Nauru centre set to open within days
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen comments on asylum seekers during a press conference at Parliament House yesterday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The Gillard government will send the first wave of asylum seekers to Nauru within days to live in tents as it blasts the Greens for ''naively'' opposing offshore processing.
However, the opposition is demanding Labor adopt the ''very blunt'' policy of sending asylum seekers directly to Nauru instead of taking them to Christmas Island on a navy ''water taxi''.
By last night the navy had intercepted three boats carrying 202 people within 24 hours.
The Coalition supported a motion in Parliament designating Nauru as a regional processing country, the last hurdle to re-opening the Australian-built detention centre there.
The government signed an agreement on the weekend with Papua New Guinea to re-open a similar camp on Manus Island, as it moves to halt the flow of asylum seekers.
At today's caucus meeting, Labor MPs are expecting to hear the government has gone into high gear to clear the decks of troublesome issues and push ahead on ''Labor heartland'' issues.
Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan will headline the meeting, as Ms Gillard remains in Adelaide to grieve with her family over the death of her father, John Gillard.
Mr Swan told Parliament yesterday Ms Gillard would be absent for the rest of the week as he formally passed on the Parliament's condolences to Ms Gillard, her mother Moira and sister Alison.
According to the latest Essential poll, issued last night, Ms Gillard has overtaken Tony Abbott as better prime minister.
The Coalition maintained its election winning lead, with the two-party preferred split remaining stationary at 55 per cent for the Coalition and 45 per cent for Labor.
Asked about the fall in support for Greens at the NSW local government elections, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the party's opposition to offshore processing was ''entirely naive and unworkable''.
''I think the Australian people have seen the Greens' approach, in a very prominent policy area, laid bare over the last few weeks,'' he said.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said former Greens leader, Bob Brown, was a ''charismatic, significant figure'' who had a lot of respect but he did not want to reflect on his successor, Christine Milne.
''It was always going to be difficult for them,'' he said.
''The truth is that now we don't have to say if you vote Green, you think you're getting Bob Brown - people know they're not getting Bob Brown, they're getting someone else.''
The government is expecting the designation documents for Nauru will pass both houses of parliament quickly.
This will pave the away for up to 500 people to be processed on the island.
Mr Bowen said the Immigration Department would decide who would be in the first plane load.
Almost 2000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia since the government said it would re-open the two detention camps.
The government says anyone who arrived after August 13 ''runs the risk'' of being sent to an offshore camp.
The government has signed a six-month contract with logistics group Transfield Services worth $24.5 million to run the Nauru camp.
The Salvation Army would be contracted to work on community liaison, case management and community activities.
Mr Bowen said 30 defence force personnel and two Immigration Department staff were about to go to Manus Island.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the Coalition would support the parliamentary moves but the finalisation of the paperwork meant Labor should take a tough line. ''From today, any boat and any person who turns up on a boat must go to Nauru, no exceptions,'' he said. ''Any exceptions to that will only dilute what is already a half-hearted message that this government is seeking to send.''