The federal government has accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of putting his personal political interest ahead of the national interest by telling untruths about Labor's plan to stop the flow of asylum seeker boats.
As the countdown to a possible late August election continues, Mr Abbott has questioned the policy to send people to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement, denying them the chance to settle in Australia.
He says people should have been sent to PNG's Manus Island detention centre since the policy was announced on Friday and claims Labor is giving PNG free "cash advances" in return for its agreement.
"You simply can't trust them to put it into practice," Mr Abbott said in Canberra, adding people should be sent to PNG within 24-48 hours of arriving in Australia.
|PNG PM Peter O'neil with Mr.Rudd. Image credit: AAP|
Immigration minister Tony Burke rejected this, saying that as a former health minister Mr Abbott knew arrivals needed to undergo up to two weeks of health checks and vaccinations before being moved.
"Either he was saying we should be sending people to a situation where they are exposed to fatal diseases or he's setting up a test which he knows we can't meet so that the boats keep coming," Mr Burke said in Sydney on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also weighed in, saying Mr Abbott was doing everything he could to send a mixed message to the people smugglers who charge people between $5000 and $10,000 for the dangerous boat voyage to Australia.
"Mr Abbott, it seems, by his daily statements is sending out a very, very mixed message to people smugglers as to whether this arrangement could stick or work," Mr Rudd said.
"It might be in his personal political interest, but it's not in the national interest."
The cost of the so-called PNG Solution is still to be announced.
In return for its agreement, Australia has offered PNG funding for a hospital redevelopment, university sector reforms and law and order management.
Mr Abbott and his foreign affairs spokeswomen Julie Bishop claim Mr Rudd agreed to "hand over total control" of the $500 million a year aid budget to PNG.
Mr Rudd said that was "100 per cent, rock solid untrue" and accountability measures were in place for development aid projects.
Four boats carrying about 240 people have been intercepted by Australian authorities since Friday, while the first group to be taken to Manus Island is due to be moved within weeks.
Mr Rudd's hard line policy appears to have won some voter support.
The latest Newspoll shows support for Labor on the issue has risen six percentage points to 26 per cent, while support for the coalition dropped 14 points to 33 per cent.
Asylum seeker advocates have blasted the policy as cruel and potentially illegal.
But Manus Island locals are cautiously optimistic about having up to 3000 asylum seekers as neighbours.
Nutt Point village elder Andrew Yanduo said he hoped an increase in asylum seekers would bring with it jobs and development.
"We have the land. The job opportunities are very good. We accept it," he said.
Retailer Joe Ndrassal says he wants to see up to 50,000 asylum seekers resettled on Manus.
"We have heaps of land here in the province, and our population (50,000) is too small," he said.