Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally believes a post-coronavirus environment will provide the country an opportunity to rethink its immigration program to provide better opportunities for Australians.
In an opinion piece, Labor's home affairs spokeswoman says high levels of immigration, especially skilled migration, has helped Australia's 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth.
However, COVID-19 has closed international borders, temporary migrants have gone home and no new migrants are coming for the foreseeable future.
Borders are likely to stay closed well after other restrictions are eased and may not reopen for six, 12 or even 24 months.
"While Australia's high level of migration played a key role in our economic prosperity, in recent years the shape and size of our intake has hurt many Australian workers, contributing to unemployment, underemployment and low wage growth," Senator Keneally says.
She asks when Australia restarts its migration program, should it be in the same numbers and composition as before the crisis?
"Our answer should be no," she says.
"Our economic recovery must help all Australians get back on their feet and to do that we need a migration program that puts Australian workers first."
The senator, who is also the deputy Labor leader in the Senate, said work on a migration rethink doesn't have to wait until the borders reopen and labour market gaps will emerge when the domestic economy reopens but migration stays shut.
"The next few months present a great chance for business, unions and the government to come together to identify coming skill shortages and deliver training and reskilling opportunities to Australian workers so they can fill these jobs," she says.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said Labor is "all over the shop" on migration.
He said on the one hand it has criticised the government for not giving temporary migrants access to the JobKeeper and and JobSeeker payments to help them stay in Australia at a cost of $20 billion.
But now Senator Keneally wants to cut the migration program.
"The government's position has always been clear," Mr Tudge said in a statement.
"We have always prioritised Australians for Australians jobs and acted in the national interests on visa settings."
He said the government has also reduced the permanent migration cap down to 160,000 from 190,000 and encouraged new arrivals to settle in smaller cities and regional areas.
Australian Associated Press
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.