15. Professor Perry Bartlett: Team Brisbane

Professor Perry Bartlett. Photo: Richard BriggsProfessor Perry Bartlett has dedicated his working life to studying the human brain.
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In the 1990s, he co-led a scientific team that discovered that stem cells in the brain could produce new neurons. It was a finding that gave hope that there may one day be a cure for diseases like dementia.

He moved from Melbourne to Brisbane 12 years ago to establish the Queensland Brain Institute, which has grown from a team of 10 to about 450 and has received more than $150 million in funding over a decade.

The institute, based at the University of Queensland in St Lucia, now has 35 lab teams trying to understand how the brain works.

“In terms of an institute who really focuses on fundamental discoveries and how brain circuitry and learning and memory works, we’re probably one of the largest institutes in the world,” he said.

He said cooperation was vital to their success.

“It’s very important to let the best and the brightest people to go at it, somewhat individually, but what one needs is the ability then to take those discoveries and investigate very rapidly how important they are and how they apply to diseases or to learning across the board,” he said.

“That requires teams of people to do it.”

About 332,000 Australians currently have dementia, but without a cure that number is expected to triple by 2050.

Professor Bartlett said in order to prevent this, scientists needed to better understand the brain before trying to repair it.

“It is a long game, it’s a tough game,” he said.

Given institutes like QBI receive a bulk of their funding from grants, Professor Bartlett says there was an increasing trend of governments and research councils placing higher expectations on short-term results.

“Short-term funding leads to people doing non-risk research, which usually doesn’t have any significant output in terms of discoveries and innovation,” he said.

“The US, Korea, China and Japan all understand that unless governments back that discovery phase then no-one else will. If you don’t support that as a government then you don’t have anything that industry can work on downstream.”

“We may well lose our ability to be at the forefront of discoveries, and this country has done very well especially in the biomedical sciences.”

That said, Professor Bartlett said neurological research had reached an exciting phase.

Researchers at QBI can now analyse individual brain cells in mice, and are not far behind with humans.

“We’re getting to the stage now where we can nearly do everything in the human that we can do in animals. The next 10 years is going to be very much focused on to use this technology to look at human function, rather than animals functions,” he said.

Professor Bartlett still enjoys his time in the lab and heads up a team that last year analysed how the loss of neurons is linked to the loss of cognitive function. The team also researched treatment of spinal cord injury.

Now 67, Professor Bartlett said he would remain director of QBI for at least another year, after which he planned to spend more time in the lab.

Visit the Team Brisbane website

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Victory eyeing Strikers winger

IT STARTED with a spot on the bench for Tasmania against the Melbourne Victory youth team late last month.
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HOT PROPERTY: Michael Holden lines up for Melbourne Victory’s youth team during a trial match.

Thirty-three minutes, one goal, and a near-miss later, Michael Holden suddenly became hot property among some of Australia’s biggest A-League clubs.

The 17-year-old now finds himself in Melbourne for a week-long trial with the Victory youth team, after initial interest from Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.

It’s been a whirlwind few days for the Devonport Strikers winger, who is still coming to terms with the fact he may get signed by the team he supports.

‘‘I got a call-up from the Victory last Thursday and they organised me to come over,’’ Holden told The Advocate yesterday.

‘‘Sydney and Western Sydney showed some interest, but Melbourne just got it all done for me and were first in.

‘‘A couple of years ago Kevin Muscat [Victory coach] came down to Devonport for a clinic and I’ve followed him and Melbourne Victory ever since.’’

Holden, who travelled over with his dad Stewart, had little time to settle in to his new environment, lining up for the Victory in a trial match against Box Hill the day after he arrived.

He will train with the squad three times this week, before a second trial match on Saturday night.

‘‘It’s been good so far, I’ve been enjoying it,’’ Holden said.

‘‘I didn’t think I went too bad in the first match — it was the first time I had met them [my teammates].

‘‘They play the same formation as we do at Devonport, but it is a bit more technical than what I am used to.’’

Upon his return home next week, Holden won’t have long to find out if he has made the cut, with the Foxtel National Youth League starting on October 18.

‘‘They have 25 players at the moment, but they are looking to contract 16 of them,’’ Holden said.’’

‘‘When I get back we will see what happens, but nothing is organised at the moment — I’m guessing I’ll get a call from them (Victory).

‘‘It’s always been a dream that’s starting to come to reality now and it’s a bit of a shock.’’

Holden’s elation was also shared by Strikers president Rod Andrews, who said it was a great coup for his club to have a talented player get a direct chance with an A-League club.

‘‘It’s just great vindication for our club in terms of what we are doing with our junior program,’’ he said.

