Existing agencies

14.4 The operation of the existing National Classification Scheme involves a number of Commonwealth agencies, as well as state and territory law enforcement and other bodies. These agencies and their roles in regulation of the classification system are briefly described below. For this purpose, ‘regulation’ of the classification system is used broadly to refer to classification decision-making, administrative and policy functions, as well as to encouraging, monitoring and enforcing compliance with classification laws.

Attorney-General’s Department

14.5 The AGD is responsible for administering the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) and dealing with classification matters (an element of which is ‘censorship’)[2] including:

  • the development of Commonwealth classification policy and advising on legal matters related to the National Classification Scheme;
  • providing Secretariat support to the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board;
  • providing classification training; and
  • administering the Classification Liaison Scheme.[3]

Classification Board and Classification Review Board

14.6 The Classification Board is responsible for classifying publications, films and computer games. The Classification Review Board reviews Classification Board decisions on application. Both Boards are independent statutory bodies established under the Classification Act.

14.7 The Classification Board classifies content, submitted by the ACMA for the purposes of online content regulation under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth). The television industry also makes use of Classification Board reports to classify content under Broadcasting Services Act codes.[4]

14.8 As discussed in Chapter 7, the Director of the Classification Board also has a role in relation to authorised industry-based assessors.[5] The Board authorises industry assessors; revokes such authorisations; and approves classification training for assessors.[6]

14.9 Under the existing Commonwealth, state and territory classification cooperative scheme, neither the AGD nor the Boards have power to enforce classification laws. As discussed in Chapter 16, the enforcement of classification laws is primarily the responsibility of states and territories. However, the Australian Government provides assistance in relation to enforcement, through the operation of the Classification Liaison Scheme, which monitors and verifies compliance with classification laws and refers breaches to state and territory police or other agencies.

Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

14.10 The DBCDE is responsible for dealing with ‘content policy relating to the information economy’,[7] and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for administering the Broadcasting Services Act.

Australian Communications and Media Authority

14.11 The ACMA is a statutory agency within the portfolio of the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Among its many activities relating to communications and media, the ACMA is responsible for regulation of online content.

14.12 The ACMA administers the co-regulatory arrangements for online content regulation under schs 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act. The role and functions of the ACMA include:

  • Investigation of complaints about online content;
  • Encouraging the development of codes of practice for the online content service provider industries as well as registering, and monitoring compliance with such codes;
  • Providing advice and information to the community about online safety issues, especially those relating to children’s use of the internet and mobile phones;
  • Undertaking research into internet and mobile phone usage issues and informing itself and the Minister of relevant trends;
  • Liaising with relevant overseas bodies.[8]

14.13 In performing this role, the ACMA is guided by statutory objects and statements of regulatory policy set out in the Broadcasting Services Act including, for example, to ensure online content service providers ‘respect community standards in relation to content’, while not imposing ‘unnecessary financial and administrative burdens’ on industry.[9]

14.14 In exercising its enforcement powers, the ACMA must also have regard to its enforcement guidelines, which are formulated by the ACMA under the Broadcasting Services Act.[10]

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

14.15 The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs) administers import and export controls on ‘objectionable’ material at the border. The definitions of ‘objectionable material’ in the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth) and Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 (Cth) (the Customs Regulations) substantially mirror the definition of Refused Classification material in the National Classification Code.

14.16 The AGD provides information and assistance to Customs in relation to assessing whether material is objectionable.[11] There is also an administrative agreement between the agencies that outlines their respective roles and responsibilities.[12]

14.17 The Director and Deputy Director of the Classification Board are authorised to grant requests for permission to import or export goods to which the Customs Regulations apply.[13]

14.18 The role of Customs in this area has been described as providing ‘a dedicated border control that also covers material that may not be intended for commercial use’.[14] This is in contrast with classification, which is generally not done ‘for the purpose of controlling what a person is able to have in his or her own home’.[15]

14.19 The ALRC envisages that responsibilities related to controls over the importation of ‘objectionable’ materials would remain with Customs, and the Director and Deputy Director of the Classification Board, supported by the Regulator.

[2]Administrative Arrangements Order 2010 (Cth).

[3] Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, What Happened to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OLFC)? <http://www.ag.gov.au/www/cob/classification.nsf/> at 8 September 2011.

[4] Television classifiers periodically request classification decision reports from the Classification Board which are subsequently used to inform their classification decisions. In the period from 3 November 2010 to 28 November 2011, the Board provided 1,327 reports to classifiers from the commercial, national and subscription broadcasters.

[5]Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) ss 14, 14B, 17.

[6] Ibid ss 22D, 22E; Classification (Authorised Television Series Assessor Scheme) Determination 2008 ss 4, 5; Classification (Advertising of Unclassified Films and Computer Games Scheme) Determination 2009 sch 2, [2.1].

[7]Administrative Arrangements Order 2010 (Cth).

[8] Australian Communications and Media Authority, Online Regulation <http://www.acma.gov.au/> at 31 January 2012.

[9]Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) ss 3, 4.

[10] Ibid s 215. See Ch 16.

[11] Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Submission to Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the Australian Film and Literature Classification Scheme, 25 February 2011.

[12] Ibid.

[13]Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth) reg 4A(2A); Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 (Cth) reg 3(3).

[14] Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Submission to Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the Australian Film and Literature Classification Scheme, 25 February 2011.

[15] Australian Law Reform Commission, Censorship Procedure, ALRC Report 55 (1991), [5.16].