Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, right, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at a press conference regarding asylum seeker policy.

Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, right, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at a press conference regarding asylum seeker policy. Photo: Getty Images

Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has defended the Indonesian boat buyback policy, despite widespread ridiculing of the plan and an admission from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that it may never eventuate.

Mr Morrison said at a press conference on Monday that the measure would be an "an important tool in the box", and then criticised Labor's Papua New Guinea solution to deter asylum seekers.

But journalists used the opportunity to grill Mr Morrison on his controversial plan to buy Indonesian fishing boats to stop them being sold to people smugglers. The fact checking service PolitiFact judged "ridiculous" Mr Morrison's claim that the policy "saves lives" and "saves taxpayers' money ultimately".

Mr Morrison said the boat buyback was "part of a suite of operational measures" that included "bounties" to catch people smugglers.

"[Boat buybacks] will be an important tool in the box," Mr Morrison said.

On Sunday Mr Abbott conceded that the boat buyback might never eventuate.

''We may not buy boats back but if we did have the opportunity to pay someone a couple of thousand dollars to stop a boat from being launched, when, if that boat arrived in Australia, it would cost some $12 million per boat to deal with people, that would be a shrewd investment,'' Mr Abbott told ABC TV.

Last week, Mr Abbott insisted an incoming Coalition government would set aside $20 million for a ''community engagement program'' in Indonesia, despite the head of Indonesia's parliamentary commission for foreign affairs, Mahfudz Siddiq, saying the plan was ''derogatory''.

''This is really a crazy idea, unfriendly, derogatory and it shows [a] lack of understanding in this matter," he said.

Immigration minister Tony Burke reacted with some glee to the PolitiFact finding on Monday morning.

''It was one thing when I described the buy back the boats policy as the most absurd policy that I had seen. It is another thing when an independent fact-checker describes it as the most ridiculous of all the Coalition policies. There is some competition for that title, but buying back the boats wins it hands down,'' Mr Burke said.

Mr Burke also commented on the fact that when Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott launched the policy in Darwin, they said it was the culmination of four years' policy work.

''One of the great challenges of the Coalition isn't simply can they release policy, but one of the great challenges that we've realised for them is the more time they spend thinking about it, the worse it becomes,'' he said.

''There has been no policy more absurd than the concept that Australia would fund the Indonesian boat-building industry. Nothing more ridiculous than the concept that they would go out and start to enter a market that already involves three-quarters of a million boats. And the absurdity of that I’m glad has been called out and called out directly by the PolitiFact website.''

Mr Burke said that in the past 24 hours, authorities had intercepted two boats carrying 58 people between them.

‘‘These vessels would be capable, in the way that we saw some months ago, of having many more people crammed on board. But while people smugglers are in charge of whether or not the boat goes off, it’s actually the asylum seekers who are in charge of whether or not they get on board. And what we’ve seen for some time now is the people smugglers have remained as desperate as ever to get boats off and they have had increasing challenges in finding people who are willing to get on board, including people who had in fact already paid.

‘‘We are nearly at the end of the situation where there are people who are willing to take that risk.’’

Mr Burke said two ‘‘shocks’’ to the people smugglers had been Australia releasing video of asylum seekers detained on Manus Island warning other would-be asylum seekers not to make the journey to Australia, and sending family groups to Nauru.

In July, 4236 asylum seekers had come to Australia by boat, he said. In August, that had dropped to 1585 people.

‘‘We have broken the back of the people smuggling trade,’’ he said, adding that the population in Christmas Island’s detention facilities was falling.

But he lambasted opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison’s comment on Monday that the best an asylum seeker who came by boat could hope for under a Coalition government was a temporary visa, calling on him to ‘‘withdraw’’ the comment.

‘‘Can I say, it is hard to think of something more irresponsible than this, and I do not want there to be any risk that if there is a change of government on Saturday that people smugglers are able to use comments by my counterpart to resume a dangerous trade.’’

Conceding Australia ''may not'' spend the money, Mr Abbott said on Sunday the Coalition would simply make ''$20-odd million'' available to Australian officials working in Indonesia, to ''try to ensure that the local villages were working with us rather than with the people smugglers''.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison at the weekend repeated his call for police to be automatically notified when asylum seekers are released from detention to live in the community.

Despite crime statistics showing that asylum seekers are considerably less likely to be accused, or convicted, of crimes, Mr Morrison said police needed more information about where asylum seekers were living.

And, he said, police would ensure that there were no impediments to police entering detention centres to investigate suspected criminal behaviour.

Authorities are also aware – through Centrelink – where asylum seekers live while they await the processing of their claims.

Mr Morrison originally flagged the policy on February 27, in the wake of the arrest of a 21-year-old Sri Lankan asylum seeker, charged with indecently assaulting a student at Macquarie University.

On Sunday, Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the proposal was an ''unabashed and unashamed dog-whistle''.

"It has been shown repeatedly that refugees are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population, but that hasn't stopped the opposition from whipping up fear at every opportunity,'' she said.

"It is reckless to incite tensions in the community in this way. There are already controls and protections put in place, known as Australian law, which apply to everyone in Australia equally.''

Mr Abbott has also retreated from a pledge to visit Indonesia in his first week as prime minister if he wins the election.

The Opposition Leader now says he will visit Australia's northern neighbour ''as soon as is reasonably possible'' if elected on Saturday.

Mr Abbott said on Monday that he wanted to establish a convention that the first bilateral visit of any incoming Australian prime minister would be to Jakarta.

''Obviously I need to go at a time that is convenient to our Indonesian hosts,'' he told reporters in Sydney on Monday. ''It would be discourteous to just turn up unannounced and uninvited.''

The Coalition has said that should it win office, it has an enormous task ahead trying to repair relations with Indonesia. The opposition claims ongoing issues around asylum seekers and Labor's decision to ban live cattle exports to the country in 2011 have soured bilateral relations.

with AAP