Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee; Report
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I present the committee's advisory reports, together with the minutes of proceedings on the following bills—the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012 and the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill 2011—together with the evidence received by the committee.
In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.
by leave—I rise today to present two advisory reports on behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. The first is for the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. This bill proposes to introduce an R18+ category to the classification system for computer games. At present, computer games are classified G, PG, M, or MA15+ or they are refused classification and are prohibited. The bill would introduce the R18+ category—which currently applies to films—for computer games so that computer games that are deemed to be acceptable for adults only can now receive a classification rating. The new R18+ category for computer games would be treated in the same way as other restricted classification categories with respect to restricted decisions and the provision of consumer advice by the Classification Board. A consequential amendment to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 is proposed to recognise the new R18+ classification for computer games for broadcast content consisting of computer games.
The committee noted that extensive public consultation has been undertaken—and my very informed constituents have certainly spoken to me loudly and clearly. A discussion paper issued by the Attorney-General's Department on the introduction of an R18+ category for computer games received almost 60,000 submissions—gamers are not Luddites. Therefore in the committee's view additional consultation in the form of submissions and public hearings is not necessary. The committee recommends that the bill be passed by the House of Representatives without amendment; I repeat that it is without any amendment. So, and I have always wanted to say this, let the games begin.
I also present the committee's advisory report on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill. This bill comprises eight schedules. The committee recommends that schedules 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 pass without amendment. These schedules relate to forensic procedures; things seized by the Australian Crime Commission; the powers of the Australian Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner; illicit substances; court orders and 'authorised officers'. However, the cross-party committee has made comments and recommendations for the other three schedules, and as the chair I will speak about these briefly.
Schedule 8 relates to state and territory fine enforcement agencies and proposes to allow such agencies to take non-judicial enforcement action to enforce Commonwealth fines without first obtaining a court order. The committee supports the reforms, but is concerned with their retrospective application. Retrospectivity is abhorrent for every lawyer and all of the members of my committee. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Minister for Justice provide a detailed explanation to the House regarding the need for retrospective application. However, the committee is most concerned about schedules 2 and 7. Schedule 2 relates to the information-sharing powers of the Australian Crime Commission. Significantly, the amendments in schedule 2 propose to grant the Australian Crime Commission powers to share information with the private sector. Through our inquiry the committee recognises the need for these increased powers but is particularly concerned that the safeguards currently contained in the bill are inadequate. It therefore recommends amendments which will strengthen these safeguards. Indeed, in recent years, the scope of powers awarded to law enforcement agencies has widened considerably. Thus, the committee recommends that an audit or a stocktake be conducted to ensure such powers are being used appropriately and that the need for the law persists and is readily defensible.
Schedule 7 relates to parole, licence and supervision periods for federal offenders. Importantly, the amendments aim to abolish automatic parole. The committee supports the reform but has grave concerns again about the retrospective application of the amendments. This would be an unfair impost on and a dashing of hope for many people. The committee therefore unanimously recommends that the amendments apply only prospectively. Further, the committee is concerned that federal parole decisions are made at the discretion of the Attorney-General. In other jurisdictions, like state ones, parole decisions are made by a judicial officer or a board rather than by the executive arm of government. Thus, the committee strongly recommends that the Australian government give further consideration to establishing a federal parole board.
I thank the committee for its work in considering these bills and I commend both reports to the House.