The opposition has formed a border protection committee to develop a strategy to respond to the surge in asylum seeker arrivals, which could involve turning some vessels around. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Labor inherited a robust and effective border protection system that had now been progressively unwound, paving the way for what he said was a crisis on our borders.

Mr Abbott said the new strategy would initially aim to prevent the problem in the first place by minimising outflows from countries of origin and secondary outflows from countries of first asylum. It would seek to disrupt people smugglers and intercept boats en route to Australia, while ensuring those in need of refugee protection were identified and assisted as early as possible. Appropriate arrangements for dealing with unauthorised arrivals would be developed, focusing on the early assessment of refugee status and prompt removal of those who were not refugees.

Mr Abbott said an effective border protection policy required four central elements including being prepared, under the right circumstances, to turn around the boats. He said the opposition would retain a rigorous commitment to offshore processing. It would also create a special visa category for unauthorised arrivals to ensure permanent residency was not an automatic right. A coalition government would maintain close co-operation with source and transit countries, he said.

‘The coalition is committed to pursuing policies based on these principles to ensure that Australia’s borders are safe,’ he said in a joint statement with opposition justice and customs spokesman Michael Keenan and immigration spokesman Scott Morrison.

Mr Abbott said the border protection committee would co-ordinate coalition policy across portfolios to develop a single border protection policy for the approval by shadow cabinet. No timetable has been indicated for development of this policy.

The committee would comprise Mr Keenan (convenor), Mr Morrison, opposition deputy leader Julie Bishop, defence spokesman David Johnston, shadow attorney-general George Brandis, opposition parliamentary secretary Jason Wood and former coalition immigration minister Philip Ruddock, now shadow cabinet secretary.

‘The committee will also provide a forum for consultation with the community, stakeholders and other groups with an interest in border protection issues and to determine the coalition position in response to border protection matters as they arise,’ Mr Abbott said.