Anthony Albanese says the government must modify its asylum seeker policies as the people smuggler's adopt new strategies for bringing people to Australia.
Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he never would have supported Labor's so-called Malaysia solution a decade ago, but the changing nature of people smuggling had forced him to rethink asylum seeker policy.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday outlined his approach to the vexed policy area, as a search and rescue operation was under way for an asylum seeker boat carrying 80 people off Christmas Island.
A day earlier, in rough seas off the same remote island, four people drowned after their boat carrying 150 passengers capsized in rough seas.
As Labor prepares to address its biggest policy weakness before the election, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has declared Australia is facing a "national emergency".
Mr Albanese said every death at sea was a tragedy, which was why the federal government had adapted its asylum seeker policy as the people smuggler's model had changed.
He said 10 years ago he wouldn't have supported the government's efforts to swap asylum seekers with Malaysia in exchange for processed refugees.
"Frankly, if you had have put to me the Malaysia agreement, for example, 10 years ago I would have told you that I would never have supported that," he told ABC's Lateline program on Wednesday.
"The fact is this has required a change in response."
The High Court blocked the Gillard government's Malaysian people-swap deal, under which Australia would have sent 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.
Labor tried to resurrect it through parliament, but could not win enough support.
Mr Albanese said neither "foghorn diplomacy" with Indonesia nor slogans from the opposition would be able to fix what was one of the most complex areas of government policy.