Proposed law changes to deal with the possibility of a mass arrival of asylum seekers have progressed in Parliament.
The Immigration Amendment Bill, which was introduced by the Government earlier this week, this afternoon passed its first reading with 63 votes to 57, and was referred to the transport and industrial relations committee for consideration.
Under the proposed changes, officials will be able to detain a mass arrival group, defined as one of more than 10 people, for an initial period of six months, and a further 28 days with court approval.
The legislation follows an incident last month, in which a group of 10 Chinese asylum seekers stopped in Australia, but had reportedly been planning to go on to New Zealand.
Immigration Minister Nathan Guy told Parliament although no mass group had come to New Zealand there had been attempts and the legislation would enable the country to act if that was to happened.
"People smuggling is a trans-national crime that grossly undermines a country's sovereign right to determine who crosses into its territory. It circumvents border security and threatens the integrity of the immigration system, it also puts the lives of those who are smuggled," Mr Guy said.
New Zealand would continue to fulfil its obligations through the United Nations refugee process, he said.
"The bill I am introducing today balances protecting our borders, and upholding our international obligations."
Mr Guy said the proposed mandatory detention period would enable officials to look into the backgrounds of illegal immigrants to assess whether they posed a risk to public safety.
Labour opposed the bill, and accused the Government of pushing the legislation up the order paper to distract from the ongoing Kim Dotcom donation saga with Act leader John Banks.
Labour MP Charles Chauvel said people were quite rightly asking why Parliament was dealing with the issue of boat people at this time.
"It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is because of the scandals that the National Party are facing and having to manage at the moment," he said.
"This bill addresses an issue that simply isn't before New Zealand as a threat at the moment, it is a waste of the time of the Parliament."
Fellow Labour MP Darien Fenton described the legislation as "one big over reaction to a non-existent problem".
"The Government is determined to divert our attention from the real issues by talking up what they believe is a populist move."
The Greens, New Zealand First and the Mana Party also opposed the bill.