PM warns against knee-jerk Nauru response

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned against the immediate removal of children on Nauru, staring down growing political and public pressure.

Mr Morrison said fewer than 50 asylum seeker children remain on Nauru, with the number falling by 30 in recent months.

"We'll continue to work progressively on that, but we're not going to do it by showboating and grandstanding," the prime minister told reporters in Geelong.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said people on Nauru were overwhelmingly economic migrants, rejecting calls to bring children to Australia for medical care.

"Of course 'Kids Off Nauru' is a great slogan but it's a dreadful guide for policy," he told 2GB.

Mr Abbott says people on Nauru are "very well looked after" despite a leading Australian paediatricians warning children could die if they are not taken elsewhere.

"Health services on Nauru for boat people are much more extensive than the health services that a lot of regional towns get here in Australia," Mr Abbott said.

"Nauru is no hell hole. I've been there. If you like living in the tropics it's a very, very pleasant island."

The federal government last week said 65 medical professionals, including 33 mental health workers, are contracted to serve the transferees on Nauru.

Mr Morrison also wants people to show Nauru more respect.

"For those Nauruans who live there, I do know that they get frankly a bit offended about the way people talk about their home," he said.

Independent MP Cathy McGowan believes the tide of public opinion has turned in favour of getting asylum seeker children off the Pacific island.

"There's willingness now to not only get the kids off, but I hope the next step is to stop indefinite detention," she told ABC radio.

The soon-to-be independent member for Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps, accused the government of abandoning support for resettling the asylum seekers on New Zealand after losing the by-election.

"They were offering false hope," Dr Phelps told Fairfax Media.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said stopping the boats was never meant to leave people languishing in indefinite detention.

"It's time for the new prime minister to put aside the point scoring and to work with us to take it up," he told the Lowy Institute.

But Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was less conciliatory, arguing the government was trying to get children from the island as quickly as possible.

"If you want to see kids drown at sea, if you want to see kids back in detention - vote Labor," Mr Dutton told reporters in Townsville.

Australian Associated Press