Gillard responds to refugee deal criticism

QUEENSTOWN: Australia and New Zealand are rejecting suggestions a deal resettling asylum seekers across the Tasman will encourage more boat people to make the treacherous journey.

Under a deal announced at a Queenstown summit yesterday, 150 asylum seekers will be relocated to New Zealand annually from Australian detention centres.

New Zealand prime minister John Key said he accepted illegal boat people arrivals were a regional problem and it was not fair to “freeload” off Australia's efforts at deterrence.

The deal comes after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two governments.

But it has been slated by human rights groups and there is criticism it will encourage more asylum seekers to take to the seas.

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard rejected that.

New Zealand's quota of 150 refugees would be accepted under the “no advantage” test applied under Australian resettlement legislation, she said.

That meant they had to qualify as genuine refugees and would not be resettled any quicker than if they had applied from their homeland, she said.

“Because we don't want any message sent anywhere around the world that by transiting through Australia you get some form of advantage whether its resettlement in Australia or New Zealand.”

Just hours after announcing the deal, Gillard and Key were confronted by a lone protester as they laid a wreath at Queenstown's War Memorial.

The protester called on Australia to close the Nauru resettlement centre.

Political reaction in Australia was just as swift.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young 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".

“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)."

The New Zealand government is also facing criticism – Amnesty International slated it for supporting Australia's approach to asylum seekers.

In other measures to boost the trans-Tasman relationship announced after the two day summit, Gillard and Key confirmed joint legislation giving trans-Tasman regulators the power to cap mobile roaming and data rates.

Gillard said exorbitant charges affected both holiday makers and business.

"A million Australians come to New Zealand every year."

It currently cost as much as $40 to send a picture, and $8.50 a minute to chat to friends and family back home, Gillard said.

This story Gillard responds to refugee deal criticism first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.