The Coalition plan would give people smugglers a “product to sell,” Immigration Minister Tony Burke said.
The Coalition plan would give people smugglers a “product to sell,” Immigration Minister Tony Burke said.

Major flaws in Coalition's asylum seeker plan: Burke

A COALITION plan to build a "tent city" on Nauru to house up to 2000 asylum seekers contains a number of "dire errors" and would be an easy target for people smugglers to exploit, Immigration Minister Tony Burke has warned.

Under the Coalition's five-year policy commitment, asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat would be sent to Nauru with "no guarantee" of ever being settled in Australia.

An Abbott government would also scout for other locations on Nauru to house thousands of additional asylum seekers.

Mr Burke said the "no guarantee" clause was one of two crucial differences between the major parties' policies.

Placing a limit on capacity on Nauru was the other major flaw in the Coalition plan, Mr Burke said, adding it was "effectively a policy for a fortnight".

Asylum seekers arriving by boat under Labor's Papua New Guinea solution will be sent to Manus Island with no chance of ever being settled in Australia.

The Coalition plan would give people smugglers a "product to sell," Mr Burke said.

"People smugglers want to know what the figure is that they can overwhelm," said Mr Burke, who admitted aspects of the Coalition plan were "reasonable and sensible".

"To put the figure of 2000 on it, at a time where people smugglers in the current surge have been getting more than 1000 people in a week, means that effectively the Coalition are putting up in lights if you want to overwhelm the policy, here's how."

Mr Burke said under the government's plan "the number of spaces for accommodation will always be more than the number of people requiring it".

Her accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and immigration spokesman Scott Morrison of "rushing" to announce their policy after meeting with officials on Nauru last week.

He also confirmed the government had been in discussions with Nauru to expand capacity on the tiny island nation.

Mr Abbott was later forced to defend his plan, saying there would be scope to increase capacity in the long-term.

"Our will is stronger than that of the people smugglers," Mr Abbott said.

On Sunrise, he described Nauru as "quite a pleasant island", adding it would not be an "unpleasant place to live".

"And over time, you would have better facilities," he said.

"We would be using tents initially because that's what you have to do if you're going to ramp up accommodation very quickly. And we may need a very significant accommodation capacity on Nauru."

The Greens said both sides were engaged in a "race to refugee cruelty".

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said Australia's reputation as a caring nation was at risk.

"Australia's generous heart is under attack as the old parties race to refugee cruelty, the bottom of the barrel and the election," Senator Hanson-Young said.

But both Mr Burke and Mr Abbott denied their respective policies were cruel.

Mr Abbott said "stopping the boats is the most compassionate thing to do".

It was a sentiment echoed my Mr Burke.

"Let's be in no doubt about the good and decent motivations for a policy of this sort. We want to stop people from drowning," he said.