‘Guardian visas’ boosting interest among Chinese property buyers

Receiving an Australian education and being near a good school are major drawcards for foreign investors when considering property.

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From July 1, students aged six and above would be able to apply for student visas regardless of their country of citizenship – and their guardians can also apply for Guardian visas (subclass 580). 

Currently, the system assesses applications based on immigration risk and most Chinese students are ranked at level three, the highest risk, requiring the most evidence to support applications.

These visa-rule changes, which were announced during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to China in April, also mean non-residents can buy several new properties or one existing property.

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Dave Platter, from the leading Chinese international-property portal Juwai长沙桑拿按摩论坛, said there has been a nearly 20 per cent jump in inquiries for properties in Australia since Mr Turnbull’s announcement.

He says the portal does not arrange visas, but offers advice about applying. 

“We’re already seeing inquiries about these new visas from Chinese families who want to have their children study here,” he said.

While that may increase demand, Mr Platter said it would also result in the construction of new homes.

“In school catchment areas, where there’s potential for new development, Chinese interest actually increases the supply of housing by making it possible for developers to build new buildings, and that creates new supply, which can help keep prices down,” Mr Platter said.

“The government has done studies on this, and they’ve found that Chinese buyers actually keep prices down by encouraging new supply.”

The visas are valid for two years, and visa holders cannot work, nor apply for different visas while they are in Australia.

This week, New South Wales followed Victoria’s lead to introduce stamp-duty and land-tax surcharges that will add about $50,000 to the average purchase price.

The average house price is already at around $1 million.

Related readingNo guarantee of permanent property ownership

Immigration lawyer Alex Kaufman stresses the scheme was not a gift to rich foreign investors.

“Anyone who’s got an ulterior motive, really, in this space, whether it’s property development or otherwise, property acquisition, will very soon find themselves having to deal with a higher level of scrutiny from the Foreign Investment Review Board,” he said.

“There are other state measures which are designed to perhaps cool (inhibit) entry.”

Mr Kaufman also pointed out that keeping the property permanently would require becoming an Australian citizen.

“It’s not a free pass, if you like, or a ticket to property ownership in perpetuity,” he said.

“You would necessarily need to convert that to permanent residency or citizenship at some stage in order to hang onto that piece of property.”

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Estate agents Vera and Geoffrey Wong have hosted an open home in Sydney’s Eastwood.

Most of their clients are either Chinese or South Korean investors, and Mr Wong says when they were choosing a property, there is no doubt their children’s education is considered most important.

He said buyers are planning purchases that cater for their children’s entire education.

“Schooling … that is – I can’t emphasise it enough – is one of the main factors,” he said.

“Our clients, I would say over 70 per cent, (are looking,) at schooling and the university afterwards.” 

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Court to examine senators’ citizenship

The High Court will sit in judgement over a government senator and two former Greens members over their eligibility to sit in parliament due to citizenship issues.

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As a cloud also hangs over One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, the Senate on Tuesday agreed that the court will look into former minister Matt Canavan and Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam of the Greens, who have resigned their Senate seats.

The court will test their eligibility under section 44 of the constitution, which bans dual citizens from parliament.

Senator Canavan’s mother signed him up to be an Italian resident abroad a decade ago, but he says it was only made known to him after the emergence of issues with the two Greens – who have resigned from parliament.

Attorney-General George Brandis told parliament on Tuesday the government would work to expedite the hearing.

“There is an overriding public interest in resolving the uncertainty around Senator Canavan’s status,” he said.

Senate President Stephen Parry said he had notified the governors of Western Australia and Queensland of the two Greens vacancies.

Senator Canavan, who has stood aside from cabinet but not parliament, told the chamber he would not vote in the Senate until the matter was resolved by the court.

He insisted that until three weeks ago, he had no knowledge or reason to believe he may have been registered as an Italian citizen.

Senator Brandis said the government’s preliminary view was that Senator Canavan was not in breach of the constitution.

The Greens on Tuesday lodged a notice of motion to refer Senator Roberts to the High Court, which is expected to be dealt with in the Senate on Wednesday.

Documents have emerged showing Senator Roberts once was a British citizen.

Senator Roberts and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson have denied on several occasions he ever held British citizenship.

But Buzzfeed has obtained an immigration department document signed by Senator Roberts and dated May 8, 1974, on which the then 19-year-old notes he is a “British UK and Cols (Colonies)” citizen.

The Queensland senator was born in Disergarh, India, in 1955 and his family arrived in Australia in October 1962.

While the documents confirm the Roberts family’s notifications to become citizens were approved by the immigration department, there is no mention of whether the British citizenship was renounced.

Senator Roberts has said he took steps to renounce any “possible” British citizenship before he ran for parliament, but did not receive a letter back from British authorities until December last year.

Senator Brandis told AAP he did not believe there was enough evidence at the moment to support a referral of Senator Roberts to the High Court.