‘‘Sydney FC wanted his details on Monday, a couple of other clubs were in it as well, then Melbourne Victory came along and trumped them all.’’

Holden could become the third North-West Coaster to break into the A-League system, with former Devonport player Jesse Curran still in the Central Coast Mariners’ set-up, while Ulverstone junior Jeremy Walker’s stint at Melbourne Heart came to a close last season.

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Cawston and Bourn the big hits for Coast at titles

BEN Cawston and Tully Bourn were the standout Coastal players at the Medibank Tasmanian state championships gold JT, tournament director Trent Constance says.
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TOP PERFORMER: Ulverstone’s Ben Cawston prepares to serve in the 18-and-under playoff for third. Picture: Meg Windram.

Competition wrapped up yesterday after Monday’s downpour forced the completion of the tournament at the Burnie Tennis Club to be delayed.

‘‘There was some really good tennis played, and it’s always good to play at the Burnie Tennis Club,’’ Constance said.

‘‘There were some very impressive performances in testing conditions at times.’’

Constance said Cawston, Bourn and Hobart’s Daniel Groom were among those to underline their potential.

‘‘Daniel won the 16 and under, the 18 and under and the doubles, so he won all the events he played in,’’ Constance said.

‘‘From the North-West, the best player was Ben Cawston, and Tully Bourn, from Burnie, also had a very strong tournament.’’

Constance said Bourn was a surprise packet and would gain valuable ranking points from her performances.

The inclement weather and resulting delay caused South Australian David Abfalter to miss out on his playoff matches yesterday, due to being unable to change his flights.

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More sex offenders claiming ‘sexsomnia’

Most children affected by sleepwalking grow out of the condition by adulthood. Of those still affected, a small proportion will also experience sexsomnia. Photo: Simon SchluterA growing number of people charged with sex offences are claiming to be affected by “sexsomnia”, where they initiated sexual contact while asleep and cannot recall the event.
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The Australasian Sleep Association is concerned that some sex offenders are feigning the affliction, and want to ensure the doctors called to give expert testimony in court are well versed in its symptoms.

Woolcock Institute of Medical Research medical director Dev Banerjee is giving a presentation to colleagues at an Australasian Sleep Association conference in Perth on Thursday on how to conduct themselves in court if they are called to give evidence in such cases.

“It’s a wake-up call that there are a lot more of these cases in the public media and therefore it’s highly likely that this sort of defence – of sexsomnia and automatism – will be coming their way,” Dr Banerjee said.

Automatism is a criminal defence under which the defendant claims that he or she did not consciously perform the guilty act.

Sleepwalking is the classic example and is used in various driving, murder and assault cases.

Dr Banerjee said it was important that sleep clinicians called to give expert testimony in sexsomnia cases were able to identify true manifestations of the condition.

“We’re seeing a few clinicians out there who think they’re experts in sleep who aren’t trained to give expert advice,” he said.

“I’ve been involved in cases where I thought the defendant probably could have got away with it, and at the end of the day we’re trying to protect society.

“I’ve done a lot of cases where the Crown and police are staggered that the jury has acquitted the defendant.”

Sleepwalking affects about one in 25 children, but two thirds of them outgrow the condition by adulthood.

Only a very small proportion of sleepwalkers – usually men – will also experience sexsomnia, which includes masturbating, sexual vocalisation, fondling another person or intercourse while sleeping.

But researchers believe it is under-reported because people are embarrassed to admit to it.

Sleep clinician Peter Buchanan said he has provided his expert opinion in about 12 sexsomnia cases in the past decade, including three in the past 18 months, although he has been asked to do so on many more occasions.

All of the victims were known to the perpetrators and asleep in the same house when the assaults took place.

Recently he was asked to give his opinion in the case of a man who allowed his stepdaughter, a young teenager, to share his bed while her mother was away.

During the night he performed two sexual acts on the girl.

“These cases are distressing,” Dr Buchanan said.

“Whether the perpetrator is exonerated or not there is still a victim. The victims are almost always minors.

“They’re usually flummoxed.

“In this particular case [the victim] had no sexual experience whatsoever.”

The man was found convicted of indecent assault and is awaiting sentence.

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GP co-payment would crush NSW emergency departments: report

John Robertson says the GP co-payment will “smash the health system”. Photo: Max MasonEXCLUSIVE
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An extra 500,000 people a year would choke NSW emergency departments at a cost of $80 million if the federal government proceeds with its GP co-payment, internal health department documents show.

The analysis by NSW Health has been backed by doctors and health groups who say a$7 Medicare fee for GP visits would be a disaster forthe state’s health system, blowing out emergency department waiting times and hurting society’s sickest and poorest.

