Labor frontbencher Clare O’Neil has called for sweeping immigration changes as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of Australia’s post-pandemic course.
The opposition’s innovation, technology and future of work spokeswoman ventured into economics, foreign affairs and immigration in a major address to the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Ms O’Neil said the number of unskilled migrants had doubled to 800,000 over the past 15 years, while temporary skilled migrants brought the combined figure close to one million.
She said pivotal changes were needed to allow more skilled permanent migrants into the country to boost manufacturing, science and technology.
“This is not a dog whistle. I am arguing here in favour of immigration, strongly. And this is not about race – I’m not making any comment about where migrants come from,” Ms O’Neil said.
“I’m saying that we need to make an economic transformation in our country, and that immigration can help us do it – but it’s not going to happen if we just go back to the way things were before.”
Amid continued divisions within Labor on policy direction, Ms O’Neil said work needed to be at the centre of debate.
She said tackling low wage growth, living standards, the gig economy and underpayments must be priorities.
“It’s time for us – as a parliament and a population – to stop and ask why we have allowed work to deteriorate to this point.”
The speech was based on ideas from Ms O’Neil’s podcast, in which she spoke to more than 60 leading political, economic and academic figures.
The Victorian right faction MP said Australia should continue to shape international institutions while also balancing the benefits of globalisation with national independence.
“While an interconnected world is in Australia’s interests, we need to be smart,” she said.
“It means taking a sober look at our capabilities and asking what we might need to be able to do for ourselves, should another crisis hit.”
Politicians should fight for voters rather than with each other, she argued.
“Enough with the vitriol and haughty exchanges, with the mock disbelief and fake anger,” Ms O’Neil said.
“Enough with the macho-ness of the culture, which confuses going hard and refusing to listen and change with strength.”
Ms O’Neil, who was touted as a deputy Labor leader after the election before withdrawing, criticised the idea that every MP wanted to reach their party’s top job.
“I’m not involved in politics to be in a chess game,” she said.
“I don’t get any joy in promotions without a concept of what one might do with an increased level of power that might come with it.”
Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek also made a speech on Wednesday, calling for guaranteed funding for science and research to drive job-creating innovation.
She took aim at the Morrison government for refusing to admonish Liberal MP Craig Kelly over his support for an unproven coronavirus treatment.