Existing agencies

12.4 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 decision-making, administrative and policy functions, as well as to encouraging, monitoring and enforcing compliance with classification laws.

Attorney-General’s Department

12.5 The Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for dealing with ‘censorship’ matters[1] and the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice for administering the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth). The Classification Branch is responsible for:

  • providing administrative support to the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board

  • assisting with the development of Classification policy and advising on legal matters related to the National Classification Scheme

  • providing classification training, and

  • administering the Classification Liaison Scheme.[2]

Classification Board and Classification Review Board

12.6 The Classification Board is responsible for classifying publications, films and computer games. The Classification Review Broad reviews Classification Board decisions on application. Both Boards are independent statutory bodies established under the Classification Act. As discussed in Chapter 7, the Director of the Classification Board also has a role in relation to authorised industry-based assessors.[3] This role includes authorising industry assessors; revoking such authorisations; and approving and providing training to assessors.[4]

12.7 Under the classification cooperative scheme, neither the Attorney-General’s Department nor the Boards have power to enforce classification laws. As discussed in Chapter 14, the enforcement of classification laws is primarily the responsibility of states and territories. However, the Australian Government provides some assistance in relation to enforcement, through the operation of the Classification Liaison Scheme, which verifies compliance with classification laws and refers breaches to state and territory police or other agencies.

Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

12.8 The Australian Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) is responsible for dealing with ‘content policy relating to the information economy’[5] and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for administering the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth).

Australian Communications and Media Authority

12.9 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 internet content.[6]

12.10 The ACMA administers 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.[7]

12.11 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.[8]

12.12 In exercising its enforcement powers, the ACMA must have regard to its enforcement guidelines, which are formulated by the ACMA under s 215 of the Broadcasting Services Act. In the enforcement guidelines, the ACMA recognises that co-regulatory arrangements apply to some industry sectors and states that the guidelines ‘will operate in that context when those arrangements apply’.[9] For example, the guidelines set out how the ACMA will exercise its discretion to accept written undertakings given by a person that the person will take specified action to comply with an industry code.[10]

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

12.13 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) substantially mirror the definition of RC material in the National Classification Code.

12.14 The Attorney-General’s Department provides information and assistance to Customs in relation to assessing whether material is objectionable.[11] There is also an administrative agreement between the parties that outlines their respective roles and responsibilities.[12]

12.15 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’.[13] 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’.[14]

[1] Administrative Arrangements Order 2010 (Cth).

[2] 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.

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

[4] See 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].

[5] Administrative Arrangements Order 2010 (Cth).

[6] Australian Communications and Media Authority, How regulation works <http://www.acma.gov.au/
WEB/STANDARD/pc=PUB_HOW_DIR> at 11 September 2011.

[7] Australian Communications and Media Authority, Online Regulation <http://www.acma.gov.au/
scripts/nc.dll?WEB/STANDARD/1001/pc=PC_90169> at 11 September 2011.

[8] Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) ss 3–4.

[9] Guidelines Relating to the ACMA’s Enforcement Powers under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 2011 (Cth) cl 6.1.

[10] Ibid cls 9.6, 9.7, 9.10, 9.11.

[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] Ibid.

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