Australia will build two more detention centers to cope with a steady flow of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Under a new policy, the government also will move families with children out of secure units into community housing.
Australia's existing network of immigration camps is almost at full. Two new facilities near Perth and Adelaide will hold about 2,000 detainees.
About 100 boats carrying asylum seekers have been intercepted in Australia's northern waters so far this year, a marked increase from last year. Most unauthorized arrivals are detained while their claims for refugee status are investigated.
To ease overcrowding, the government said Monday it plans new detention camps near Perth and in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Families and children will no longer be kept in low-security units and will be transferred into community housing. The government thinks this will protect children from psychological harm.
The plan sparked a heated debate in parliament. Opposition leader Tony Abbott says a controversial immigration camp on the Pacific island of Nauru, which was closed more than two years ago, should be reopened.
"To the prime minister, Mr. Speaker, given the urgent need for more detention places due to the failure of the government's border protection policies, why won't the prime minister pick up the phone to the president of Nauru and reopen the detention center that was established before with Australian taxpayers' money? " Abbott asked.
The opposition leader wants to impose a range of tough measures to "stop the boats", a phrase that has become a rallying cry for Australia's conservatives, but one that Prime Minister Julia Gillard ridicules.
"It is not correct for the opposition to pretend that brandishing a three-word slogan is a solution. It is not," Gillard said. "We will continue to work through with the regional protection framework and regional processing center, and in the meantime we will be as transparent as we have been today about the government's policies and plans."
The Gillard government also wants to open a refugee transit camp in East Timor to attempt to stem the flow of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat. Officials refuse to consider reopening the camp on Nauru until the government there signs international refugee conventions.
The government has held talks recently with Indonesian and Malaysian officials to build regional support for its immigration plans.
Australia grants visas to about 13,000 refugees under various international resettlement programs.