The federal government is reportedly buying large, engine-powered lifeboats on which asylum seekers could be sent back to Indonesia.
Fairfax Media reports the government is purchasing up to 16 hard-hulled lifeboats on which asylum seekers can be transferred if their own vessels are deemed unseaworthy.
The asylum seekers could then be returned to Indonesia on board the lifeboats, it reports.
The purchase of the lifeboats is said to be an attempt to combat the practice of asylum seekers sabotaging old fishing boats at sea, leaving Australian authorities with no option but to rescue them.
Fairfax reports that the engine-powered lifeboats have roofs, and can carry dozens of passengers, as well as food and water for at least seven days.
The boats have enough fuel and supplies to get asylum seekers caught close to Indonesian waters back to land, the report says.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to confirm or deny the purchase of the lifeboats.
On Tuesday, Mr Morrison would not comment on conflicting reports that the navy secretly turned around at least one asylum seeker boat in recent weeks.
“The government will continue to take all steps necessary to stop the boats consistent with our commitments to the Australian people and to protect safety of life at sea,” he said in a statement.
Speculation about possible boat turnbacks follows a stand-off in November when Australia tried to force a vessel back into Indonesian waters.
The Abbott government backed down after Indonesia refused to accept the asylum seekers, who were eventually transferred to Christmas Island.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said reports the government was buying the lifeboats were proof its asylum-seeker policy has failed.
“I think this just shows what tatters Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott’s policy is in,” Senator Hanson-Young told ABC radio on Wednesday.
“First we heard they were going to stop the boats, then they said we’ll buy back the boats, now they’re going to start giving away boats.
“The fact is this government is obsessed with doing everything they can to push refugees out of sight, out of mind, rather then helping them.”
News of the lifeboats comes a day after Mr Morrison refused to comment on reports the Australian navy had recently turned back two asylum seeker boats.
Labor’s acting immigration spokesman Mark Dreyfus said Australians were being left to guess at what the government was doing in their name.
“The minister and the prime minister are not wanting to explain to Australians what’s going on because that would make clear just how disastrous the impact this is having on our relationship with Indonesia,” he told ABC radio.
“(Australians) shouldn’t have to read about it in the Jakarta Post or to be told by Indonesian authorities what our government and what our navy is being asked to do.”