Yahoo 7 News 12.12.09
The prime minister is under pressure to rethink his border protection policy, with overcrowding at Christmas Island forcing asylum seekers into tents.
As officials began processing the latest group of asylum seekers to arrive in Australian waters, the Department of Immigration confirmed detention facilities on the island were being stretched to their limits.
The recent surge in arrivals has forced the government to expand the island's detention capacity from 1400 to about 2200 beds.
But much of the additional accommodation will not be ready until March next year, forcing the government to use tents in the meantime.
Of the 1177 people currently held in the Christmas Island detention centre, 61 are in tents which have a capacity to house 160 asylum seekers.
Another 271 are in detention in other facilities on the island.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's border protection regime had failed to stem the flow of asylum seekers to Australia.
"The answer is not to put up more tents and buy more bunk beds. The answer is to stop the boats," he told AAP.
"It highlights the manifest failure of his policy."
The prime minister had shown a complete lack of resolve in addressing the asylum seeker issue, Mr Morrison said.
"This should be the final warning for the government to redress the changes in policy that they made and ensure they put in place a border protection regime so the policies they pursue and the messages they send are as clear as they were under the coalition."
The Australian Greens said it was time for the Rudd government to consider processing asylum seekers on the mainland.
"Housing traumatised asylum seekers on a remote island in the middle of nowhere is not the correct approach, particularly when the government is reduced to pitching tents to put people in," Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said.
There were a variety of options available to the government, including processing asylum seekers in Darwin, Sydney or Melbourne and housing people in community detention on the mainland, she said.
"Any of these options would be better than what we have now, which is a short-term, blinkered, Howard-era approach to asylum seekers."
However, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard rejected suggestions the arrival of a string of asylum seeker boats in the past week was evidence the government's policies were not working.
"If the measure is to be the number of boats that arrived, there was no evidence that the policies of the Howard government were working," Ms Gillard said.
"After they introduced, for example, temporary protection visas, the number of arrivals went up."
The latest boat of asylum seekers carrying 60 passengers arrived at Christmas Island on Thursday afternoon after avoiding interception by border protection authorities.
It is the 54th boat to arrive this year and the fourth in the space of a week.
Ms Gillard said occasionally boats did elude border security patrols.
"We have more border security patrols, more border security presence in our waters to the north, than was there under the previous government," she said.
"Under the previous government from time to time there were boats that made it through. That will happen, but we have stepped up our border security presence."