Julia Gillard has shut the door on any more boat people, vowing yesterday that all new arrivals would be sent to Nauru, where they will face indefinite detention.
Formally abandoning Labor's strident opposition to John Howard's Pacific solution, the Prime Minister said she would today seek to introduce legislation to put offshore processing on the tiny Pacific island nation beyond legal doubt.
And in a message to the thousands of asylum seekers waiting for a boat in Indonesia, Ms Gillard warned: "Stay where you are, don't move."
Eighty-seven asylum seekers narrowly avoided becoming the first to test the Government's new resolve when they were stopped near Cocos Island hours before the PM announced the new regime.
Reopening processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island was among 22 recommendations by a panel led by former defence force chief Angus Houston. Ms Gillard said the Government accepted the recommendations "in principle" and called on the Opposition to allow passage of the legislation this week.
Mr Houston and panellists former diplomat Michael L'Estrange and refugee advocate Paris Aristotle said their recommendations were "hard-headed but not hard-hearted". They said Labor's proposed Malaysia refugee swap lacked human rights safeguards but was worth pursuing if greater protections could be assured.
The panel said asylum seekers should get no advantages coming by boat. While it did not back temporary protection visas, it recommended tightening family reunion rights, a key element of TPVs.
It said the annual refugee intake should rise from 13,750 to 20,000.
It found turning back boats to Indonesia was not workable but could be if agreement was reached with Indonesia to accept vessels.
Labor had been deeply critical about the cost and effectiveness of sending asylum seekers to Nauru, arguing that most sent there ended up in Australia anyway.
The PM conceded reopening Nauru could expose asylum seekers to mental harm but suggested this might be preferable to more people dying at sea.
"What's the mental health trauma for that person who lost six of their relatives when a boat went down at sea? These are the judgments we're making. They're hard decisions but they need to be made," she said.
Immigration officials said it would cost $2 billion over four years to reopen and operate two camps on Nauru and that it would take at least three months for the camps to be re-established. The camps would have a capacity of 750.
Shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison said the report broadly endorsed the coalition's border protection policies but he would wait to see the Government's amendments.
Greens leader Christine Milne said the Houston recommendations were a return to the "bad old days" of the Howard government and the minor party would not agree to anything that treated asylum seekers cruelly.
Key independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott supported the package.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regional representative Ric Towle said he wanted assurances that people sent to Nauru or PNG would not face protracted delays in having their claims assessed.
But other refugee advocates condemned the plan, saying it was inhumane.This year 114 boats carrying more than 7800 people have arrived in Australian waters.