Michelle Lensink

Classification (Publications, Films And Computer Games) (Parental Guidance) Amendment Bill

This speech is in relation to the Classification (Publications, Films And Computer Games) (Parental Guidance) Amendment Bill which would amend the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:35): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

Read a first time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:36): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill has only four clauses, but I think it is important and symbolic in its intent. It was not my idea but the idea of the YWCA (it was an issue that came up during the election campaign), and a number of candidates in the election addressed a public forum called by the Y and attended by the Hons Gail Gago, Tammy Jennings and Rob Brokenshire. This is one of the issues the Y has been very actively promoting, and we were all asked whether we would support this proposal to introduce a classification for those magazines marketed particularly at girls, but there may be others I am unaware of that are marketed towards boys. On the face of it, I think a number of us have indicated that we would support it because it seems like a sensible suggestion.

A number of websites have been developed and a number of groups that have been formed are concerned about the issue of what has been dubbed the sexualisation of young people at early ages. Part of the problem we have is the influence of various forms of media, including video clips, Facebook and kids accessing things without parental supervision, more than likely because most parents are unaware of the sort of content these children are accessing.

This bill targets magazines not only for so-called tweenies but also for older teenagers to bring in a classification of either PG or M so that it gives some guidance to parents about whether the content is appropriate for children of that age.

Some of the organisations and websites that have taken an interest in this and have promoted the concept of allowing children to be children and enjoy their innocence include Kids Free 2B Kids; Australian Council on Children and the Media, which incorporates Young Media Australia, which I think has been around for some time; sayno4kids.com; and Collective Shout. A number of renowned clinical child and adolescent psychologists who have been on talkback radio and various television programs, including Sunrise, have been warning for some time that normalising sexualised stereotypes of tweens and younger children will lead to increased levels of mental health difficulties in young people, the basic premise being that for children and young people it is not just the exposure to but also the interpretation they take from these images that that is the expectation they ought to have for themselves. So, it really comes down to an issue of self-esteem. The trends are linked to issues such as bullying.

A couple of the psychologists I want to mention are Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, whose website (www.michaelcarr-gregg.com.au) contains a lot of useful information; and Rita Princi. Dr Carr-Gregg postulates that one of the key losses in some contemporary children's development is a narrowing of what he calls the latency period prior to adolescence, which is critical for the development of social and emotional competencies and that, without a robust latency period, a young person's development from childhood to adulthood may mean that they miss out on learning skills and experience in a safe environment, which leads to their being emotionally immature young people who, when they are forced into complex situations, do not necessarily have the ability to make safe choices for themselves.

A public forum was held on 13 May at Walford, under the auspices of Young Media Australia, at which I think some 300 paying attendees listened to a number of guest speakers. Anglican Archbishop Jeffrey Driver spoke about the growing body of evidence that premature sexualisation makes young people more vulnerable to predation (in plain English, grooming by paedophiles). Judy Gayle, the founder of Kids Free 2B Kids, spoke as well and gave a very humorous presentation, dressed in a costume. She decided that the costume, which was made up of garments I think she pinched from children she knew and from her own children, was inappropriate, but she did make her point. Rita Princi is a clinical psychologist who obviously works with children and young people. Professor Elizabeth Hartley is from the School of Law at Flinders University. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, whom I have mentioned, also addressed the meeting.

Returning to the YWCA forum, I certainly stated at that forum that, given that the proposal is aimed at providing targeted consumer information to parents to assist them in making informed choices for their children, I advised that we would be prepared to consider what seems, prima facie, to be a sensible suggestion.

There has also been an inquiry into the whole issue of sexualisation of children by the Senate's Environment, Communication and Arts Committee, which reported in June 2008. The committee made a number of recommendations, and I note that very few of these recommendations have even been responded to. One of the committee's recommendations, at paragraph 4.108, was as follows: The committee recommends that publishers consider providing reader advice, based on the Office for Film and Literature Classification systems of classifications and consumer advice, on magazine covers indicating the presence of material that may be inappropriate for children.

In reaching this conclusion, the committee noted that a recurring theme throughout the report has been that informed and assisted parental choice is the best way to reconcile the principles of freedom of choice on the part of adults and the need to protect children from inappropriate or offensive material.

The committee did make an age-based distinction, namely, that a 12 to 16 year old recommendation was not appropriate, given that children may mature at different rates, and instead recommended in favour of the Office for Film and Literature Classification system. On that office's website is information relating to the Australian government's Attorney-General's Department publication called 'Understanding Classifications (Cinema)'. Many people would be familiar with the classifications; they seem to appear on all sorts of very mundane and different things you can find on free to air or Foxtel. There is a general classification, and I am not proposing to introduce one of those; but there is a PG classification, which states: The content is mild in impact. PG films contain material that a parent or carer might need to explain to younger children.

