The federal government must provide a full briefing of the latest asylum seeker tragedy off Indonesia, in which at least 22 people are believed drowned, Labor says.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in Melbourne for the AFL grand final breakfast on Saturday morning, declined to comment on the disaster to waiting reporters.

However, acting Labor leader Chris Bowen called on the government to provide a full briefing.

"There are very concerning reports of another tragedy in Indonesia," Mr Bowen said.

"It appears that the Royal Australian Navy may have been involved in two rescues, although of course details are very, very sketchy.

Indonesian authorities hold grave fears for up to 70 asylum seekers still missing, feared drowned, after the boat sank en route to Australia in rough seas off the coast of Java on Friday.

One of the passengers, a Lebanese man, had reportedly lost his pregnant wife and eight children.

Just 25 of those aboard were rescued before efforts to locate survivors were postponed due to failing light, with the effort scheduled to resume early Saturday morning.

"Of course, days like this, all our thoughts go to those who've lost their lives and we give our support to the rescuers," Mr Bowen said.

The government needed to be clear with Australians about what role the Royal Australian Navy and others have played, Mr Bowen said.

"The government has previously said that when there was a tragedy or a significant event at sea, then they would provide briefings," he said.

"I would call on the government, through the home affairs minister or the immigration minister, to provide those briefings to the Australian people today.

"This can't wait for Mr Morrison's weekly briefing. These updates should be provided as and when the government can."

Mr Bowen said a statement by Indonesia's foreign minister on Friday showed that government's "heightened level of concern" about the turn-back-the-boats policy.

"That is a matter in Australia's national interest which must be dealt with as a matter of some urgency."

 

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