The peak body protecting and promoting the Australian visual arts sector

Classification of Artwork

Currently in Australia visual artworks are not required to be classified unless they are videos or video games, films or certain publications. However, there are times when artists will seek classification in order to avoid potential problems with censorship.

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The Australian Classification system is applied through the Classification Board. It is a statutory body formed by the Australian Government which classifies films, video games and publications for exhibition, sale or hire in Australia.

NAVA supports the current Classification Code which determines that

decisions are made on the basis that:

  • adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want;
  • minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;
  • everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;
  • the need to take account of community concerns about:

(i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and

(ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

In early 2011 a Senate Committee Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme considered a proposal that all works of art should be subject to classification.

NAVA opposed this proposal as an unnecessary and extreme measure and made a presentation at the public hearing of the Inquiry emphasising the importance of artistic freedom of expression and the constraints such classification could place on artists.

Meanwhile, the then Attorney-General Robert McClelland asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to conduct a review of the National Classification Scheme, the first of its kind in 15 years.

As a precursor to the review, the ALRC released an issues paper, which posed a series of questions relating to what content should be classified and how the classifications should be regulated. Of particular pertinence to the visual arts sector were questions about whether it was appropriate and feasible to extend the existing classification system to apply to art works, in all of their forms, before they are exhibited.

The ALRC review recommendations were formally considered by the Federal Government. It was decided not to expand the scope of the Classification system to include artworks.

However, the National Classification Board will continue to undertake assessments of artworks if asked (as in the Bill Henson case). If the work is given a Refused Classification rating, the work is not able to be publicly shown. Other ratings may require certain restraints to be exercised to prevent access by people in certain age categories.

Read the ALRC’s National Classification Scheme Review outcomes

Classification of Artwork