NZ-Aust asylum seekers deal

Last updated 14:54 09/02/2013
Julia Gillard and John Key

MEMORIAL: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key at the Queenstown War Memorial.

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New Zealand's agreement to take 150 refugees from Australian detention centres has been savaged by Australian refugee advocates.

The deal was announced after talks in Queenstown this morning between Key and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard, who echoed his statement that Australia's "boat people" problem was a "truly regional challenge".

Key said the deal is acknowledgement that New Zealand should share the burden.

"From New Zealand's point of view we rely very heavily on the work Australia does on the ground and the places these boats are coming from. So yup - we can try and freeload on that process if we like but I think as a regional partner it makes sense for us to not be duplicate those resources... but in the end take some people through their system."

"Australia expends a lot of effort in detecting and disrupting people smuggling ventures and prosecuting people smugglers. This is trans-national crime and we take a very rigorous approach."

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has attacked the agreement, saying "this isn't a regional solution; this is a bandaid cover-up for Julia Gillard for what a failure Manus Island and Nauru have been".

"This just shows what a failure Manus Island and Nauru have been," she told reporters in Canberra.

"It's not going to save lives, in fact it is going to put more lives at risk.

"More people will be taking dangerous boat journeys as a result of less people being resettled directly (from Malaysia and Indonesia)."

Under the deal New Zealand will resettle 150 asylum seekers a year from Australia's refugee processing system.

The new arrangements start from next year and could include refugees processed through offshore centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Key said New Zealand's annual intake of 750 refugees would nto change, but some would now be processed through Australia, rather than the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

Senator Hanson-Young said instead of resettling refugees from Australia, both countries should instead beef up their ability to assess claims in Malaysia and Indonesia: "and resettle people directly from those places in much larger numbers".

"Why wait for someone to take a dangerous boat journey, only then to consider whether they are a genuine refugee and be assessed and then resettled?" she said.

"This whole process forces people to take dangerous boat journeys rather than dealing with the bottleneck further up the line."

A lone protester greeted Key and Gillard when they later laid a wreath at the Queenstown War Memorial.

The protester, who was from Queenstown, held up a sign calling on Australia to close its offshore processing centre in Nauru.

She said New Zealand should not have done the refugee deal with Australia.

Gillard and Key were ushered to their cars and did not approach the woman.

The Refugee Action Coalition said the agreement with New Zealand was "a pointless deal, a regional non-solution".

"Asylum seekers are still going to have to get on boats and get to Australia before they have any hope of protection," spokesman Ian Rintoul said in a statement.

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"Rather than offload refugees to another Pacific neighbour, the Gillard government should be upholding its obligation to asylum seekers to protect and process them in Australia."


Gillard and Key also confirmed joint legislation giving trans-Tasman regulatory bodies the power to cap mobile roaming and data rates for trans-Tasman travellers.

Gillard said it was a practical demonstration of cooperation under the Closer Economic Relationship agreement between the two countries, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.

"A million Australians come to New Zealand every year. They bring with them their mobile phones. Many of them are on holiday so they do the kinds of things that people do on holidays. They take a photo and try and send it back to people at home...ring up friends and family at home.

At the moment that can cause extraordinary charges many of which people wouldn't be aware of till they get back home... get their next mobile phone bill and get a rude shock when they do."

It was possible to be charged $40 to send a picture, and $8.50 a minute to chat to friends and family back home, Gillard said.

"It isn't just a problem for Australians in New Zealand on's obviously a problem for business people too who are routinely travelling between the two countries."

In a joint communique, the two leaders also announced further investigation into measures to pursue student debt on each side of the Tasman and Australia announced plans to invest more in Smart Gate technology to speed up border checks for travellers.


New Zealand is also set to receive an Australian war memorial for the 2015 Anzac centenary, according to Gillard's office.

The A$5 million (NZ$6,170,174) memorial will be erected in Wellington's National War Memorial park precinct, which is being developed by the New Zealand government in time for the commemorations.

Designed by Australian architectural firm Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, the monument will feature 15 columns made of red sandstone and surrounded by eucalypt trees.

"The memorial will commemorate the shared efforts of both countries in both war and peace, and will complement the Australia-New Zealand Memorial opened on Canberra's Anzac Parade in 2001," a statement from Ms Gillard's office said.

"Interpretative material on the columns will address the shared Anzac wartime experience, but the memorial will also commemorate our shared experience of indigenous history, settlement, immigration, culture and other links."

-AAP/Fairfax News NZ

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