Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen, who has previously been shadow treasurer and before that treasurer, wants the study of economics made "more sexy" to attract more students, especially women, to study it.
And he thinks young people's concerns about climate change might be a way to encourage them into a discipline which has seen falling numbers.
In his Warren Hogan memorial lecture, Bowen highlights the rise of business courses and the decline of those in economics. The lecture, to be delivered on Wednesday night, has been released beforehand.
The number studying economics in their HSC or equivalent qualification has gone from about 40,000 in 1993, to about 11,000 today, Bowen points out.
Bowen says that in the decade to 2016, the number of Australian universities offering economic degrees fell from 21 to 17.
Meanwhile the gender gap in economics students has been rising.
While saying he has nothing against business studies, Bowen says he is "concerned that the nation will lose out, our society will lose out, if fewer young people are trained in the fundamentals of good economic decision making and more and more are trained in the more commercial skills sets of banking and business studies".
Bowen says young people are passionate about big issues, notably climate change and inequality.
Bowen says the government should add climate change to the list of National Health Priority Areas.
Current areas are cancer control, cardiovascular health, injury prevention, mental health, diabetes mellitus, arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, obesity and dementia. The government recently proposed the addition of medicines safety.
Bowen says severe climate change, of the type the world is on track for, threatens health. Adding climate change to the priority list would raise awareness of the health challenge it presents "and set out a road map for dealing with it".
Author: Michelle Grattan - Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra