Govt mum on Malaysian resettlement deal

By Lisa Martin
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PM dismisses Malaysia deal point scoring

PM Malcolm Turnbull won't confirm if Australia is in negotiations for a refugee deal with Malaysia.

The Turnbull government is keeping tight lipped about a potential deal with Malaysia to resettle refugees on Nauru and Manus.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to comment on speculation an agreement is close between the two countries after holding bilateral talks with Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in Lima.

"When an agreement is reached we make an announcement," he told reporters on Saturday (Peru time).

Back in Australia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government was not going to public comment on any negotiations it might be having with countries.

"We have been desperate to get people off Nauru and Manus to third countries ... we have always said ideally we want a multi-lateral arrangement," told Sky News on Sunday.

In opposition, the coalition refused to support the Gillard government's attempts to pass legislation for its Malaysia people swap deal, after the High Court scuttled the plan in 2011, citing concerns about human rights violations in Malaysia at the time.

Tony Abbott has since retrospectively expressed some regret that as opposition leader he hadn't allowed the Labor government to pursue its mandate.

Asked about the hypocrisy of the coalition potentially pursuing a deal with Malaysia, Mr Turnbull said it was important to achieve "durable resettlement options" for refugees on Nauru and Manus Island rather than make political points.

Labor is already seeking an apology if the deal gets up.

Australia has recently reached a deal with the Obama administration to send some refugees to the US for resettlement.

So far the numbers and time frames are yet to be finalised and it's unclear whether President-elect Donald Trump will honour the deal.

US Homeland Security department officers are already in Australia and will be going to Nauru shortly to start assessments.

The government is expected to put legislation before parliament before the end of the year that would impose a life-time ban on asylum seekers attempting arrive in Australia by boat.

Labor has flagged it will oppose the bill, leaving the government having to draw support from the Senate cross bench.

Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon said it is a morally vexed issue which will be a conscience vote among his NXT colleagues.

He wants an increase in the humanitarian intake as part of offering support.

"If we can do more to help refugees in camps around the world but also increase our humanitarian intake further here in Australia, then that would be, from my point of view, something that needs to be considered in the context of what the government is proposing," he told ABC television..