February 08, 2013
NEW Zealand is believed to have agreed to take up to 150 asylum seekers from Australia’s overcrowded detention centres in a deal which will see the country once again come to the federal government’s rescue.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her NZ counterpart John Key are expected to make the announcement today at a formal leaders meeting in Queenstown. The announcement is expected to contain an agreement to take the overflow from detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
Sources confirmed that Australian and NZ officials had been working on an agreement for some time, with an initial arrangement that New Zealand would take a maximum of 200 asylum seekers.
The last time the country took refugees or asylum seekers heading for Australia was during the Howard-era, when it agreed to take refugees from Nauru after they had been processed.
It is unclear whether Australia will still bear the cost of refugee processing before they are resettled in NZ.
Asylum seekers at both centres have recently staged protests about their living conditions.
Ms Gillard arrived in Queenstown late yesterday for the annual leaders meeting.
She confirmed that asylum seekers would be discussed this morning but would not go into detail about the discussions.
Mr Key confirmed an announcement would be made following the meeting.
Under the Howard government’s Pacific solution, New Zealand agreed to take hundreds of asylum seekers heading to Australia, and later confirmed to be genuine refugees.
But the new agreement is likely to stir debate in New Zealand, where the opposition has previously objected to Australia’s idea of a “regional solution” for the issue.s
It had taken issue with to original East Timor solution.
Previously the Gillard Government had claimed that a problem with re-opening processing at Nauru was that no other third country would participate in settling refugees.Despite early signs of success by former Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in slowing the number of arrivals from Sri Lanka – many deemed by immigration officials to be economic refugees, boat arrivals have again started to rise.
It is unknown whether the Australian Government offered anything to NZ in return.
Mr Key yesterday did, however, say he hoped that the Australian Government would eventually back down on its refusal to offer welfare rights to 100,000 NZ citizens living in Australia.
NZ grants Australians the same rights as its own citizens. But Mr Key said it would be “spiteful” for NZ to cut these rights simply because they were not reciprocated by Australia.