Immigration Minister Tony Burke regrets that Labor was unable to come to a decision on how to deal with the asylum seeker issue sooner.

Mr Burke and his opposition counterpart Scott Morrison were asked during a debate on immigration policy if they had any regrets about the way their parties had handled the asylum seeker debate.

The minister reiterated "big regrets" about Labor's failure to shift its policies in 2009 after changes in the global movement of displaced people.

"At that point, there was a new path-line of people smuggling and we needed to change our policies immediately," he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.

"We didn't, and I believe we should've and I deeply regret the consequences," Mr Burke said.

He also expressed regret over the government's failure to garner support in parliament for its Malaysia people-swap legislation after the High Court ruled it unlawful in 2011.

"I wished we'd done some of what might've been needed to be done to make sure that that legislation would've gone through smoothly," he said.

"It's deep regrets (and) deep consequences from them."

Mr Morrison turned the focus back on the government when asked the same question.

"My biggest regret is I don't think I've been convincing enough to get the government to move earlier on these matters," he said.

"They've resisted our arguments for a very long time."

He conceded the asylum seeker debate was "very difficult".

"Engaging in the debate in this area is like walking on a razor blade most days and you need to be very careful," Mr Morrison said.

"Occasionally I've misspoken and I've made apologies for that when I have."


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