AUTHORITIES were last night preparing for another mass transfer of asylum-seekers from Christmas Island, as Australia’s intelligence watchdog warned ASIO was struggling to cope with the deluge of security assessments on boatpeople.

The warning from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Ian Carnell, came as the authorities on Christmas Island readied for the arrival this morning of a Qantas Boeing 737, the third and largest charter flight to arrive on the island in four days.

Yesterday, Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison declared the transfer, the latest in a growing number of flights, marked the “end of universal offshore processing”. “This is a significant departure of policy,” Mr Morrison told The Weekend Australian. “They are implementing their plan to abolish universal offshore processing and that is a consequence of their failed policies on border protection,” he said.

The arrival of today’s jet, which seats about 190, comes after Customs delivered a further 68 people from two boats to the jetty yesterday. The charter is the latest in an increasing number of flights from Christmas Island, which is desperately overcrowded because of the surge in boat arrivals.

Today’s charter follows a jet that took detainees to Perth on Wednesday, and another yesterday that delivered eight Indonesian crew and 51 asylum-seekers without visas into various forms of mainland detention in Brisbane and Melbourne.

It came as Mr Carnell told The Weekend Australian the number of complaints against ASIO has more than quadrupled, after a blowout in processing times for asylum-seeker security checks. And he warned ASIO had been forced to transfer skilled staff from other visa security screening categories to cope with the surge.

The Immigration Department said those transferred on Thursday were considered “vulnerable”, meaning they were unaccompanied minors, family groups or crew. Those aboard today’s flight will join more than 250 asylum-boat passengers and crew already on the Australian mainland.

The growing number of boatpeople detained on the mainland without visas has prompted the opposition to accuse the Rudd government of using the transfer to relieve the overcrowding on Christmas Island, a claim rejected by the government.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has denied there is anything unusual about the transfers, noting that the Howard government also flew people at risk to the Australian mainland.

The stoush came as Mr Carnell said there had been a “major” increase in complaints against ASIO over the time it was taking to perform security checks.

Speaking to The Weekend Australian, Mr Carnell said this financial year alone his office had received 670 complaints. That compared with just 157 for all of 2008-09. “There’s obviously a surge of work there,” Mr Carnell said. “ASIO generally treat detention cases as priorities. To the extent they can, the Christmas Island cases have priority.” One consequence of that priority was that ASIO had had to divert resources from other visa categories, such as onshore migrants, Mr Carnell said.

Writing in a parliamentary submission, the intelligence watchdog said: “It also seems that there has been an impact from the diversion within ASIO of resources to deal with increased numbers of irregular arrival cases. The large majority of irregular cases must, under the current criteria, be assessed from a security point of view.”

But Mr Carnell defended the agency, saying the number of complaints was “not high” when set against the large number of assessments it was not required to perform.

And, in a parliamentary submission on the subject, he suggested asylum-seekers from one unnamed country might be making vexatious complaints against ASIO on the instructions of migration agents.

“It is notable that a large proportion of the recent complaints come from visa applicants in one particular country, and one possibility is that some migration agents are routinely advising clients to make a complaint after a visa application is made.”

Mr Carnell said the surge in asylum checks presented a “conundrum” for ASIO. “The resources really sit in-house,” he told The Weekend Australian. “For the complex cases you can’t just recruit people off the street.”

Yesterday, ASIO said the reason for the surge in complaints lay outside its control. But a spokeswoman for the agency refused to say if the demands posed by the surge in boat arrivals had forced ASIO to pull staff from other duties.

“We are unable to make comment on matters relating to operational requirements of the organisation,” the spokeswoman told The Weekend Australian.

All told, there were 1966 people on the island yesterday, leaving just 74 spare beds. But another 130 people from three intercepted boats this week were on their way.

On board yesterday’s charter flight were two families without visas – the department has increasingly used its discretion to transfer selected young people and families who are deemed to be vulnerable and close to receiving visas to the mainland.

Two babies and a young boy clutching a teddy bear were among the asylum-seekers who arrived at Christmas Island yesterday on board Customs vessel Triton. They were from boats intercepted near Ashmore Reef and Adele Island off the Kimberley coast and had undergone initial health checks aboard Triton. [Healthy parasites are welcome, apparently]

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