One of Australia’s most successful immigrants, businessman Frank Lowy, has warned that immigration must be controlled by the government rather than being a reaction to global upheavals.
Mr Lowy, a Holocaust survivor who founded the $22 billion Westfield shopping empire after emigrating to Australia as a 21-year-old, made the remarks about immigration amid a growing political debate triggered by Islamic extremism and international terrorist attacks.
“Australia needs immigrants, it has good natural growth, but immigrants at the time the Australian government decides to have them — not because there are major disturbances in other parts of the world,” Mr Lowy said.
“A government needs to be in control of its borders.”
Mr Lowy, whose global shopping centre group is building a $1.4 billion mall at the World Trade Centre in New York, the site of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, acknowledged the humanitarian challenges facing the world.
“It is up to the country to decide how many immigrants it wants to absorb at any particular time,’’ he said. “The humanitarian issue is a separate issue from the immigration issues.
“There are many disturbances around the world. Immigration is one aspect. Big countries that are immigrant countries like Australia need a bigger population.”
Mr Lowy, who travels widely as the Westfield chairman, said people must look to the future and not be cowed by the acts of terror around the world.
“It is incumbent on us to resist and to be forward looking, not to let these terrorist activities defeat us in any way,” he said. “I worry for everybody, that most parts of the world have become insecure.
“People walking the streets in France on holiday, somebody in Munich having a good time in a coffee shop or in America at the World Trade Centre. This is not a shopping centre problem, it’s a world problem, and we need to be able to manage ourselves in those circumstances.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, a migrant from Belgium, said this morning that Mr Lowy was “right” and the government “must be in charge” of Australia’s borders.
“Immigration has played a very important role, of course, to our success as a nation … but, as a government, people expect us to determine who can come to Australia, the circumstances in which they come, they expect us to ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place and administered effectively,” Senator Cormann told Sky News today.
“There is no doubt that strong levels of migration for many many, decades indeed, for most of or our whole existence as a nation has been central to our economic success – there’s no doubt about that.”
Mr Lowy was a boy in Hungary when his father Hugo was taken by the Nazis in 1944. He hid with his mother and spent the war evading capture and outwitting the Gestapo and anti-Semitic street gangs. He went to Israel in 1946 and then came to Australia in 1952, building his first shopping centre in Sydney’s Blacktown in 1959.
It was not until more than 30 years later that Mr Lowy learned that his father had been beaten to death after he got off a train at Auschwitz in April 1944.
Mr Lowy’s remarks come as analysis by The Australian shows the government is pursuing a strategy that makes it difficult for large numbers of Muslims from the Middle East to settle here.
It is an unintended consequence of a migration policy that is focused on attracting skilled and family reunion migrants from countries such as India (now Australia’s No 1 source of permanent migrants, with 34,874 arrivals last year) and China (27,874).
The strategy, which both major parties insist is not deliberate as prospective migrants are not asked for their religion, means that while Islam was once the fastest growing religion in Australia, there are now more Buddhists (2.5 per cent of the population) than there are Muslims (2.2 per cent), and the Hindus are rapidly catching up.
“There are officials and politicians who openly favour Christians including Orthodox Christians (and Jewish migrants over Muslims),” one of Australia’s eminent scholars on immigration, James Jupp of the Australian National University, said.
Last year, the Abbott government undertook to permanently resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria, with a focus to be given to taking in persecuted religious minorities.
In his interview with The Australian, Mr Lowy acknowledged the scale of the global terror threat, noting no one was immune. “We do whatever is absolutely possible to secure our centres,” he said.“I suppose all organisations do. We need to get on with life, and we do.”
Mr Lowy will fly to New York next month for the opening of the shopping centre which sits below the rebuilt World Trade towers, the 9/11 Memorial and architect Santiago Calatrava’s soaring glass Oculus which forms the roof of the mall.
About 300,000 people a day will walk through the new centre, built where 13 subway trains and New York’s PATH trains converge in Lower Manhattan.
“We took possession (of the World Trade Centre site), and of course two months later the disaster happened,” Mr Lowy said of 2001 when the company lost a senior executive in the carnage of the September 11 attack.
“This has special meaning because of the disaster and all the people and the organisations that were involved and their combined resources.”
Westfield controls some landmark international properties, including Westfield London, Stratford City in Britain and Century City in Los Angeles, and is building a big mall in Milan.
Mr Lowy said the instability caused by the Brexit and the US elections were shorter term and unlikely to affect the business.
“In my experience in business, there have been ups and downs politically, there have been ups and downs economically, there have been quite a few financial crashes, but we plough on.
“Where there are people, there are shoppers. Where there are shoppers, people will shop at the best place they can get to,” Mr Lowy said, noting that the mammoth Westfield London was opened in 2008 as the global financial crisis bit.
“There could not have been a worse economic time.”
He also believes in the stability of the US, saying “we have the greatest confidence in the strength and future of the US”.
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