Some films released in New Zealand after being given M ratings by Australian censors are too violent and should probably have R16 ratings, says the chief censor, Bill Hastings.
He said his office did not consider films rated G (general release), PG (parental guidance recommended) or M (for mature audiences). These were released using their Australian classifications, he told Parliament's government administration committee.
National MP Sandra Goudie said she understood Australian censors were more liberal, and asked if this was an issue.
Mr Hastings said he shared her concern, particularly in relation to films rated M.
"It strikes me - we have not done a study on it - at the M level we are seeing more violence from Australia than we would allow at the New Zealand level - it's almost R16 level."
Any change to the way these films were rated would require a change to the legislation, he said.
List MP Dover Samuels asked Mr Hastings if there was a need for the censor's office, given the "carte blanche" access to pornographic and paedophiliac material on the internet.
"Going through this classification process is really window dressing. The whole issue of censorship has become ineffective when you see the material that is now available."
Mr Hastings said that in an ideal world there might be no need for censorship, but in the present climate, there was.
He agreed tackling objectionable material on the internet was difficult, and said one of the office's primary roles was educating parents, schools and people responsible for renting videos, DVDs and computer games of their obligations to keep restricted material from young people.
"You can't be there at the end of every phone line, in every bedroom in the nation."
The office was trying to arm parents with the right information, making them aware that much of this material was damaging - "getting them to realise when we give a game an R18 rating, it means exactly the same as when we make a film R18."
Initiatives included a flyer sent to every place in the country where games and films could be rented to remind them of their responsibilities.
Mr Samuels asked if it was difficult to classify material given the subjectivity of moral judgment.
Mr Hastings said the office's role was to classify material that was brought to it, often by law enforcement agencies such as the police, Customs and Department of Internal Affairs.
The classification process was based on the law, which was very specific.
"I don't think the law needs changing, what it might need is more enforcement which comes down to resources."
Mr Samuels asked if banning something or rating it 18 simply made it more attractive to people who would make an extra effort to get hold of it.
Mr Hastings said there was a small group who would always want the unobtainable, but the office had to balance that with the need to give the public information that would help people make informed choices.
He said a survey done by the office had shown that more than 90 per cent of parents did find the classifications useful when choosing films and games for their children.