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The boats keep coming

Immigration correspondent Bianca Hall is on Christmas Island, she speaks to Tim Lester about what's going on on the ground.

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The arrival of an asylum seeker boat carrying almost 150 people near Darwin has raised concerns that would-be refugees are trying to land on mainland Australia to avoid being sent to offshore processing centres.

The vessel, carrying 147 people, was picked up by authorities southwest of Darwin yesterday and has the largest number of passengers on a single boat since October last year.

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor has rejected calls from the opposition to reintroduce the Howard government's policy of turning boats around, although Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he can get a deal with Indonesia on the issue.

Mr O'Connor said the Indonesians had made it ''perfectly clear'' that they were opposed to the idea.

''It's inoperable, it's unsafe, it's undiplomatic, it won't work, (and) it won't be able to be done without Indonesia's co-operation,'' he told Sky News.

The minister confirmed that he had not yet met Malaysian government officials to discuss ways of improving the two nations' people-swap deal, which was ruled unlawful by he High Court.

Under existing legislation, asylum seekers who reach the mainland will avoid being sent to processing centres on Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Federal Labor is seeking to change this, with legislation currently before the Senate.

Labor senator Trish Crossin says would-be refugees are trying to take advantage of the legal loophole.

''If you arrive at Christmas Island you run the risk of being transported and run the risk of being taken to Nauru or Manus Island,'' she told ABC radio on Thursday.

''If you come to the mainland, however, that is not the case.''

A spokesman for the immigration department confirmed asylum seekers reaching the mainland would be exempt from offshore processing under existing laws.

But he said the number of boats reaching mainland Australia was ''very minimal''.

''Most vessels are actually intercepted well before they reach the mainland,'' he said.

The government is denying claims by Liberal MP Natasha Griggs that another asylum vessel was intercepted last week 80-100 kilometres from the coast near Darwin.

Ms Griggs said she was concerned that there had been no notification of the boat's interception, especially as it came relatively close to the mainland and was carrying 70 people.

She said she was tipped off about the boat's arrival by ''distressed locals'' and the information had been confirmed by authorities.

''The concern is that it looks like the people smugglers are changing their tactics by coming here towards Darwin,'' she said.

But a spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said no such vessel had been found.

''This boat doesn't exist,'' the spokesman said.

''She is claiming all these things without providing evidence for them.''

Australian authorities said on Thursday another three boats, with almost 200 people on board, were helped near Christmas Island in the past two days.

Two vessels, with 86 and 66 passengers, were spotted on Wednesday and another, carrying 44 people, was intercepted on Thursday.

All the passengers risk being sent to offshore processing centres.

AAP

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