Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has again denied her stance on the Manus Island asylum seekers has made New Zealand a soft target for boat people, blaming the "parasites" of people smugglers.

Ardern was commenting on further reports in Australian media that boatloads of Sri Lankans had been stopped in recent months claiming they were trying to head to New Zealand and New Zealand was seen as a soft target under the new Labour Government.

Late last year Ardern repeatedly pushed Australia's PM Malcolm Turnbull to take up a long standing offer for New Zealand to take 150 refugees in Australia's asylum seeker centres – something Australia has so far refused every year citing concerns it would send the wrong message to people smugglers.

Ardern would not confirm the specific details of the reports in the Australian media or comment on the leak of the material.


"That's a question for political agents in Australia rather than for me, I consider myself to be an observer."

She said 'chatter' amongst people smugglers had ebbed and flowed over a long period and it was not a new issue.

"I'm advised that none of the activity we've seen in recent times is unusual."

Asked what she would say to any asylum seekers who said they were trying to get to New Zealand, she said her message was for the people smugglers:

"I consider them to be parasites. They prey on people's vulnerability, they manipulate situations and use any propaganda they can to take money from vulnerable people."

She denied she had made the situation harder for Australia, saying New Zealand was working alongside Australia to try to stop people smugglers.

"The clear message to them is, just as with Australia, we are working alongside them to try to put an end to people who are risking other people's lives for monetary gain."

Ardern has repeatedly offered to take 150 asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru in the wake of what has been described as a humanitarian crisis in the detention centres there.


The offer has been repeatedly rebuffed, with Australia preferring to work out a resettlement solution with the US. Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has also cited the risk of refugees being sent to New Zealand and then returning to Australia through our 'open borders' policy.

Today The Australian reported that Ardern's forthright stance had sparked an increase in "high level" chatter in recent months from countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia, with New Zealand being pushed as a destination for asylum-seekers.

"It confirms what our intelligence has been telling us: people-smuggling syndicates remain active in our region and continue to market their services using false promises of settlement in Australia or New Zealand," said a source within Australia's Department of Home Affairs.

"Whether or not people-smugglers genuinely intend for their boats to reach New Zealand, it is clear that they are using publicity around New Zealand's resettlement offer to market their services to vulnerable people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere."

Last month an Australian naval patrol intercepted a boatload of 29 Sri Lankans who claimed they were bound for New Zealand.

National's foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee said that Ardern's "grandstanding" had had a negative impact on the trans-Tasman relationship, and she needed to be more careful.


"The Prime Minister has repeatedly criticised the Australian Government for the way it handles people trying to reach Australia illegally, and advocated for those asylum seekers to be resettled in New Zealand.

"Her insistence that Australia allow New Zealand to handpick 150 asylum seekers who meet UN refugee status, while Australia handles the rest, on top of the message this sends to human traffickers and those desperate to attempt to reach Australia, shows a disregard for the complexity of the problem.

"It is also a very difficult issue for Australia to manage, which is why the Australian Government has so clearly, and fairly, resented Ms Ardern's comments."

The Australian said it is believed New Zealand authorities have been alerted to the developments through the Five Eyes intelligence network.​

Last month Andrew Little, Minister responsible for intelligence agencies the GCSB and the SIS, said there had been no credible attempt by boat people to reach New Zealand.

"It's simply not credible for someone in a rickety old boat - designed for at best two or three days at sea - to say they're going to sail from Indonesia down to New Zealand. I've seen nothing credible to say that is possible."


Jeff Langley, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Secretary, told a parliamentary select committee last month that there had been no indication that New Zealand was now at greater risk of being targeted by people smugglers than in the past.

"I wouldn't say we've increased our risk. The chatter that we hear with respect to the possibility of mounting ventures to New Zealand has always been part of the people smugglers' business model.

"We haven't seen any intelligence that suggests there were recent credible ventures."

Asked about reports of four boats carrying asylum seekers wanting to come to New Zealand, he said he believed they were historical incidents, rather than recent.