Senate debates

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Classification Tools and Other Measures) Bill 2014, Defence Force Retirement Benefits Legislation Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2014; Second Reading

6:18 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


The Classification regime in Australia is complex. The current National Classification Scheme has been in place since 1996 and technology and the sheer volume of content have evolved considerably since then. The current scheme is difficult for the community to understand and even more difficult for industry to comply with. This Bill introduces changes which will provide consumers with more classification information and simplify the scheme by removing complexity and reducing costs for business.

The National Classification Scheme (NCS) is a cooperative scheme under which the Classification Board classifies films, computer games and certain publications. The Scheme is designed to provide consumers with information about publications, films and computer games to allow them to make informed decisions about appropriate entertainment material. It is based on the principle that adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want while recognising that minors should be protected from material likely to harm them and that everyone should be protected from unsolicited offensive material.

Procedures for the classification of publications, films and computer games are set out in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Classification Act). States and Territories are responsible for the enforcement of classification decisions and provisions regulating the sale, demonstration and advertising of this material are contained in State and Territory legislation.

Apart from the introduction of an R 18+ classification for computer games, the National Classification Scheme has not had any significant changes made to it since it was established in 1996. Yet, since its introduction, classifiable content and the way in which it is delivered to consumers has changed dramatically. For example, consumers now have ready access to classifiable content on a variety of platforms, such as the delivery of computer games on mobile and other online devices.

Given these developments in technology, media convergence and the global availability of media content, the National Classification Scheme was reviewed by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in 2011.

The ALRC handed down its report in March 2012 and made 57 recommendations for fundamental changes to the regulatory framework and structure of the Scheme.

Reform of the Scheme is being approached in stages, commencing with a "first tranche" of reforms that was agreed by Classification Ministers at a meeting of the Standing Council on Law and Justice.

The first phase of agreed reforms includes:

            These reforms will deliver benefits to industry including streamlining administrative processes and reducing the regulatory burden whilst ensuring that consumers continue to receive useful and accurate classification information.

            Several of these reforms are particularly significant.

            The first significant reform is the introduction of classification tools. Classification tools, such as online questionnaires, might be developed by Government, industry or other classification bodies overseas. These tools represent an effective and efficient way to classify the significant volume of unclassified online and mobile computer games that is available in the market today.

            Currently, the Classification Board does not have the capacity to classify the vast amount of content that is available on mobile devices and online. As an example, last year the Classification Board made over 6,000 classification decisions across all forms of content. However, the digital market offers hundreds of thousands of computer games to consumers—which presents significant practical, logistical and compliance challenges for the current National Classification Scheme.

            This reform will facilitate innovative and technology-based solutions for classification in line with initiatives being considered elsewhere by classification bodies that are dealing with the same classification difficulties.

            Enabling the use of such instruments will support and complement the work of the Classification Board, provide certainty to industry and increase compliance with Australian classification laws. Most importantly, this reform will mean that the Australian public will have access to more classification information than is possible under the current system.

            There are a number of safeguards built into this reform. For example, a classification tool can only be implemented following its approval by the Minister. In deciding whether to approve a particular tool, the Minister will consider a range of matters including whether it delivers decisions that are consistent with Australian classification requirements. The Bill also provides the Classification Board with the opportunity to classify content even after it has been classified by an approved tool, if it considers that the decision is problematic. As a final protection, if there are concerns about the effectiveness of a classification tool, its approval may be suspended or revoked at any time.

            Another important "first tranche" reform involves changes to the current modification rules. This will reduce the regulatory and financial burden on industry, the theme of today's bills, by removing the need to have classified content classified again when certain modifications are made to the content, providing that the modification does not affect the original classification.

            For example, currently the 2D and 3D versions of the same film must be classified separately (incurring two classification fees) because the format change is considered to be a modification. It will no longer be necessary for both 2D and 3D versions to be classified, where the only difference is the changed format. In these instances both films must carry the classification marking assigned to the original film classified by the Board. Existing safeguards, such as the Classification Board Director's power to call in content, will remain in place. This means that the Director may call in content to be classified by the Board where a modification has changed a product to the extent that it would likely change the classification, and the product is therefore unclassified.

            The third key reform will expand the definition and scope of exempt film categories and streamline exemption arrangements for festivals, special event operators and cultural institutions.

            Many of the existing exempt film categories currently state that a film must "wholly comprise" particular content in order to be exempt from classification requirements. These categories have been expanded to also include films that "mainly comprise" particular content—similar to the New Zealand exempt film categories. Two new exempt film categories have also been added. Broadening the scope of existing exempt film categories to better reflect contemporary film content will improve the utility of these exemptions by accommodating a range of documentary-style content that it is appropriate to exempt.

