Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is using the arrival of an asylum seeker boat to pressure Labor into stiffening its stance on border security.
Twenty asylum seekers from Sri Lanka reached Christmas Island last week – the first vessel to make its shores in five years.
They were detained on the island for several days before being flown back to Colombo on a government jet.
Mr Dutton said it was a “very dangerous period” for boat arrivals, hinting that “it’s not the only vessel we’re worried about”.
The Minister believes people smugglers are trying to test the re-elected government’s resolve.
“I think they were in the process of doing exactly that on this occasion,” he told 2GB radio on Thursday.
“We need to make sure that people hear the very clear message that if you attempt to come here by boat, you won’t come to this country, and the settings under the Morrison government will not be softened.”
Mr Dutton urged Labor to abandon its support for the so-called medevac laws, which make it easier for sick asylum seekers being held offshore to seek medical transfers.
The laws were passed earlier in 2019, with the support of independent MPs and Senate crossbenchers.
“The government is going to repeal the medevac bill if we’re able to get the numbers in parliament – so we need the Labor Party for that,” Mr Dutton said.
“That is also a green light for people to come to our country from Manus Island and Nauru, and again, that would send the wrong signal to people smugglers who are marketing Australia as an outcome.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has requested an urgent security briefing on the latest boat arrival.
“I have put a phone call in, by the way, to Scott Morrison’s office this morning,” he said on Thursday.
“I think it is the respectful thing to do for me to have a discussion with the Prime Minister this afternoon.”
Mr Albanese pointed out 10 asylum seeker boats had arrived from Sri Lanka since 2013 under the Coalition government’s watch.
The latest boat left Sri Lanka in the first week of May, not long after the deadly Easter bombing attacks on hotels and churches.
Mr Dutton argued there was “nobody weaker on boats” in the Labor Party than its newly-minted federal leader.
“The government has been elected with a mandate, I think, for strong border protection policies,” he told 2GB.
“It’s now time for Mr Albanese to step up and say whether he supports and whether he would vote for our legislation in parliament.
“That is to abolish the medevac bill and to support Operation Sovereign Borders in its entirety.”