BILLIONAIRE Frank Lowy has condemned Australia’s approach to migration over the past year.
In an address to a Sydney audience of politicians and senior business figures last night, the Westfield founder — who fled to Australia from Nazi persecution as a child — urged the country to embrace an “ambitious migration program”.
“I have … been disturbed by the negative tone of the debate over immigration … There is a rising crescendo of opinion from columnists and politicians saying we should reduce our immigration intake,” the Lowy Institute benefactor said.
Mr Lowy, 87, told the audience that if anyone knows what it means to be persecuted, it’s him.
The billionaire fled Nazi persecution in the then-Czechoslovakia and Hungary, eventually arriving in Australia in 1952. He went into business and founded the company that became Westfield.
“As a child I learned what it meant to be persecuted. But, even then, at the worst of times, I knew there was good in the world.
“I saw my mother share our meagre food supplies with neighbours. I saw her risk her life, and mine, to practise our religion.
“As a boy I stood at the doorway of our hiding place in Budapest and watched Russian troops fight house by house to liberate the city and therefore rescue us from certain death.”
Mr Lowy said migration was an “act of ambition, imagination and bravery”.
“To imagine a better life for yourself and your family and to leave behind all that is familiar requires a special kind of courage,” he said. “Australia needs more of that courage.
“We are focusing too much on the problems and forgetting about the opportunities of immigration,” he said. “Let us learn from our history. Immigration has been great for Australia in the past. I believe it will be great for Australia in the future.
“I believe in a big Australia. I am an advocate for an ambitious immigration program.
“We are all familiar with the differences between the Australia of the 1950s and the Australia of today. We are richer, more productive and more interesting now than we were then.
“This change would not have been possible without a big immigration program.”
But Mr Lowy, as he himself noted, is in the minority on this issue.
Australia’s population surpassed 25 million last month.
The population clock estimates that our number increases by one person every 83 seconds.
But over the past year, concerns have been raised over whether our biggest cities can continue to cope under the strain of new arrivals.
According to a 2018 Lowy Institute poll on the issue, 54 per cent of Australians said the total number of migrants coming to Australia is too high.
“In the past year our immigration intake has declined. We have gone from migration targets to migration caps,” Mr Lowy said. “I think we are moving in the wrong direction. We should bend that curve back upwards. We should be talking about targets, not caps.
“I have also been disturbed by the negative tone of the debate over immigration,” he said.
“Now that our borders are secure, I believe we can afford to be ambitious on immigration and generous towards refugees who come through the established processes.”
According to recent Department of Home Affairs figures, 87 per cent of the 111,000 skilled migrants who arrived in the country this past financial year had permanently settled in Sydney or Melbourne.
Last month, Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge announced a “Designated Area Migration Agreement” — a migration and settlement policy which would include visas conditional on settling in cities outside of Sydney and Melbourne.
He noted other parts of the country — including Far North Queensland and South Australia — where there aren’t enough foreign skilled workers to meet the demand, including roles too specific to be on a national skills shortage list.