Scenarios prepared for the NSW government in May, obtained by NSW Labor, assumed a $6 co-payment, lower than the $7 fee later proposed by the federal government.

It found a potential increase in emergency department attendances “in the vicinity of 500,000”, leading to increased costs of about $80 million a year.

There were 2.6 million presentations to NSW emergency departments in 2012-13; that figure would have jumped by 27 per cent under a $6 co-payment, the analysis found.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson said the figures showed the co-payment would “smash the health system” and hurt families.

“Thousands of people will be forced to turn up in emergency departments to avoid paying the fee to their local GP,” he said.

NSW opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said it was time the state government “stopped defending their federal counterparts and stood up to Tony Abbott and his GP tax”.

Following the budget in May, NSW Premier Mike Baird expressed concern about the $7 payment to visit a GP, saying “if it leads to long queues in emergency departments, well, that’s not something that’s sustainable”.

The co-payment is among a host of budget measures whose passage through the Senate has been delayed due to a lack of support from Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has previously signalled a compromise deal could be offered to ease the burden on pensioners.

The government says $5 of the $7 co-payment will go towards establishing a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. Health Minister Peter Dutton has said the government will push through a smaller version of the fund if the GP co-payment fails.

Australian Medical Association Federal President Brian Owler said hospitals have worked hard to improve emergency department waiting times.

“Putting another 500,000 people into that system is going to mean all of those gains are going to be lost, and we are probably going to end up in a worse position than when we started,” he said.

Dr Owler said the policy was “driven by a fiscal and economic outlook, there is no consideration of … the health care needs of the Australian community.”

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia chief executive Adam Stankevicius said the findings “show what a disaster the co-payment would be for primary health care in Australia, pushing so many patients toward belated emergency treatment”.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the “rudimentary scenarios” for a GP co-payment were developed after the National Commission of Audit proposed the measure.

Ms Skinner said she had written to Mr Dutton regarding the policy, but she did not detail what was said.

A spokesman for Mr Dutton said his government had given states the option of charging co-payments at emergency departments for GP-type presentations. Ms Skinner has previously ruled out that option.

“The simple facts are that Commonwealth spending on health is increasing each and every year. If action isn’t taken Medicare will collapse under its own weight,” Mr Dutton’s spokesman said.

As Fairfax Media reported last month, federal government spending on health has grown at an average annual rate of 5.5 per cent over the past two decades, compared with 8.8 per cent growth for public order and safety, 23.5 per cent for communications, and 2 per cent for scientific research.

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Australia well prepared to deal with Ebola virus

Tracey-Lee Osling, Nurse Unit Manager of Westmead Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, prepares protective equipment for the Ultra Isolation Rooms, designed specifically to manage patients with highly infectious diseases. Photo: NSW Health/Carlos FurtadoSydney’s Westmead Hospital has been conducting drills to prepare for a potential outbreak of Ebola, while the nation’s health departments say they are well equipped to deal with possible cases of the deadly virus.
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The federal health department says the risk of an outbreak in Australia remains very low, and “our infection control mechanisms in hospitals are first rate”.

Staff at Westmead Hospital have done live training exercises and information about how to manage suspected cases has been sent to emergency departments, clinicians, GPs and diagnostic laboratories across the state.

Westmead Hospital is the designated hospital for the treatment of Ebola in NSW because it is equipped with isolation rooms and a highly secure laboratory, where doctors can test for the virus.

The isolation areas have low air pressure to stop air flowing outside, as well as a double air lock. Staff who would care for Ebola patients have received special training.

“While Ebola is a very serious disease, it is not highly contagious. Ebola is not like influenza. It is not caught through coughing or sneezing. It is only caught through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal,” said Vicky Sheppeard, director of the NSW Health communicable diseases branch.

Ebola has killed more than 3400 people mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Recent UNICEF figures estimated at least 3700 children in those countries have lost one or both parents, and many have been shunned by relatives who fear being infected.

Sierra Leone recorded 121 deaths in one of the single deadliest days since the disease appeared there more than four months ago, government health statistics showed on Sunday.

A Spanish nurse is the first person to contract the virus outside of west Africa, after treating an infected priest repatriated to Madrid. A Liberian man with the virus is in hospital in Dallas after travelling to the US from the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

In Australia, Customs and Border Protection and Department of Agriculture biosecurity officers are alert to the possibility of Ebola when identifying sick passengers.

Dr Grant Hill-Cawthorne, of the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, said Australia’s preparedness goes back to the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, when many countries bolstered their plans for emerging infections.

An Ebola outbreak in Australia remains a low possibility in part because there are no direct flights from west Africa, he said.

