UPDATE 2.10pm The Federal Government will give a clearer picture of how long it will take to restart offshore processing of asylum seekers after its advance teams return home tomorrow.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith says Defence reconnaissance teams sent by the government to Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island are due back tomorrow.
The teams return comes as another boat carrying 17 suspected asylum seekers was intercepted off the Cocos Islands.
“So we’ll be in a position very early this week to consider their reports and then start establishing temporary and subsequently permanent facilities,” Mr Smith told Network Ten today.
The teams have found the facilities on both islands in disrepair and it’s unclear how long it will take to get them up and running.
The state of the facilities means the government’s aim to start sending asylum seekers offshore within the next few weeks could prove unrealistic.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott urged against any lengthy delays.
“The prime minister should just get on with it,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.
“She should stop complaining, she should just get on with it.”
Mr Abbott said he believed offshore processing would send a strong signal to people smugglers but he was still calling on the government to implement the other Howard government policies of temporary protection visas and turning boats back to Indonesia.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is making no apologies about her government’s decision to embrace a tougher version of the Howard government’s so-called Pacific Solution, which Labor had long railed against.
“The feelings of me or any Labor member are a second-order issue, indeed a hundredth-order issue, compared with saving lives at sea,” Ms Gillard told Sky News.
“Yes, this is a tough policy ... but our aim here is to stop people risking their lives at sea and too often losing that bet.”
Ms Gillard admitted that the policy could see asylum seekers detained for years in Nauru and Manus Island.
Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the new policy would cost lives by driving asylum seekers to suicide and insanity.
“There has to be a better way of saving people’s lives at sea,“ Senator Hanson-Young told the ABC.
Mr Smith dismissed as “fanciful” suggestions that the government should have sent special forces soldiers in to deal with 67 asylum seekers who intimidated their rescuers on the merchant vessel MV Parsifal into taking them to Christmas Island last week.
The comments came as another boat carrying 17 suspected asylum seekers was intercepted off the Cocos Islands.
The vessel was initially detected by an RAAF maritime patrol aircraft on Saturday morning.
The passengers have been transferred to Christmas Island where they will undergo initial security, health and identity checks.