            The reforms will also simplify exemption arrangements for festivals by establishing a consolidated set of rules in the Commonwealth Classification Act—replacing the convoluted and inconsistent provisions that are currently set out in each State and Territory's classification legislation. Most importantly, the reforms will rationalise the administrative and regulatory requirements for festivals and cultural institutions by removing the mandatory requirement to apply to the Director of the Classification Board for a formal exemption. Instead, exemptions will continue to be available to support the arts and cultural sector but on a self-assessed, deregulated basis.

            Safeguards, similar to those currently in place for festivals, will ensure that the public is being protected—particularly children. For example, exemption conditions will include restrictions on the screening, exhibition or demonstration of unclassified content to particular age-groups if it is strong or high in impact; require that patrons be provided with warnings about the content that they are about to see and prohibit content likely to be X 18+ or Refused Classification. Training and registration facilities will be established to support Officers of the Classification Liaison Scheme who will monitor the operation of the reformed arrangements as part of their routine compliance and educational activities.

            This Bill also makes a number of minor and technical amendments to the Classification Act to improve the clarity of certain provisions, address legislative anomalies and enhance the administrative efficiency of the National Classification Scheme.

            For example, amendments will be made to the Classification Act to align the provisions relating to the Authorised Assessors Scheme for Computer Games with the provisions relating to: the Additional Content Assessor Scheme; the Authorised Television Assessor Scheme and the Authorised Advertising Assessor Scheme. These amendments will ensure that there is a consistent approach in the regulation of these assessor schemes.

            In addition, the Bill makes several minor consequential amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

            These reforms represent the first step towards modernising the classification scheme and demonstrate the Government's commitment to a scheme that is better equipped to meet the needs of industry and consumers in the digital age. Consistent with the Government's broader deregulation agenda, these reforms will help to ensure that our classification system continues to be effective, efficient and relevant in the 21st century.


            This Bill gives effect to this Government's election commitment to fairly index Defence Forces Retirement Benefits (DFRB) and Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits (DFRDB) pensions for recipients aged 55 and over from 1 July 2014.

            This legislation amends the Defence Force Retirement Benefits Act 1948 and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973 to deliver the Government's commitment.

            The Government's fair indexation commitment, as reflected in the Bill, addresses a long-standing grievance of the veteran and ex-service community about differing – and inequitable – indexation arrangements that apply to DFRB and DFRDB pensions compared to age and service pensions. The Bill recognises the Government's commitment to ensure that age and service pension indexation arrangements apply to members of the DFRB and DFRDB military superannuation schemes.

            The Government recognises the unique nature of military service. The Government's commitment to address this long-standing grievance of the veteran and ex-service community is underpinned by this belief.

            The Bill will also exempt DFRB and DFRDB members from the Division 293 tax for the one-off capitalised value of the benefit improvement relating to past service as at 1 July 2014. This will ensure members with significant past service, but modest superannuation pensions, will not incur a taxation liability resulting from the changes to indexation. However, superannuants on high annual incomes will not be excluded from an ongoing annual liability under this provision.

            The new fairer pension indexation methodology is to apply to DFRB and DFRDB pensions from 1 July 2014. The measures extend fair indexation provisions to invalidity pensions, reversionary pensions and pensions for those associates in receipt of a pension as a result of a family law split, who are aged 55 and over on the current relevant indexation date.

            Under the new fairer indexation methodology – which mirrors the two-step indexation process for age and service pensions – the first step would be to calculate the pension that would result if it were increased in line with the better of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI). Then the second step would be to compare the resulting pension to the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE). If the calculated pension is greater than the specified floor percentage (27.7% of MTAWE for the single pension), then no further adjustment is made. If the resultant pension is less than the floor percentage of MTAWE, it is increased so that it equals the floor percentage of MTAWE.

            It is important to note that the new fairer indexation methodology will not result in a DFRB or DFRDB pension that is currently less than the MTAWE floor percentage increasing to the floor percentage (and conversely, that a pension that is currently in excess of the floor percentage reducing to the floor percentage). The proposed changes will have an immediate impact on some 45,000 current DFRB and DFRDB pensioners where the originally entitled member was aged 55 or over at 1 July 2014.

            This Bill gives effect to many years of advocacy by this Government for fair indexation of DFRB and DFRDB superannuants and their families. It delivers a key election commitment and addresses a long-standing grievance of the veteran and ex-service community.

            This Bill recognises the unique nature of military service and ensures that recipients of DFRB and DFRDB pensions have their pensions indexed in the same way as age and service pension are indexed.

            I commend the Bill.

            Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to 13 May 2014, in accordance with standing order 111.

            Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.


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