“The UK is at high risk and that’s simply because of the traditional relationship the UK has with Sierra Leone. In the same way, we weren’t really surprised that the first case exported was Liberia through the US because they have traditional relationships,” Dr Hill-Cawthorne said.

“Australia doesn’t really have traditional relationships with west African countries. Overall, Australia is at pretty low risk.”

With agencies

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Warrnambool’s Arie Eddy still searching for job as politicians promise action

Hard at work: Arie Eddy works harder than most unemployed to find work, despite going for almost three years without luck. Photo: Vicky HughsonWarrnambool teenager Arie Eddy has been searching for a job for almost three years without luck. Until Fairfax Media interviewed Mr Eddy in August, he had received only one interview despite applying for more than 780 jobs. 
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Mr Eddy was left disappointed by some potential employers, a restaurant and local radio station, who offered him cadetships or job interviews, but when he contacted them they said they’d already filled the positions.

“It upset me that they filled the positions straightaway and didn’t even give me a chance to get in touch,” he said.

Two months later he’s still jobless, but now he’s optimistic.

“I’ve had an interview with Warrnambool Toyota and Clinton Baulch’s Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealership. Five or six months ago I was applying for jobs and I’d just never hear back,” he said.

“At the moment I’ve been looking in the paper for jobs rather than just handing out resumes everywhere, so I’ve changed my strategy and now I’m applying for jobs I know are available.”

On Monday and Tuesday this week the state Liberal and Labor parties announced a number of new measures aimed at creating jobs. 

The Labor Party has pledged $100 million to reduce payroll tax by $1000 for each long-term unemployed person a business hires and Mr Eddy said this strategy would be the most affective.

“This to me sounds like the best incentive for business to employ someone who has been unemployed for 12 months or 12 years. With lower tax, the business doesn’t have to pay as much to employ someone,” he said.

Like Mr Eddy, Geelong resident Rod Barratt, 53, is also unemployed. A machinery operator, Mr Barratt had worked for K&S Freighters for 11 years but was made redundant six weeks ago.

He’s optimistic he’ll find work quickly when he begins his hunt in the New Year but is aware some businesses will look past him because of his age.

“Some employers do discriminate secretly against mature-age workers, you can’t really blame them for that but it doesn’t help when you’re looking for secure employment,” he said.

“But I have good confidence in myself that I’ll find work. It’s all in the way you speak and present yourself.”

Mr Barratt said the Liberal and Labor party job creation strategies sounded the same.

“I suppose it’s great they’re doing something,” he said.

“But what we don’t want to see is another $40 million being given to a business like Alcoa, which closes anyway … there needs to be value for money in the long term, not just the short term.”

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Ebola crisis in west Africa sees cocoa prices soar

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard
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Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

West Africa’s Ebola crisis has generated fear in the cocoa industry that the deadly virus will cross into the Ivory Coast and Ghana and swipe half the world’s cocoa supply – sending bean prices soaring.

The two countries, so far free of Ebola, produce 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa. Experts say if an outbreak occurs, bean prices will surge beyond the 3.5-year high reached in September and affect retail chocolate prices.

“If prices rise at a greater rate, chocolate manufacturers will pass the increase onto consumers,” said Andrew Rolle of Juremont, a major Australian importer of chocolate ingredients.

“It’s a fragile market there at the best of times. There will be labour issues with the cocoa farmers in the fields, political issues, transport issues with accessing stock through ports.”

Australian chocolate makers typically have six to 12 months’ of cocoa supply in storage, so any price rises after an outbreak won’t be immediately seen, he added.

The commodity price was heading for a sixth straight monthly gain, the longest streak in 12 years, the International Cocoa Organisation said.

Boutique chocolatier Haigh’s raised prices by 3 per cent earlier this year, expecting bean prices to remain rising because of the growing popularity of dark chocolate and Asia’s booming middle class.

Chief executive Alister Haigh said the outbreak was at the forefront of his mind, as a third of Haigh’s cocoa was sourced from Ghana.

“The prices we’ve set will suffice for the near future. That’s not to say there’s been a huge increase, but we’re well covered for the next six months.”

Nearly two-thirds of the 3000 deaths have occurred in Guinea and Liberia, which share a porous and poorly policed border with the Ivory Coast, a vital source for chocolate giants Cadbury and Nestle.

“It’s a long border. It’s vulnerable and hard to control. It’s a serious threat,” an exporter in the port city of Abidjan told Reuters.

The US health authorities have predicted another 1.4 million people could be infected in West Africa by January without extra intervention. If the virus spreads into the Ivory Coast, transport restrictions may be enforced, swaths of farming land quarantined, and migrant workers stopped in their tracks.