IOOF eyes banks as it looks to expand

Financial services firm IOOF Holdings is on the hunt for acquisitions to add to its growing team of advisers and the billions of dollars it manages.

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IOOF shares rose six per cent to a two-year high of $10.70 after it announced a 16 per cent drop in profit from its continuing operations to $116 million, and steady revenue of $908 million.

The company attracted 33 new advisers in the year to June 30, adding $976 million to its inflows, and its funds under management of $115 billion on June 30 were up $10.8 billion from a year ago.

Managing director Christopher Kelaher said the company hoped to grow that new adviser figure to around 50 over the next six months, counter to the industry trend.

IOOF expects its purchase of National Australia Bank’s National Australia Trustees business to be finalised in the next six months, subject to regulatory approval, and he said the company is looking at further acquisitions.

“It’s fair to say that if you were looking at the universe in the wealth management sector, whether they be banks or otherwise, we would be active in looking at them right now,” Mr Kelaher told AAP.

“At the moment with the negative sentiment on some of the other larger institutions I think we’re in a very good spot.”

IOOF’s annual net profit of $116 million was down 41 per cent on the previous year, when it sold the Perennial Fixed Interest and Perennial Growth Management parts of its business to the Henderson Group.

IOOF FOCUSSED ON GROWTH PROSPECTS

* Profit from continuing operations down 16pct to $116m

* Revenue steady at $908 million

* Final dividend up one cent to 27 cents, fully franked

Transurban to start driverless car trial

Australia’s first trial of driverless vehicles on a toll road in real traffic conditions is set to start later in August on toll road operator Transurban’s Melbourne network.

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Transurban, which operates Melbourne’s CityLink and roads in Sydney, and Brisbane, will also trial driverless vehicles on its roads around Washington in the US.

Chief executive Scott Charlton says the automated vehicles will not be marked but will have a professional driver inside to take control if needed.

The trials will involve a range of automated vehicles operating in peak hour, non-peak times and under all conditions.

“We’ll be testing those (vehicles) in a real-world situation – how they interact with our road and how they interact with drivers,” Mr Charlton said.

“Over the next two decades, you’re going to have the interaction of autonomous vehicles and non-autonomous vehicles.

“So, how is that going to play out?”

Mr Charlton said the automated vehicles are fairly good at reading static signs but have more trouble with electronic LED signs and experience some difficulty in tunnels, where no horizon is visible.

My Charlton said the tests will take place over 18 months.

The trials will assess the driverless vehicles’ level of autonomy, how the roadside interacts with the vehicle and its position, and levels of “platooning” where the vehicles travel within a few centimetres of each other behind a lead vehicle.

Transurban is also trialling mobile GPS tolling technology on 1,000 motorists in Sydney in a bid to make the toll system easier to use and encourage use of toll roads.

The new technology involves a mobile phone app that can be used to track where a vehicle has travelled on toll roads.

The system then relays a message to the driver’s mobile phone outlining payment options.

Palm oil blobs cover Hong Kong beaches

Hong Kong has closed more than a dozen beaches after a palm oil spill washed foul-smelling, Styrofoam-like clumps ashore, the latest major environmental disaster to blight the territory’s waters.

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The Chinese-controlled city closed two more beaches in the south of Hong Kong island on Tuesday, bringing to 13 the total shut since two vessels collided in the Pearl River estuary.

It took two days for mainland Chinese authorities to inform Hong Kong about the collision, the government said. Media said the accident happened on Thursday.

The spill has sparked outrage among some residents and environmentalists and comes just a year after mountains of rubbish washed up on Hong Kong’s beaches, with labels and packaging indicating most of it had come from mainland China.

It also comes at the height of summer, when beaches and outlying islands are packed with daytrippers, campers and holiday makers, especially at weekends.

The Hong Kong government said it had collected 50 tonnes of oil so far, most of it congealed, while workers scooped up 110 bags of palm oil waste on one beach alone on the popular Lamma Island.

Conservation group Sea Shepherd said there had not been a spill on this scale in Hong Kong, as the clumps kept spreading.

The impact on fish farms, helping to meet huge demand in Cantonese restaurants in the densely populated territory, was not immediately clear.

Environmental groups said that oil has seeped up to 10 cm)deep into Hong Kong’s sprawling, sandy beaches making it difficult to clean.

Samantha Lee, conservation manager at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong, said that while palm oil is thought of as non-toxic, it would oxidize under Hong Kong’s hot sun and it was not clear how harmful the new substance would become.

Apart from beaches which have been shut, the rest of Hong Kong’s verdant shoreline is likely to have been impacted with the feeding capabilities of many sea creatures such as barnacles, crabs and shells affected, Lee said.

Hong Kong’s coastal waters and beaches are often strewn with rubbish from mainland China, where some companies discharge waste into the sea to save the cost of proper disposal, according to conservationists.