Julia Gillard's adaptation of the Pacific solution could be overwhelmed before it can be put into action, with record numbers of asylum seekers continuing to arrive.
Four asylum vessels were picked up in Australian waters on Thursday, the most to arrive in any one day since Labor took power in 2007.
Another vessel was intercepted off Cocos Island yesterday carrying about 30 people and more were expected to arrive in coming days.
Close to 500 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia since Ms Gillard announced on Monday she would back former defence chief Angus Houston's report and reopen the two Howard government-era Pacific detention camps.
A Government insider said the rush of boats was partly a result of the people smugglers getting as many asylum seekers as they could out of Indonesia before the full impact of the new immigration regime came into force. "They are moving all the stock out of the warehouse," the source said.
The Prime Minister has warned that any asylum seekers who arrived from the start of this week risked being sent to Nauru or Manus Island, but by some counts the likely capacity at those camps may already be a third full.
The combined capacity of the two camps on Nauru under the Howard government was about 1500 beds. Manus Island never held more than 500 people.
While the coalition voted through laws allowing the re-opening of the two camps, it has been careful to warn the boats will not stop arriving unless the full suite of Howard-era deterrents were implemented, including temporary protection visas and the turning back of boats to Indonesia by the navy.
Philip Ruddock - once derided by Labor as the heartless architect of Mr Howard's Pacific solution - told _The Weekend West _ yesterday he was not celebrating the irony of the situation. "There will be no triumphalism from me," he said.
Mr Ruddock said Labor had recreated the people smuggling problem by "trashing" the policies he put in place and it was now dealing with the consequences.
RAAF engineers arrived on Manus yesterday to begin a survey of old buildings to assess whether they could be used again. The 40 buildings they looked at were dilapidated and overgrown by jungle.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the Government would have to wait for the engineers to report before deciding how many people could be housed at either centre.
The Malaysian Government said it was still willing to revive the stalled people swap agreement.