The economy-sustaining cocoa industry could be brought to its knees, hitting the incomes of millions of farmers, buyers and exporters.

“What we fear is that under a quarantine nothing will move, that farmers will flee, that trucks won’t go in and that the cocoa will rot on the trees,” an exporter told Reuters. Another market strategist said that would be “pandemonium”.

Both Mondelez, owner of Cadbury, and Nestle did not respond to questions about possible impacts on retail prices.

Mondelez said it was monitoring the epidemic closely and none of its supply was under any immediate threat. A spokesman said: “However, as a matter of normal practice we do have contingency plans in place to address potential supply risks.”

Nestle, maker of KitKat and Milo, said: “It is too early for predictions on the possible effects on our business.”

Higher prices, though, are unlikely to suppress Australia’s insatiable appetite for chocolate, with IBISWorld figures showing we are on track to spend $1.98 billion on the mood-lifter this financial year.

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Patchy outlook for investors

Building wealth. Building wealth.
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Building wealth.

 Investors have been driving property prices higher on the back of record-low interest rates.

Property prices have risen by about 50 per cent in Sydney and Melbourne since the start of 2009, says researcher RP Data.

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In the apartment market, which is favoured by investors, prices have risen by about 11.5 per cent in Sydney over the past year to September 30. In Melbourne, which is still suffering the effects of oversupply of inner city apartments, prices have risen by about 5 per cent.

Baby boomers investing with an eye to retirement and home owners upgrading to a bigger or better house have sidelined first-time buyers. Investor housing loan approvals account for almost 40 per cent of the total value of housing loan approvals, the highest share in 10 years.

However, property analysts expect price rises in Sydney and Melbourne to rise in-line with, or a little in excess of inflation over the next several years as interest rates start to rise.

Rate rise tipped

A major reason for the strong rise in prices is interest rates at historic lows.

But analysts are expecting the cash rate and, therefore, mortgage rates, to start rising within the next 12 months.

Robert Mellor, the managing director of BIS Shrapnel, is expecting a rise in the cash rate of about 1 percentage point by the end of 2016.

Due to competition in the mortgage market, mortgage interest rates will probably not rise by the full one percentage point, he says. “We think that the headline (or advertised) variable mortgage rate may rise from 5.95 per cent now to about 6.8 per cent”, Mellor says.

That is not much of a rise by historical standards. However, because of the large size of the typical mortgage even a modest rise in interest rates will affect affordability, Mellor says.

Forecasts contained in QBE’s Housing Outlook for 2014, conducted by BIS Shrapnel, shows Sydney dwelling prices are expected to rise only by a cumulative 9 per cent over the next three years, or only marginally above inflation.

“Momentum” in the Sydney market could see stronger price growth this financial year with even less growth in prices in the two subsequent years, Mellor says.

He is “less positive” on Melbourne with a forecast of only 5 per cent cumulative growth in prices over the next three years. And, after strong price rises during the winter months, it looks as if property markets are already starting to cool. RP Data says that prices were almost flat across the five largest capital cities over September.

The levelling in price growth over September is largely attributed to slowing of growth in Melbourne and Perth, with both of these capitals recording a slightly negative result over the month of September.

“It remains to be seen whether these softer conditions will persist throughout the rest of spring,” says Tim Lawless, RP Data research director.

John Edwards, the founder of researcher Residex, expects price rises to slow and consolidate through 2015; rising in line with inflation.  He says, for would-be investors there is “no rush as there will be good opportunity in 2015, once the market moves into a consolidation phase”.

Segmented markets

Mellor says Melbourne is a particularly segmented market. There is continuing oversupply of apartments in Melbourne’s central business district, Docklands and Southbank, Mellor says.

There is even a risk that prices of inner Melbourne apartments could fall by 5 to 10 per cent over the next three years, he says.

Louis Christopher, managing director of specialist property researcher SQM Research, agrees that investors should be wary of Melbourne inner city apartments. He favours apartments in South Yarra and St Kilda as likely to provide good capital growth over the long term.

He is positive on Sydney apartments overall. However, investors need to be careful not to overpay, he says. “Some developers in Sydney are pricing [their apartments] at top dollar and getting it,” he says.

“Some are charging in excess of $14,000 per square metre for off-the-plan, which is full on,” Christopher says. Richard Wakelin, Director and founder of Wakelin Property Advisory in Melbourne, says it is land values that drive capital growth.

Wakelin says the best bets are apartments in small blocks – 10 to 20 unit blocks that are within two to 10 kilometres of the Melbourne central business district. He favours older apartments (and “character” houses) in areas where no more apartments are being constructed.

