Labor has criticised the timing of a pre-election announcement on plans to change the classification of video games with loot boxes.
Among the potential changes, announced by the Coalition government are the restrictions around ‘loot boxes’, which are in-game mystery boxes with items that can be collected and used in games. The proposed changes would include a minimum classification rating for games that simulate gambling.
The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said on Wednesday, re-elected Coalition government would update Australia’s classification code which, apart from allowing R-ratings for video games in 2013, has not been updated since the VHS era.
Other content that would also be addressed includes content that sexualises children or depicts suicide or violence against women.
Game developers say they were not consulted before the Coalition announced plans to change the classification of video games.
“The government’s priority is keeping Australians safe online, so having clearer advice alerting parents and other consumers to the presence of in-game purchases, such as loot boxes, will help them manage their and their children’s engagement with this content,” Fletcher said.
“This isn’t about banning or censoring content: it’s about ensuring families can make more informed choices.”
In 2019, the Federal Government undertook a broad-ranging classification system review, with submissions open until Feb 2020.
The Government has yet to respond to the submission, despite bringing in the Online Safety Act in two years.
Ron Curry, the CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, said the organisation had worked closely with the Coalition government on the 2019 review and was still waiting to see the results.
“We would like to note though, that this is a cooperative scheme and any government would need agreement from each of the states and territories before changes can be made,” he said. “It is not a unilateral decision of the federal government.”
Fletcher said the changes would be informed by “consultation with families and communities, experts in fields relating to child wellbeing, industry and other key stakeholders, and state and territory ministers, as required under the National Classification Scheme.”
Michelle Rowland, Labor’s shadow minister for communications, said the announcement showed the government wasn’t serious about protecting consumers, or it would not have sat on the classification review for two years or “waited until the eve of an election” to make the announcement.
“The review of the classification scheme … has not been released or responded to by the Morrison government, some two years later,” she said.
“Australians and their families rely on classification ratings to inform choices about them and those in their care watch, read and play.
“Under Scott Morrison, work to ensure the scheme reflects modern content and delivery platforms has fallen hopelessly behind and simply has not been completed.”