10.117 The ALRC recommends that mandatory access restrictions should no longer apply to content that has been, or is likely to be, classified MA 15+. Currently, MA 15+ is a classification to which certain restrictions apply, but restrictions vary considerably between platforms and jurisdictions. For example:
- MA 15+ television programs may only be shown on commercial free-to-air television after 9pm, but may be shown on subscription television at any time;
- MA 15+ films and computer games may not be sold or hired to persons under 15, unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian;
- MA 15+ content online and hosted in Australia must generally be subject to a restricted access system if it is provided by a commercial or mobile premium service; and
- cinemas must not permit persons under 15 to watch an MA 15+ film unless the minor is with a parent or guardian (precise restrictions vary between states).
10.118 With respect to MA 15+ material, the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games state the following:
- The impact of material classified MA 15+ should be no higher than strong.
- Material classified MA 15+ is considered unsuitable for persons under 15 years of age. It is a legally restricted category.
- The treatment of strong themes should be justified by context.
- Violence should be justified by context.
- Sexual violence may be implied, if justified by context.
- Sexual activity may be implied.
- Strong coarse language may be used.
- Aggressive or very strong coarse language should be infrequent.
- Drug use should be justified by context.
- Nudity should be justified by context.
10.119 Preventing persons under the age of 15 from accessing MA 15+ films and computer games is problematic offline and near impossible online. The existing laws that endeavour to restrict online access to MA 15+ content are widely seen as ineffective and unenforceable. The classification symbols and warnings may serve a useful purpose as consumer advice, but arguably there is little or no further practical benefit in legal access restrictions for this content, particularly online. Few countries impose mandatory access restrictions on content at the MA 15+ level.
10.120 The ALRC’s proposal to remove mandatory access restrictions on MA 15+ media content received broad support. However, some were opposed to the proposal. The Classification Board stressed that the impact of MA 15+ content is strong and not suitable for persons under 15 years of age:
How is the proposed change to remove mandatory access restrictions to MA 15+ content reconciled under the Guiding Principle of ‘Children should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them?’, and would this meet community expectations?
10.121 FamilyVoice Australia said that such a changewould be a ‘significant reduction in the protection of children aged less than 15 from unsuitable material’:
The current National Classification Scheme recognises that there is a development in children’s capacity to appropriately deal with exposure to media content with elements such as sex, violence, drug use and adult themes. … Removing these legal restrictions would mean that children of any age could legally be sold videos or computer games classified MA15+ without any parental involvement.
10.122 The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) was also ‘concerned that the impact of content classified within the current MA 15+ guidelines may warrant legal restrictions on access’. The ACCG also submitted that the R 18+ classification is a high threshold, and there is ‘a considerable amount of content with strong themes not appropriate for children in categories below the R 18+ classification’. Voluntary restrictions are ‘potentially unrealistic and unworkable in the long term’, and if mandatory access restrictions on MA 15+ content are removed, then the classification guidelines should be reviewed, so that some content now classified MA 15+ would instead be classified R 18+.
10.123 Stakeholders held differing views on whether the effectiveness of restricting access on one platform should affect whether access should be restricted on other platforms. The Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia submitted that ‘restrictions which are unenforceable in other environments should not be imposed on cinema management and staff’. On the other hand, it was argued that the ineffectiveness of restrictions online does not justify removing access restrictions that work in ‘cinemas and shops in the streets who can see their customers and estimate the age of unaccompanied children’.
10.124 The ALRC’s recommendation on this point does not imply that MA 15+ content is suitable for persons under 15. In fact, in the ALRC’s view, some content providers should continue to refuse to sell these films and computer games to young unaccompanied minors, even if they are not required by law to do so. Voluntary restrictions on MA 15+ content may be set out in industry codes of practice. There are also arguments for imposing time-zone restrictions on the delivery of MA 15+ content.
10.125 It might also be noted that if it is too difficult or costly for content providers to take steps to restrict access to strong content to persons over the age of 15, but it is possible to take steps to restrict access to persons over 18, then perhaps rather than remove restrictions entirely from MA 15+ content, the content should be restricted to persons over 18. This would involve reviewing classification criteria to consider whether some content that would now be MA 15+ should instead be R 18+.
Recommendation 10–4 The Classification of Media Content Act should not require access restrictions on MA 15+ media content. Voluntary access restrictions on MA 15+ content should be developed under industry codes, for example, for cinemas and retail outlets.
Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) s 123(3A).
 Eg, Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Act 1995 (NSW) ss 9(4), 30(2); Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Act 1995 (Vic) ss 20(5), 42(2).
Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) sch 7 s 20.
 Eg, Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Act 1995 (NSW) s 13(1); Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Act 1995 (Vic) s 14(1).
Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games (Cth).
 Eg, I Graham, Submission CI 1244.
 Proposed in the Discussion Paper: Australian Law Reform Commission, National Classification Scheme Review, ALRC Discussion Paper 77 (2011), Proposal 8–3.
 Eg, Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, Submission CI 2513; National Association of Cinema Operators – Australasia, Submission CI 2514; Google, Submission CI 2512; Arts Law Centre of Australia, Submission CI 2490; Foxtel, Submission CI 2497; J Denham, Submission CI 2464; Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Submission CI 2470; Telstra, Submission CI 2469; D Henselin, Submission CI 2473.
 Classification Board, Submission CI 2485.
FamilyVoice Australia, Submission CI 2509.
 Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians, Submission CI 2499.
 Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, Submission CI 2513.
 I Graham, Submission CI 2507.
 Time-zone restrictions are discussed in Ch 8.