Labor ministers play down internal split on boat turnbacks, offshore processing

Labor are hopeful of avoiding a messy stoush at the party's national conference, with deputy leader Tanya Plibersek confirming support for offshore processing.

Senior Labor frontbenchers have dismissed suggestions an ugly stoush on border protection could overshadow the ALP's national conference, as the coalition zeros in on the issue.

Tony Burke, a leader of the NSW Right faction, and Left heavyweight Tanya Plibersek are confident there will be no changes to Labor's support for boat turnbacks and offshore processing.

Tony Burke says there won't be any change to Labor's support for boat turnbacks.
Source: AAP

"There's a debate about these issues every conference," Mr Burke told Sky News on Monday.

"The majority has always been that we would continue with the turnbacks policy and that's where it will be this time again."

But Immigration Minister David Coleman insists the ALP has been exposed after supporting a bill which would allow sick asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island treatment in Australia on the advice of two doctors.

"The system is working appropriately and Labor's proposed system is frankly ridiculous," Mr Coleman told Sky News.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek.
Source: AAP

"A person on Manus Island would be under no obligation to consult a doctor on Manus Island at all and could simply decide to speak to two doctors in Launceston."

Mr Burke expects the principles of the bill, which allows for ministerial override of medical transfer advice provided there is a parliamentary explanation, to become part of Labor's platform at conference.

"What you won't find is there being a significant shift from the views of the parliamentary party by virtue of what happens at the conference," he said.

Despite previous opposition, Ms Plibersek is backing the party's policies for tough border protection measures, raising the prospect of avoiding a messy fight on the conference floor.

Ms Plibersek predicted strong debate on refugees at the triennial event which starts on Sunday in Adelaide.

"Offshore processing and boat turnbacks, yes I support current Labor policy," Ms Plibersek said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Source: AAP

"But I also believe we can get people off Manus and Nauru. I believe we can bring more people here and bring them safely."

Mr Coleman said Labor's plan to scrap temporary protection visas undermines a critical part of stopping boat arrivals.

But Mr Burke argued they didn't exist when the boats were stopped, pointing out abolishing the visa had been Labor policy for 10 years.

Published 11 December 2018 at 9:34am, updated 11 December 2018 at 12:17pm