Transcript - Press Conference, Sydney

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: The Albanese government is committed to reducing the impacts of gambling-related harms, including in relation to computer games. Yesterday, the States and Territories unanimously agreed to the Commonwealth's proposal to introduce mandatory minimum classifications for gambling-like content in computer games. This is an important step forward in protecting Australians, especially children, from the harms associated with gambling-like content in computer games.

We know there is a growing community concern about children being exposed to gambling-like features in games. Research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found links between these products, problem gambling, and other related harms. We also know that Australians value and rely on the classification scheme to make informed media choices, especially when it comes to what content is appropriate for their kids.

That's why from September next year, the following new classification ratings will apply to computer games. An R18+ restricted classification for games containing simulated gambling, such as social casino games. This rating would legally restrict children accessing these games and make clear that this content is not suitable for persons under the age of 18. And an M-mature advisory classification for games containing in-games purchases linked to elements of chance, including paid loot boxes. This rating will highlight to parents and guardians that there are risks associated with these products to consider, before allowing the children in their care to engage with them. These changes will apply to games that are released from September next year and will not apply retrospectively.

The Australian Government has worked closely with key industry stakeholders and held a three-week public consultation process on the proposed changes earlier this year. The introduction of mandatory minimum classification for gambling like content was recommended in the Neville Stevens Review of the classification scheme, which was provided to the former government in May 2020. The Albanese government is acting on those recommendations.

The changes agreed yesterday by the States and Territories, in fact, go further than what was recommended by Stevens, informed by subsequent research about harms. This is a strong evidence-based approach. A public awareness campaign will support the introduction of the new classifications to promote a greater understanding and awareness of these changes. State and Territory colleagues have also agreed to establish a working group to progress further reforms to modernise the classification scheme. The governance arrangements for the scheme actually haven't been updated since 1995. They effectively predate the internet.

The Albanese Government is starting this important work of updating our classification scheme and bringing it into the digital age. I thank State and Territory colleagues for their constructive engagement, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate as we pursue this work.

As I said, we made these announcements in March this year and released the Stevens Review. In some six months, following public consultation, including with the States and Territories, we are pleased to be able to make this announcement today. These new classification rules complement the Albanese Government's work to reduce the impact of gambling harms in other ways, including the recent introduction of legislation to ban the use of credit cards for online gambling, launching BetStop, the National Self Exclusion Register, and introducing new consumer messaging to replace the ineffective “gamble responsibly” taglines in advertisements. Today's announcement is the latest element in a strong agenda of delivery to reduce the harms caused by gambling, that the Albanese Government continues to pursue.

Before I take questions on this, I would also like to note that there are a number of so-called freedom rallies being conducted this weekend around Australia. Australians should be aware that these rallies are actually being organised by a bloke hiding in the Russian consulate in Sydney. I'd like to draw a clear comparison between the marches and the rallies which took place last weekend, where we saw thousands of Australians joined together to march for Yes. It was a happy, positive weekend. I myself participated in the Sydney rally and can attest to that, but I cannot help but note the contrast. Australians should be aware of who is behind the organisations of these rallies. They should question the motivations in this regard, and they should be invited to contrast this weekend's activities with the positive message displayed last weekend. I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Why was September next year selected as the date and not an earlier date for introducing these reports?

ROWLAND: Following considerable consultation with the industry, this was determined as a suitable time in terms of game development, in terms of various contracts that would need to be concluded, but it was considered to be reasonable in the circumstances. As I noted, this does not apply retrospectively. We need to balance this important area of our creative industry, which is also important for Australian jobs and innovation overall, with the outcomes that we seek to achieve here. It was from this consultation, including with the States and Territories, that we determined that a one-year lead time would be effective.

But again, I do point out, this is also a governance framework that hasn't been meaningfully updated since 1995. We've taken considerable steps in only six months, including releasing and acting on a report which lay dormant under the previous Government. There is a lot more work to do here to update this framework, and we look forward to ongoing consultation and ultimately ensuring that we have a classification framework that is fit for purpose, but also that protects vulnerable Australians from harms.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask about the misinformation bill? Respected organisations and a number of legal experts have raised serious concerns at this point about the drafting of that bill and its impact – potential impact on free speech. Do you need to go back to the drawing board on this one and withdraw this bill entirely, and start again?

ROWLAND: I'm very grateful for the comments that have been received and indeed the thoughtful submissions that have been made by a number of eminent organisations and persons. That was the entire purpose of undertaking an exposure draft process. We always said, from the outset, that it was important to manage and to ensure that we balance certain aspects that we seek to achieve from this, including the fact that we are talking about harmful mis- and disinformation that some 70 per cent of Australians are concerned about; when you consider the scale, speed, and scope, and spread of misinformation and disinformation.

We know that today it is those digital platforms, big tech, that is making decisions every day with a lack of transparency, with a voluntary code which has independently been found to be lacking. We also know that this is a policy that the Morrison Government took to the last election. We're proceeding in a mature and methodical manner to engage with all the submitters who have made drafting suggestions that can be accommodated, to ensure that we get this balance right. So, again, I point out to the fact that there is actually no bill before the Parliament and that a responsible government would pursue this exactly as we have; announcing in January that we would undertake this important work, releasing a draft in June this year, calling for submissions, and then methodically working through those submissions to ensure that we achieve the desired outcomes. Again, I'm grateful to those submitters who have taken the time to make very thoughtful cases, including drafting suggestions. We are working through those and we will do this expeditiously and achieve the outcome that is warranted.

JOURNALIST: How will the restricted access to simulated gambling games be enforced?

ROWLAND: The enforcement mechanisms are indeed something that is also being pursued through agreement with the States and Territories. Currently, enforcement sits with the States and Territories, but again, this has largely, in the past, been a policing matter. So, a physical world where law enforcement personnel could go into a place and undertake that enforcement activity. Most of this, of course, is now occurring online. We have been already engaging with the app providers to ensure that they understand what is required of them within the next twelve months, and we'll continue to pursue this through a constructive engagement.

JOURNALIST: Why not include games with elements like the paid loot boxes in the legally restricted access category?

ROWLAND: We have taken an M-mature advisory classification in this area, and I do note that it actually goes further than was recommended by Stevens, who recommended a PG classification. Based on the evidence, we determined that this was the appropriate classification. It does enable a highlighting of the risks and it also is a relatively lower risk than that which is in the simulating gambling category. We've taken an evidence-based approach here and on balance have determined that this is the appropriate classification, and this has been endorsed by the States and Territories.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a view on former Prime Minister Tony Abbott joining the Fox – or being nominated to join the Fox Corporation Board?

ROWLAND: That's a matter for Mr Abbott and Fox.

JOURNALIST: Minister, thank you. Just wondering your thoughts on the Chinese Ministry of Commerce coming out saying they're prepared to meet Australia halfway on wine tariffs. They'd like to do a package deal, we understand, including the Australian tariffs on Chinese steel. What is the Australian government's position on that?

ROWLAND: I am aware of these reports and as has been stressed in the past by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Trade Minister, we will always pursue what is in the best interests of Australia and, in this case, what is in the best interests of the wine industry. We know that particularly in regional areas, this industry is important for employment, but also those flow on effects to other parts of our economy. So, we will always be guided by the principle of undertaking any agreement in what is the best interest of Australia in all respects.

JOURNALIST: And what about the joining together of those two issues? Is it fair to say it's probably better for the Australian side to deal with those things separately?

ROWLAND: Those judgments are being made by the Trade Minister in consultation with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. But again, any decision in this regard will always be guided by what is in the best interests of the sector.