Nauru a goer if Timor rejects refugee plan, says Key

17:00, Jul 26 2010

New Zealand could support a proposed regional centre for asylum seekers being based in Nauru if East Timor says no, Prime Minister John Key says.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proposed a processing centre for boat people to be administered jointly with New Zealand, and has discussed its possible location with East Timor's leaders. However, Timorese MPs have voted unanimously against the proposal.

Australian Liberal leader Tony Abbott has challenged Ms Gillard to ask Nauru to host the centre, saying that, if she was "fair dinkum" about the proposal, she could strike an agreement now.

Nauru became the centre of former Australian prime minister John Howard's "Pacific Solution" after it took hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers rescued by the Norwegian ship Tampa in 2001.

New Zealand took 132 of the 433 asylum seekers, but the rest languished on Nauru for years before being resettled.

Mr Key stressed yesterday that he had agreed to nothing more than discussions with Ms Gillard on a joint processing centre, and that those talks were likely to continue if Labor won next month's Australian election.

He said he had no preference for Nauru but, sooner or later, New Zealand would be confronted with the issue of boat people trying to get here.