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National R18+ category to be introduced in Australia

Although Australia's attorneys-general failed to reach consensus at today's standing committee, Australia will introduce an R18+ ratings category at the national level.

Gamespot reports all states bar New South Wales voted in favour of the new category at the quarterly standing committee in Adelaide today.

NSW attorney general Greg Smith abstained from the vote, as he had promised earlier in the week, but said he would make a decision shortly in consultation with the NSW cabinet, which is too newly formed to make an informed decision as yet.

In a press conference following the meeting, minister for home affairs Brendan O'Connor said a historic agreement had been reached, and that an R18+ ratings category could be introduced at a national level.

"We can move forward to introduce R18+ now," he said. "This is a big step forward in the long-running debate on classification of computer games for adults.

"Once introduced, the classification will afford adults the opportunity to view material designed for adults. It is a credit to all jurisdictions that the meeting has now been able to achieve agreement over what is a complex matter in classification policy."

Each of the states is said to have agreed "in principle" to the introduction of the R18+ category, but during the meetings, discussed amendments to the reform guidelines released in May. Some "matters of detail" resulting from this discussion are yet to formally signed off on by cabinets around the country.

Comments from O'Connor and South Australian attorney-general John Rau suggest the amendments came about because individual state cabinets want complete classifications reform, with definite guidelines for content appropriate to each category, avoiding ratings inconsistency.

Rau said he was "delighted" by the outcome, and had supported a national R18+ category all along.

The politician added that the finalised guidelines, once nailed down, would allow parents to judge "with confidence" the content of a game based on the ratings label. He said he would not move on a plan to sticker over MA15+ games with R18+ until national changes had been implemented.

No mention was made of plans to increase parental access to information regarding media ratings, or to enforce age categories at retail.

In the wake of the initial announcement that consensus had not been possible, and the revelation that the R18+ category would go ahead anyway, local social media was dominated by the news, with related hash tags trending strongly on Twitter. Mainstream press has been quick to pick up the story.

Local industry spokespeople are expected to issue statements over the next week. Kicking things off, EA Asia Publishing vice president Mark Bradley said the news was encouraging.

"Australia needs a rating system that recognises that millions of adults play video games," he told Gamespot.

"The current policy of the Australian government forces an arcane censorship on adults who play games - cuts they would never impose on movies, books or other forms of artistic expression. Today's news is encouraging since continued delays in Australia will keep adult consumers waiting for the right to make their own content choices for entertainment, and increase risk of adult content being accessed by minors."

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