Amid a continuing and uninterrupted flow of illegals — a flow which the conservative Howard government had completely stopped

THE border security committee of cabinet met today in Canberra amid a deepening row over Kevin Rudd’s decision to allow four asylum-seekers who ASIO deemed a security threat to be flown to Christmas Island. The meeting followed the interception of another boatload of arrivals near Christmas Island carrying 42 suspected asylum-seekers, the fifth boat for the year.

National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis attended the meeting in the Prime Minister’s office as the government confirmed another boatload of asylum-seekers had been detected near Christmas Island.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans confirmed the meeting but would not discuss the agenda, arguing it was a routine meeting. “We are just managing what is hopefully a temporary peak in arrivals,” Senator Evans said.

He also conceded that Australia may have to activate a contingency plan to transport asylum-seekers from the offshore detention centre on Christmas Island to the mainland. There were 1724 people at Christmas Island – its capacity is 1820 detainees – with another 42 to arrive for processing. However, the immigration department said some people had been granted visas and would soon be transferred to the mainland. “We’ve still got some capacity at Christmas Island. I’ve always made clear we’ve got a detention centre at Darwin with a capacity for 500 that’s purpose built,” Senator Evans told Perth Radio 6PR. “If we need to we will use that for the final stages for processing. But people will be taken to Christmas Island and they will be treated as offshore entry arrivals and all the legal structures that go around that.”

The cabinet committee was established last year to tackle the recent surge in asylum-seekers arriving by boat and has a $2.8 million budget to source advice and support for the committee to respond to “the resurgent maritime people smuggling threat”. Chaired by Senator Evans, it includes Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, Defence Minister John Faulkner, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Mr Lewis. The Prime Minister, who remains on holidays in Tasmania, did not attend the meeting.

Earlier, the opposition accused the Rudd government of committing a “grievous security breach” by sending four asylum-seekers deemed a threat by ASIO to Christmas Island.

Yesterday Senator Evans confirmed the decision to transfer the Tamils by charter plane to honour an agreement with Indonesia to end the Oceanic Viking standoff.

Opposition customs spokesman Michael Keenan said today it was difficult to understand “why the reaction of the Labor Government to the news that these four pose a security risk was to charter a plane to go and collect them from Indonesia and bring them to Australia”. “Now why any Australian Government would commit such a grievous security breach is very difficult to know,” Mr Keenan told ABC Radio. “It’s really an extraordinary set of circumstances and it’s the final calamity that’s been associated with Labor’s failed border protection policies.”

The Rudd government confirmed this morning that HMAS Bathurst, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted another vessel at 2.24am (AEDT) about five nautical miles north of Christmas Island. In a statement today the government said there were 42 people on board. It’s the fifth vessel to be detected this year, pushing the detention centre to the brink of capacity.