It goes on to refer to the M classification, as follows:

The content is moderate in impact. M films are not recommended for people aged under 15 as a level of maturity is required. So, it is an advisory classification rather than it being set in stone about a specific age. Just in relation to some technical issues, I am very grateful to parliamentary counsel for bringing me up to speed on how the classifications act operates both in our state and nationally. It is interesting that in South Australia we have reserved our right to make our own classifications, which is rather handy. This segues rather interestingly into some of the discussions that we have been having on particular bills before this place and whether or not it is in our best interests to refer certain powers to other jurisdictions.

Leaving that aside, the bill will amend the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act to include a PG and an M rating for children's magazines. As I have stated, we have our own classifications act, under which the South Australian Classification Council is the relevant statutory body for this purpose, and it reports annually to the Attorney-General on its activities.

Classifications generally at commonwealth and state levels operate in a similar manner in that media is either considered restricted or unrestricted. 'Restricted classification' is a legal definition which indicates that the media concerned—that is, films, computer games and magazines—is suitable for adults only. There is an MA15+ classification, which is also a legally restricted classification, that is, not suitable for people under the age of 15.

'Unrestricted media' currently applies only to films and carries ratings, that is, G, PG and M, as an advisory classification. However, the classification of publications falls into four different types: unrestricted (which is the equivalent to the general category), category 1 restricted, category 2 restricted, or refused classification. States and territories can make further restrictions, and most of those further restrictions relate to categories 1 and 2 classifications, that is, for 18+.

A point to note is that classification boards receive submittable material, which distributors and producers have assumed needs to be assessed for classification as either restricted or unrestricted. Therefore, the vast majority of media items are never actually reviewed, because they do not need to be. That means that the boards are very dependent on complaints, so they will investigate and act only if they receive a complaint. They do not spend time looking for things that ought to be classified and, therefore, pinging people.

The example that was brought before the Senate select committee was the Girlfriend magazine, which has received quite a bit of press. In more recent times, the magazine has tried to make sure that it is doing the right thing, and it has actually engaged Michael Carr-Gregg to provide content for them. However, it is important to note that that particular magazine is marketed or intended for girls who are 15 or 16 and older, yet the magazine itself admitted to the Senate committee that it has girls as young as 11 and 12 forming some 20 per cent of the children who purchase the magazine.

A complaint was made in relation to the sexually explicit section, which is a so-called sealed section which provides advice on sexual activities. The example that was used was the answer to the question, 'Can I perform oral sex if I have braces?' I will just quote from the Senate committee report, because I think it gets to the point that these magazines have been able to get in under the radar because there is no classification for them specifically. The Senate committee report states:

The board has reviewed the content of magazines aimed at teenage girls but did not find it to be in breach of the code. The committee considered parts of the material contained in Girlfriend magazine to be sexually explicit. A number of examples of such material were drawn from a regular sealed section advice column, which I have mentioned. It goes on to say:

Despite the inclusion of such material, the committee heard that children's magazines are not submitted to or otherwise routinely classified by the Classification Board, because they are not 'submittable publications'. Mr McDonald explained that submittable publications are those which contain the following:

 ...depictions or descriptions of sexual matters, drugs, and nudity or violence that are likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult to the extent that the publication should not be sold as an unrestricted publication or is unsuitable for a minor to see or read. I think that is a long-winded way of saying that, if a reasonable adult—whatever that definition might be—would not be offended by reading such a thing, then they are in no position to take action against that particular content in that particular publication. The committee report continues:

Using the example of nudity, Mr McDonald explained that the content and purpose for which material is presented are important considerations in determining whether or not material is regarded as offensive and is thus submittable for the purposes of the Classification Act: [Nudity] is of itself not necessarily offensive...It is the way in which nudity is treated in publications that the guidelines in the act, in particular, require us to take account of. The way in which information is presented will be very important to the way that the judgment is made about the material. If it is not presented in a way that is gratuitously offensive, then it is simply information.

The importance of context and purpose thus means that the classification scheme does not prevent the exploration of strong themes or controversial views on issues such as 'child sexual abuse' or 'children's sexuality'.

I trust that that explains some of the technicalities of the bill, notwithstanding that it is a very small bill.

I flag for the chamber that I may seek to amend clause 4, which prescribes the information about what the markings recommend, so that it can more closely mirror the film classifications at a national level and take it on advice, given that the Senate committee specifically recommended against an age-related classification and that it have a slightly broader explanatory approach. With those words, I commend the bill to the council. I thank the Hon. Mr Hood and look forward to other members' contributions.

 Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.

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