Trans-Tasman leaders are promising asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat won’t get an unfair advantage over refugees in a new deal with New Zealand.
New Zealand will settle 150 refugees processed by Australia each year from 2014, under an agreement announced by prime ministers Julia Gillard and John Key in Queenstown, New Zealand, on Saturday.
The refugees will form part of New Zealand’s annual 750-refugee quota, under its commitment to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
In future, the arrangement could include refugees processed at Australia’s offshore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, if their governments agree.
Mr Key rejected suggestions the deal would let those travelling by boat jump the queue at the expense of other refugees.
He said only those who had demonstrated they were “genuine refugees” in Australia would be accepted.
“It’s not an increase in the number of refugees that New Zealand takes but it’s a different sourcing of location of those refugees.”
Ms Gillard was adamant there would be no advantage for asylum seekers who travel to Australia by boat.
“We are equalising waiting periods, so we are saying to them ’you come to Australia, you are processed and you are a genuine refugee, you will not get a resettlement opportunity permanently in Australia or, indeed, in New Zealand until you have spent the same amount of time that you would have if you hadn’t moved’,” she said.
“We don’t want any message sent anywhere around the world that by transiting to Australia, you get some form of advantage, whether it’s resettlement in Australia or resettlement in New Zealand.”
Mr Key said it was a way for NZ to contribute to a “regional issue” - one where Australia invests a lot of time, money and resources to intelligence gathering, intercepting boats and combating people-smuggling.
“Some of those boats want to come to New Zealand - we’ve seen examples that in the past where they’ve ended up on Christmas Island - so we get something out of the deal, which is, we get a huge amount of support from Australia,” he said.
“It’s less resources that we have to put in.”
The two leaders also announced that telecommunications providers will have to slash their trans-Tasman international roaming costs or face potential price caps from regulators.
They agreed to further streamline trans-Tasman travel, including expanding the SmartGate self-processing passport control system to airport departures.
In a health initiative, both countries will contribute $A2.6m to a joint effort to develop a rheumatic fever vaccine.
They also signed agreements on new retirement savings portability arrangements to come into effect from July and agreed to work on a reciprocal student debt recovery scheme.
Ms Gillard also announced a new $A5 million Australian Memorial to be built in Wellington in time for the Anzac centenary in 2015.
Later on Saturday, the leaders were to lay wreaths at the Queenstown War Memorial, before visiting nearby Arrowtown.
Ms Gillard flies back to Australia on Sunday.