“Asylum-seekers” could soon breach Australia’s borders and arrive “on our beaches” if the latest boat arrival off the coast of Western Australia is any guide, the opposition claimed yesterday. Two boat arrivals in 24 hours, with more than 100 passengers on board, have prompted concerns that the government’s offshore processing centre at Christmas Island could soon reach capacity. The latest boat arrived 25 nautical miles northwest of Adele Island, which is about 100km off the Kimberley coast, carrying 28 passengers and two crew.

“This boat was intercepted only a stone’s throw from Western Australia’s coast,” opposition border and customs spokesman Michael Keenan said yesterday. “How much longer will it be before they begin to arrive on our beaches? “The public deserves an explanation as to how this latest arrival was allowed to get within 100km of Western Australia.”

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the Rudd government was on track for record boat arrivals following the watering down of the Coalition’s border control policies since the election — a claim the government dismissed yesterday as using selective data. There are 1914 asylum-seekers and 28 crew being held on Christmas Island, which has a current capacity of 2040. Those numbers do not include the 31 passengers and crew picked up yesterday near Adele Island.

The government remains committed to offshore processing on Christmas Island because this allows the commonwealth to restrict the legal avenues asylum-seekers have to appeal against rejected claims for refugee status.

But West Australian Premier Colin Barnett warned yesterday that the government’s policies were “falling short”, and said boatpeople were being sent the wrong message. “Australia may well need to look at another detention area,” Mr Barnett said. “I would prefer not on the mainland. Once people get on to the Australian mainland they automatically get a further set of rights, and this is putting huge cost to the Australian community,” the Premier said.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is already using tents to ease Christmas Island’s accommodation shortage and hopes to buy more land to build staff accommodation. If the department can build new accommodation, asylum-seeker family groups could be moved out of a cramped construction camp and into some of the department-owned accommodation where 288 immigration workers now live.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday the conflicts in Asia were responsible for the surge in asylum-seekers. “We are expanding capacity at Christmas Island to meet anticipated needs,” Ms Gillard said.

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