“Fads” should be avoided, whether it is Gold Coast units, time share or opportunities in booming mining towns, Wakelin says. He is wary of off-the-plan property.

“In Melbourne, we can count the number of multi-unit high rise blocks that have actually worked for investors,” he says.

“All the enticements, rental guarantees and all of the glossy stuff can be thrown out the window if the asset is not sound,” Wakelin says.  John Edwards says it is “easy to overpay for a property at this point in time and over payment will not be covered by increasing property values over the balance of this growth cycle”.

Novices on notice

First-time landlords need to consider the tax and financing issues of owning a property at the outset.

“Many of these issues need to be considered before purchase, such as ownership structure,” says Peter Bembrick, tax partner with accountants and advisers HLN Mann Judd Sydney. Other issues include how the property is to be financed.

Many investors take advantage of “negative gearing”.

This where is where the costs of making the investment, such as interest on the mortgage are greater than the rent from the property, the shortfall can be used to reduce income tax paid on the investor’s other income.

Bembrick says a loss is a loss, even if there is some tax benefit and positive gearing is preferable.

Investors who negatively gear are hoping to be able to eventually sell the property for a price that more than makes up for the losses incurred along the way. Bembrick says it is very important for would-be investors to be able to cover any shortfalls in cash flow.

“For example, the impact of inevitable periods when the property does not have a tenant, as outgoings still continue even if the residence is empty,” Bembrick says.

Consideration should be given to whether some, or all, of the mortgage should be at a fixed interest rate in order to help reduce the impact of future interest rate rises, he says.Beware of spruikers

Property spruikers and mortgage brokers are tapping into the booming self managed superannuation funds sector.

Their pitch is that investors can hold investment property inside a SMSF and enjoy superannuation’s confessional tax rates.

Some are showing disregard for investors’ individual circumstances, says John Hewison, managing director of Hewison Private Wealth, which has many SMSF clients.

Those who do not have the money in their super fund to buy an investment property outright are being advised to take out a mortgage. Hewison says borrowing to invest inside super can be an appropriate strategy for high net worth individuals.

However, younger investors with minimal account balances are encouraged to borrow large amounts of money in order to buy properties in their super funds, Hewison says.

Older people, who should be risk adverse and who will need to draw an income stream in retirement, are also being led down the path of gearing property, Hewison says.

Richard Wakelin is also concerned. Super is a nest egg that most of us are relying upon for a comfortable retirement, he says. “Unfortunately, there are companies that are using the growing interest in SMSFs to market sub-investment grade property developments to the public,” he says.

“We’re worried that many of these investors will suffer losses that could compromise the investor’s retirement lifestyle,” Wakelin says. Anyone thinking of going down this path should engage a reputable, independent accountant or financial adviser to look at their specific circumstances, Wakelin says.

They should advise you on the merits of establishing an SMSF and using it to invest in residential property, he says. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the prudential regulator of SMSFs, the Tax Office, have issued repeated warnings to the public about property spruikers targeting the  trustees of self managed funds.Real estate giant moves into advice

News that one of the biggest real estate agencies, Ray White, intends to establish a financial advice arm has sparked concerns it would be used to help facilitate the sale of real estate and mortgages  to people with self managed superannuation funds.

The White family owns a string of real estate agencies across Australia, and also owns a mortgage broking business and an insurance business. These are commission-based businesses.

The new advice business, Wealth Market, which is expected to open before Christmas, will be part of the mortgage broking business, Loan Market.

Sam White, the chairman of Loan Market, has said that, initially at least,  Wealth Market will focus on providing “insurance opportunities” as well financial products from an “approved product list” to clients.

“Our advisers will not be recommending properties to our clients,” he said.Action planDon’t invest for the tax breaksBeware of spruikers recommending property inside DIY super fundsUnits in smaller blocks can offer a higher land value component.Lower-priced properties will often have higher rental yields, but may have lower capital growth.Factor-in higher interest rates from the current record lows.Consider fixing whole or part of the mortgage, though there may be costs if the loan is terminated early.Make sure there is sufficient cash flow to cover temporary loss of rent

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Changes to real estate laws will make things more strict for vendors and agents

Vendors and real estate agents will have to provide a “due diligence checklist” at open-for-inspections under new regulations governing the sale of property in Victoria.
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As part of the changes, an up-to-date Section 32 document has to be provided at the start of a property’s marketing campaign, including a registered title search document, but it will no longer be attached to the contract of sale.

Other changes include the mandatory disclosure of planning overlays affecting property, any notices or orders and the connection of services.

