The flood of youngsters going to study in Australia has slowed, with some observers blaming the racial views of politician Pauline Hanson. Figures from the Australian Consulate show that in the first six months of this year 1,577 student visas were issued, against 1,622 in the first six months of 1996. In May alone the total was down 47 per cent. 'I attribute the downturn to Pauline Hanson,' said Australian immigration and education consultant Paul Bernadou. 'But I really think that if people do go down there racism won't be a problem. There may be odd incidents, but they were happening before Pauline Hanson,' he said. Ousted legislator and president of the Professional Teachers' Union Cheung Man-kwong said the fear of racism was a 'very small factor' causing the drop. The increasing availability of places in Hong Kong universities was also a cause, he said. 'In these few years not only Australia but other countries have not increased their numbers,' he said. Figures from the United States, the only other major destination that produces month-by-month visa figures, show a three per cent decline to 2,035. Ivy Ngan Kit-fan, marketing manager for the official Australian Education Centre, said that looking at whole-year figures the country continued to be popular as it was close, relatively cheap and students were allowed to work while studying. 'For Hong Kong students, they are not that sensitive to the Pauline Hanson effect. Most of the Chinese newspapers haven't reported on her that much,' she said. The Australian Government's financial year ends on June 30 and the year just ended saw an 11.5 per cent increase to 4,155 student visas issued in Hong Kong. More Australian visas are issued between September to January because the academic year starts in January. Ms Ngan said the January to June figures were not a reliable guide. A Commission for Canada spokesman said she believed student numbers to Canada were slightly down. The British Consulate was unable to give figures as most Hong Kong students did not require a visa to study in Britain.