Censorship in Australia is called classification and material though technically being given an advisory rating can officially be Refused Classification which results in the material being banned. The system also has several levels of "restricted" categories, prohibiting sale, exhibition or use of some materials to those who are under a prescribed age. Censorship of video games and Internet sites hosted in Australia are considered to be the strictest in the western world.
Australia is a commonwealth, and responsibility for censorship is divided between the states and the federal government. Under the Australian Constitution, the Federal Parliament has the power to make laws relating to communications and customs. Under the communications power the federal government can regulate the broadcast media (television and radio), online services (the internet), and under the customs power, the import/export of printed matter, audiovisual recordings and computer games. The production and sale of printed matter, audiovisual recordings and computer games solely within Australia lies with the states.
To reduce duplication and ensure some national consistency, the states, territories and federal government have agreed to establish a co-operative national classification scheme. Under this scheme, the Australian Classification Board (a federal body) classifies works. Federal law enforces these classifications with respect to customs, and online services. (Broadcast media are not under the purview of the Classification Board, but rather a separate federal agency, ACMA.)
Since the federal Parliament has no power to criminalise the domestic sale or exhibition of printed matter within the States, the States and Territories, as part of the scheme, pass their own laws criminalising such sale and exhibition. Although they have delegated their censorship responsibility in general to the Commonwealth, they reserve the legal right in specific cases to either:
- reclassify works,
- prohibit works that the Classification Board has allowed, or
- allow works that the Classification Board has prohibited.
Enforcement of classification laws is through an agreement between the Federal and the eight state and territory governments, so any enforcement requires action by the federal and state police in the arrest and prosecution of anybody violating these laws.
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