Phillip Leaman, the principal at law firm Tisher Liner FC Law, said people who put their properties on the market in the past week would need to provide the new information.

“If you have already put your property on the market you can operate under the old regulations, but if it was in the past six daysyou must have the updated Section 32,” Mr Leaman said.

Overseen by Consumer Affairs Victoria, the new checklist will not form part of the Section 32. It asks purchasers to consider and investigate potential problems with a property, including noisy entertainment if buying in the inner suburbs, noisy and smelly farm activities in the country, and potential mining activities.

“To some degree it’s a cosmetic change to make it more user-friendly,” Mr Leaman said.

While any failure to provide a checklist will result in a fine to the real estate agent, a purchaser has no right to rescind a contract if the checklist is not provided.

The Victorian Farmers Federation believes the removal of warnings about noisy farming activities from the Section 32 document constitutes a weakening of sale regulations.

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Dollar boost for agricultural sales

Interest in Victorian farms was more likely to come from a family business. Photo: Glenn HuntRecord Victorian agricultural exports and a lower Australian dollar are likely to boost rural farm values – but not immediately, according to Colliers International.
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Food and fibre exports in Victoria were $11.4 billion in 2013-14, a rise of $1.2 billion, or 12 per cent, on the previous year, reflecting the general good health of the rural sector.

Meat exports rose to be the state’s highest-value export, up 36 per cent to $2.34 billion, while dairy increased by 23 per cent to $2.29 billion, and horticulture experts were up 48 per cent to $894 million due to demand for almonds, table grapes and citrus.

Colliers associate director, valuation in rural and agribusiness, Nick Cranna, said the buoyancy of the agricultural sector would have a flow-on effect on land values. “But you’re looking at six to 12 months for that to come through,” he said.

From being well above 90 cents to the US dollar, the Australian dollar has now fallen to about 87 US cents. “The lower Aussie dollar is fantastic for agriculture,” Mr Cranna said.

Despite the good agricultural outlook, hobby farms continue to be a driver of rural sales. Landmark Harcourts figures show that in the 12 months to the end of June, there was $2.72 billion worth of agricultural property sales in Victoria, with 68.2 per cent of sales on less than 40 hectares of land.

In the category up to 40hectares, there were more than 5400 sales valued at more than $1.8 billion. The median price ranged from $155,000 in the north-west to $490,000 around Geelong.

In the 40ha-100ha category, there were 879 sales valued at $376 million, with a median price ranging from $200,000 in the north-west to $623,000 around Geelong.

There were 672 sales of farms bigger than 400 hectares, totalling $456 million. The median price was the largest around Warrnambool in the south-west ($2.08 million) in the 400ha-2000ha category. The lowest median price in the 100ha-400ha category was $366,000 in the north-west.

Victoria’s Landmark Harcourts chief, Jason Hellyer, said in the past 12 months, there had been far more transactions than the previous year. However, now it had slowed.

Mr Hellyer attributed this to fears about where commodity prices were heading, and the weather. The mood was not to sell, but more “we will stay put for a year”.

Mr Hellyer said big corporate players and international companies were less attracted to Victoria because the farms in general were too small. “The scale does not trigger interest,” he said. “They want scale and processing or packing nearby.”

Interest in Victorian farms was more likely to come from a family business with a business plan that was about sustain ability and growth.

To succeed, Mr Hellyer said farmers had to be better skilled and knowledgeable, from agronomy skills to familiarity with international commodity prices.

Real estate agents had to become consultants as well as salesmen to make them aware of the complexity of issues that would affect the value of their property.

“Farmers will then garner more interest in their property and a better price,” he said.

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Owner-occupiers fuel demand for suburban office property

Hot property: The suburban office in Burwood East that sold for $870,000.Intense competition for a suburban office property in Melbourne’s east pushed the final sale price 45 per cent over its reserve price.
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Four bidders – all owner-occupiers, rather than investors – made a play for the 300-square-metre building at 1-3 Ruby Street in Burwood East which was purchased by an accountant for $870,000.

Teska Carson agent Anthony Choi, who handled the auction, said the vendor was a private investor and all three under-bidders were also owner-occupiers with plans to renovate and refit the office space.

Prevailing low interest rates and a rush to acquire assets for self-managed superannuation funds (SMSF) are driving the new trend away from renting workspaces from private investors.

Small offices, shops and industrial premises are the most popular purchases for super funds. While businesses lease from their own funds experts warn they must ensure they are paying market rents or risk the ire of regulators if they get into trouble with mortgage repayments.

Philip La Greca, head of technical services at Multiport, the SMSF arm of AMP, said: “you have to treat it as if you are not going to be the tenant. If you pay above or below market rents or fall behind in rent then the super fund trustee becomes liable.”

