The interception of an asylum seeker boat with 153 people on board near Christmas Island is a sign this year looks set to break records for arrivals, the Federal Opposition says.
The boat, which has the largest number of passengers since October 2012, was given assistance by an Australian navy vessel on Wednesday after it asked for help.
Its 150 passengers and three crew were transferred to Christmas Island for security and health checks.
They risk being sent to Australia's offshore processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
Immigration spokesman Michael Keenan said the arrival, with the largest number of passengers since October 2012, was continuing a recent trend of people smugglers using larger vessels packed with more people.
“This is just another indication that the Labor Party’s policies have failed on border protection, and they’ve failed spectacularly,” Mr Keenan said today.
“And they can’t just cling to this failure and not do something differently to regain control over who comes to Australia.”
Mr Keenan said there was a record number of arrivals last year but 2013 was set to be “significantly worse”.
He said it was a mystery that the Federal Government’s proposed legislation to excise the Australian mainland from its migration zone and deter asylum seekers had languished.
The plan will enable asylum seekers to be sent to Manus Island or Nauru, and the coalition voted for it in the House of Representatives in November, but the legislation has failed to get through the Senate.
“We were very keen to see that legislation passed through the parliament,” Mr Keenan said.
“The situation as it stands now is an incentive to reach the Australian mainland.”
While reports of an asylum seeker boat off the Arnhem Land coast had proved to be incorrect, he said, it was “perfectly believable“ given vessels had been intercepted close to Darwin and Broome in recent days, while another boat that sailed into the Mid West port of Geraldton, stunning onlookers.