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Australian News

New section to test values


The Australian citizenship test will be updated for the first time in more than a decade to include a section on Australian values.

In the new test, would-be Aussies will be asked things like: “Should people in Australia make an effort to learn English?” and “In Australia, do religious laws override Australian law?”

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said he wanted would-be citizens to have a better understanding of the nation’s values before they were declared Australian.

“The updated citizenship test will have new and more meaningful questions that require potential citizens to understand and commit to our values like freedom of speech, mutual respect, equality of opportunity, the importance of democracy and the rule of law,” he said.

“We are asking those who apply for citizenship to understand our values more deeply before they make the ultimate commitment to our nation.”

The updated citizenship test will have 20 multiple-choice questions, including five questions on Australian values.

Applicants will be required to correctly answer all five of the questions on Australian values, with a mark of at least 75 per cent overall, to pass the test.

There will be no changes to the English language or residency requirements for citizenship.

EXAMPLE QUESTIONS

– Why is it important that all Australian citizens vote to elect the state and federal parliament?

– Should people in Australia make an effort to learn English?

– In Australia, can you encourage violence against a person or group of people if you have been insulted?

– Should people tolerate one another where they find that they disagree?

– In Australia, are people free to choose who they marry or not marry?

– In Australia, is it acceptable for a husband to be violent towards his wife if she has disobeyed or disrespected him?

– In Australia, do religious laws override Australian law?

– Do you agree that men and women should be provided equality of opportunity when pursuing their goals and interests?

– Should people’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression be respected in Australia?

The change to the citizenship test is being announced on Thursday to coincide with Australian Citizenship Day, when more than 2500 people will become citizens at more than 100 ceremonies across the country.

Since March 31, despite the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 85,000 people have become Australian citizens in online ceremonies, and testing has now resumed in all states and territories across Australia except Victoria.

While changes to the citizenship test won’t come into effect until November 15, new visa and citizenship applicants will be required to affirm the new Australian Values Statement from October 30.

The statement has been amended to better reflect the rule of law, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association and equality of opportunity for everyone in Australia.



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Business

Values diverge for Australia’s property trusts


After a recent rally which followed shopping centre malls reopening and strong sales as shoppers flocked back, retail trusts have faded again on the ASX.

Preliminary valuations for one of the country’s largest retail landlords Vicinity Centres indicate a hit to book values of between 11 to 13 per cent, or $1.8 billion to $2.1 billion.

COVID-19 just accelerates the structural de-rating of malls and rents to more sustainable levels.

Jefferies head of real estate, Sholto Maconochie

Vicinity chief executive Grant Kelley reacted to the uncertainty earlier this month by taking “decisive action,” launching a $1.4 billion capital raising to preserve the group’s balance sheet.

By contrast Dexus’ concentration on office and industrial property has shielded it from the worst effects.

On Wednesday it reported an estimated fall of 1.2 per cent or $195 million in the book values of its 118 assets. In the six months to December last year, values in its portfolio rose $656 million.

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“Our high-quality property portfolios were in a strong position as we entered into a period of uncertainty driven by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” chief executive Darren Steinberg said.

While the outlook remains uncertain, Mr Steinberg expects office and industrial values to “remain resilient with pricing supported by an attractive yield spread over bonds and [the] lower for longer interest rate environment, with some impact from a softer outlook for rental growth, downtime and incentives.”

While retail REITs face 18 months of weak demand from the disruption, property values would need to fall 34 per cent to breach the top end of rated REITs debt to asset ranges and fall a whopping 55 per cent to breach covenant thresholds, Moody’s Investors Service says.

“Without debt reduction, Scentre Group’s gearing will breach its rating tolerance levels if property values fall more than 27 per cent. But Scentre’s gearing will remain well within its covenant thresholds,” it said.

Moody’s expects office property values to decline only moderately over the next 18 months and does not see significant risks to their debt levels.

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Unlike retail and office, industrial asset values will be flat to up slightly over the same period as the pandemic accelerates e-commerce penetration and focuses the attention of businesses on their supply chains.

Goodman Group and Charter Hall are both benefiting from the shift.

“COVID-19 just accelerates the structural de-rating of malls and rents to more sustainable levels and we expect industrial to be a net beneficiary from increased online sales penetration,” Mr Maconochie said.

Prime office towers are also likely to prove more resilient with tenants staying put and new social distancing norms making firms more reluctant to give back space or put it on the sub-lease market, he said.

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