Teska Carson agent Matt Feld said “a lot of buyers are telling us it’s more affordable to own their own building than rent. They can make improvements and put the rent into their funds rather than the landlord’s.”

Mr Feld said he spent six months trying to lease a 410-square-metre office building at 47 Stephenson Street in Cremorne, which later sold at auction for $1.615 million.

“Two people came looking through it. We put it on the market and it had four bidders. Inquiries for small suburban office spaces are stronger for sales than leasing,” he said.

Other recent transactions with owner-occupiers include an office-showroom at 427 Church Street which fetched $2.9 million; an office building at 141 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, which sold for $1.85 million; a 55-square-metre shop at 1/457-459 Chapel Street was bought for $1.3 million; and an 800-square-metre showroom at 556 Swan Street sold for about $4 million.

The low interest rate environment is even providing encouragement for some corporates to dip their toes back into owning property.

Last week, car parts manufacturer ARB Corp bought back its factory-headquarters in Kilsyth for $19 million. ARB sold the 25,887-square-metre building to a fund manager, SAITeysMcMahon in 2005 for $16 million.

At the time, ARB said it was not a property investor and used the money to fund the business’ expansion. Nine years later, it is planning to reconfigure the site and significantly reduce its operating costs.

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Instagram puts advertising in the picture

One of many Instagram photographs collected by Tourism Queensland for use in an overseas marketing campaign.Harnessing Instagram pictures for marketing campaigns is part of the social media platform’s attraction for corporations such as Tourism Queensland that have now signed up for the launch of paid advertising.
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Advertisements will start appearing in the feeds of Instagram accounts in Australia from Wednesday. We are the third country, after the US and Britain, to have paid content on the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app.

Tourism Queensland also plans to use Instagram holiday and happy snaps in an overseas marketing campaign with Qantas.

“Pretty soon we will be partnering with Qantas … and using some of the content in the North America market as part of a retail campaign with that airline partner,” Tourism Queensland’s digital marketing director Chris Chambers said. “For us it’s all about that content which has the tick of authenticity of a visit to Queensland that we can use to sell the destination.”

Mr Chambers said the images were from “InstaMeets”, which invited people to post pictures with the hash tag “thisisQueensland”.

He said all participants had given their permission for the pictures to be used for marketing purposes and Tourism Queensland also planned to display about 50 of the InstaMeets pictures in an art gallery in London.

“Instagram has been a great opportunity to tap into a significant global audience and gain some additional exposure for the state,” he said. “It is very cost-effective platform.”

Instagram head of business operations Amy Cole said the InstaMeets were separate to the platform’s paid advertising.

Brands including Vegemite, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream will begin advertising on Instagram.

Ms Cole said photographs taken by Instagram users would not be used in those paid advertisements. Instead, advertising agencies and professional photographers have developed the content, which has been designed to blend in with the happy snap nature of Instagram.

“We want this to be a natural experience,” she said.

She said the company would introduce advertisements slowly, with users initially noticing one a day appearing in their feeds.

The advertisements will be tailored to individual users, targeting age, gender and interests. But no other personal information will be shared.

Ms Cole said opening Instagram to advertising would help create a “sustainable business” for the platform in Australia. But she declined to reveal how much the company hoped the advertisements would eventually account for Facebook’s total revenue, which was $US7.87 billion ($9 billion) last year.

She also declined to say how many of Instagram’s 200 million users were Australians. A spokeswoman said the company did not break down figures for geographic locations.

Ben & Jerry’s Australian brand manager Kalli Swaik said the company had embraced Instagram and had about 4000 followers.

“People love taking photos of their food, as we know, it’s a big trend. And they really love ice-cream. So you combine those two together, it’s a natural place for us to be,” she said.

Other brands to advertise on Instagram in Australia are Flight Centre, Lenovo, Toyota, Audi and McDonald’s.

Share your photographs in the Kings Cross Instagram Competition

There are few more interesting times to point a camera at the streets of Kings Cross than right now: the area – it’s not technically a suburb – is one of the city’s most changing, with the forces of gentrification and the state government’s lock-out laws moulding a new kind of Cross from what was once the city’s centre of seedy.

For this weekend’s Kings X Festival, organisers invited people to share their photographs of Kings Cross on Instagram, uploaded with the hashtag #kingscrosscolour, and the images will be projected onto the walls of the Australian Institute of Architects; you can still upload a picture and the best image will nab the snapper who took it $500.

The festival runs Saturday and Sunday and will also feature pop-up food events involving local restaurants, live music, art exhibitions and other performances.

Joel Meares

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