Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has publicly backed his beleaguered immigration spokesman just hours after telling the joint partyroom Scott Morrison overstepped the mark with recent comments on asylum seekers.

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Mr Abbott told coalition MPs on Tuesday morning that Mr Morrison and parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi had gone “a little too far” last week but both had been man enough to admit it.

But a short time later the Liberal leader defended Mr Morrison when reporters asked if the immigration spokesman was politicising the issue of boat arrivals.

“Scott Morrison is doing a really outstanding job highlighting the government’s border protection failures,” Mr Abbott said.

“We’ve had more than 200 illegal boats, we’ve had more than 10,000 illegal entrants since the Rudd/Gillard government watered down the former government’s policies that worked.”

Mr Abbott said the government knew it was vulnerable on border protection “and that’s why it’s running the red herrings that we’re now seeing”.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called on Mr Abbott to sack both Mr Morrison and Senator Bernardi.

Independent MP Tony Windsor believes Mr Abbott is “preying on some of the same nerve ends” as Pauline Hanson and One Nation.

But Mr Abbott on Tuesday rejected the suggestion the coalition was toying with racism.

“Australia is the world’s most successful immigrant society,” he said.

“The coalition fully supports a multicultural Australia and the coalition will always support a non-discriminatory immigration policy.”

Mr Morrison was forced to apologise last week after questioning the taxpayer funding of travel for asylum seekers attending the funerals of people killed in the Christmas Island boat tragedy.

It was also reported Mr Morrison suggested to shadow cabinet the coalition exploit fears about Muslim immigration.

Senator Bernardi told a radio station that: “Islam itself is the problem – it’s not Muslims.”