Tony Abbott says the Government should not be seeking credit for sending the first handful of asylum seekers to Manus Island under its new offshore processing policy when thousands arrive every month.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed the first 19 asylum seekers - seven families of Sri Lankan and Iranian origin, including four children - had been sent to the Papua New Guinean island this morning.
Mr Bowen said the cohort would be "the first of many, sending the clear message that people arriving by boat risk being sent to a regional processing centre in either Nauru or Papua New Guinea".
At a small function at the Subiaco electorate office of his deputy Julie Bishop, the Opposition Leader said the Government should not be claiming the transfer as an achievement.
"The Government today is boasting that some 18 people have been sent to Manus Island," Mr Abbott said.
"Well what about the 30,000-plus illegal boat arrivals that have come to this great big island since this Government changed the policy that (was) working?
"This Government thinks it's an achievement to send just 18 people to Manus when you've got 2000 people coming every month."
When asked whether he was concerned Amnesty International had described the conditions at Manus Island as unacceptable, Mr Abbott said he was confident any centre set up by an Australian government would be humane.
"I also have to say that people who come illegally to this country can't expect to be treated like they're staying at a four-star or five-star hotel," Mr Abbott said.
"The people who have come illegally to this country need to know that they are breaking our laws, that they are - if I may say so - taking advantage, unfair advantage of our decency as a people. There needs to be consequences for people who do the wrong thing and that's what rigorous offshore processing is all about."
When pressed on what was illegal about seeking asylum in a foreign country, Mr Abbott said: "It is illegal to come to Australia without papers, without proper documentation, without adhering to the normal requirements that we expect of people coming to this country."