statistics it provides show that the number of hours that people watch YouTube per month is up 50 per cent year on year, so there is staggering growth in the time that people are watching videos online. Three hundred hours of video are uploaded every minute on YouTube and 60 per cent of the views of a video come from outside its home country. This is again a very clear indication that there is a problem around trying to classify a lot of material when the majority of videos uploaded are viewed by people in another country. You have this global movement of media content and there is really no way any more that governments can control their classification or are able to provide information to people on each video or image. Also, half of YouTube videos are viewed on mobile devices.

That takes me to the point I raised earlier about children and protecting them from inappropriate material. Children now have access to material through mobile devices, online and in homes through wi-fi and it has become very difficult for parents to be able to safeguard their children, at a young age in particular, from inappropriate material. There is now a role not just for a classification system but for government, preferably at the national level, to take a leadership role in providing parents in particular with the information, knowledge and tools to better protect their children from inappropriate material.

That might be better information about how to apply settings to various applications; it might be about the sorts of filters that are available to help protect children from inappropriate material; or it might just be educating children and families in particular about safe ways to use the internet and different websites. The days when parents could completely control what their children were exposed to are, I fear, gone, so it is very important that tools are provided to parents and that there is a government organisation that is able to help parents with that.

The obvious body to take up that role is the Australian Communications and Media Authority. It does some of that work but I think it needs to do a lot more. It needs to pick up this issue and run with it or I fear we will have many more children exposed to inappropriate, offensive, violent and explicit material. As I said before, the member for Eltham provided some great examples of why you do not want your children exposed to some of that material.

Unfortunately the Australian Communications and Media Authority is under greater stress than ever before. As opposed to having extra resources to provide better service to the Australian community, it has experienced funding cuts, like a lot of government agencies, by the federal Liberal government over the last few years — $3.3 million over four years has been cut from the authority. It is also losing over 30 staff so it is very difficult for it to do the sort of work we would want it to do — providing people with better information about how to protect their children from the sort of material that can be found online.

As I said, this bill makes some great changes to the classification system. It is a worthy system and one that it is good to see all members of this house support, but there is a huge area that is left unclassified — a huge part of media consumption in people’s homes in particular is left completely unclassified. I think it is important that people are made aware of how to better protect their children from some of the material they do not want them to see, so I commend this bill to the house.