BILLIONAIRE retailer Gerry Harvey has predicted Australia will become an "Asian country" with a population of 100 million in the next century, saying there is "not a chance in hell" immigration can be dialled back.
Earlier this month, outspoken entrepreneur Dick Smith launched a $1 million anti-immigration ad, calling for Australia's net migration intake to be scaled back from its current level 210,000 people a year to its historical average of 70,000.
Mr Smith joined a growing number of commentators, economists and politicians blaming "unsustainable" record high immigration for declining living standards and skyrocketing house prices, with retailers such as Harvey Norman accused of pushing a "pro-growth" agenda.
Mr Harvey, speaking to news.com.au as the furniture and electrical goods retailer announced a record full-year profit, said he had "always held the same view" that Australia was a "great big place and no one lives here".
"If I was God and I looked down on the Earth, I would see 1.3 billion Indians, 1.4 billion Chinese, 240 million Indonesians, these great big continents, America, Europe, and one funny little country, Australia," he said.
"It's not possible you can maintain a population of 25 to 30 million people. In 100 years from now Australia will have a population of 50 to 100 million people. That's going to happen regardless of what Dick Smith thinks, I think or you think, it's just inevitable.
"The people that exist today, me and you, we all have our view, but we'll be long gone."
Mr Harvey said immigration and population growth were impossible to control.
"The problem is you can't control it," he said. "The rest of the world at some stage is not going to let you control it. Sometimes when you smell the inevitable you've got to go along with it.
"You're going to come under immense pressure, it may be like boat people coming in huge numbers. It's a utopian idea that some people have, in a lot of ways I can see the worth of it, but will you ever be able to hold it to some number under 25 to 30 million? Not a chance in hell.
"It was obvious to me [since] university. Australia is going to become an Asian country, 100 per cent for sure. It's just a matter of when. You might have close to four billion Asians in the world, where do you think they're going to live?"
On Thursday, Harvey Norman announced its best ever full-year result in the company's 35-year history, delivering a profit of $448.98 million in the year to June 30, a 29 per cent increase on the previous year.
Harvey Norman said the result was partly due to strong retail spending, particularly in NSW and Victoria, underpinned by "strong housing sector activity, lower levels in unemployment, a net increase in overseas migration, and the wealth flow-on effect from higher home prices".
Franchisee sales revenue of its three Australia and New Zealand brands - Harvey Norman, Domayne and Joyce Mayne - was $5.62 billion in the year to June 30, up 5.4 per cent on the prior year.
"They're buying right across the board," Mr Harvey said. "Bedding, furniture, electrical, computers, carpets, home improvement. What tends to happen is you'll bring out a new TV, a curved TV, it's the hot line, so consequently TV sales shoot up in that period.
"So we're always looking for that new product, be it a computer, TV, refrigerator, even fabric on the lounge. There's always something coming onto the market accelerating sales, we want to be the one that hits that hard."
Revenue from company-owned overseas stores in Singapore, Malaysia, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Slovenia and Croatia rose 2.1 per cent to $1.83 billion, while the final dividend is 26 cents, fully franked, down four cents on last year.
Mr Harvey said the goal was for the company to be making 25 per cent of its profit overseas within three to five years, highlighting the success of Harvey Norman's new "flagship" store format currently rolling out in the major capitals.
"The first one opened in Singapore a year and a half ago, the sales in that store have been the best in the world," he said. "It suddenly became our number one store. Everyone that's been in there has said, in terms of homemaker goods, furniture and electrical, it's the best store in the world."
The first Australian location at Auburn is set to open in October.
"You should be able to go into that in a couple of months and say, 'Wow, I haven't seen anything as good as this in Australia.' That's our answer to our critics," Mr Harvey said.
"There was a whole heap of talk here about the time of the GFC about the internet, people buying online, the demise of people like Harvey Norman. That talk now though has totally dried up, especially when we put out results like we're putting out at the moment.
"There are many analysts and journos all sprouting the same line, that we're dinosaurs, but the truth is something totally different. If you start peddling that line you just look stupid. We're the leader of the pack, we don't see anyone out there in the world doing a better job than us."
- with AAP
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