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Govt should stay away from boat people talks - Goff

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Phil Goff
Phil Goff

Wellington, July 7 NZPA - The Government should steer clear of discussions with Australia about a centre for asylum seekers, Labour leader Phil Goff said today.

The initiative was announced yesterday by Australia's new Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and she has talked to Prime Minister John Key about it.

Mr Key, on an official visit to Korea, told reporters in Seoul boats being used to smuggle people were getting bigger and there was a real risk New Zealand could be targeted in future.

He said more trans-Tasman discussions would be held on a "no promises" basis, and coming up with a regional solution made sense.

"We are supportive of Australia looking for a solution, but it's also very important we lay out our bottom line -- no increase in the number of refugees we would take under the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) process," he said.

"What I've said to the Australian prime minister is that we recognise there is a problem, and we recognise that from New Zealand's perspective it's a problem that is coming towards our shores at some point in the future."

Mr Key said that from all the intelligence he had received, this was "a real issue".

"We are not going to all of a sudden open our doors for a lot more refugees...but if there's a way of working this through, let's have this discussion."

Mr Goff said there was "an outside chance" that boat people could try to reach New Zealand but he doubted that would happen.

"I've read the intelligence reports for nine years on this -- you can't absolutely rule out the prospects of a boat reaching New Zealand but overwhelmingly we know the people smugglers are interested in Australia as a destination," he said on Radio New Zealand.

"If you look at the 75 boats that have been intercepted so far this year, they've all been off the coast of Western Australia."

Mr Goff said it would be unwise for the Government to become involved in an intensely political debate that was going on in Australia in the lead up to an election.

"That is very rarely an environment in which good decisions will be made for the long-term future."

Ms Gillard has also talked to East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta about the possibility of setting up the centre in his country.

Mr Goff said East Timor was dealing with the problem of 100,000 internally displaced people.

"Why we should load this problem onto them I just can't understand," he said.

The Green Party also doubts New Zealand will become a destination for boat people from unstable countries.

Immigration spokesman Keith Locke said last night the distance they would have to travel in rough seas meant it was unrealistic for them to head here.

He was dubious about the prospect of the initiative providing an effective solution, considering a similar approach had been taken several years ago on the island of Nauru under the John Howard government.

"That was a big flop and caused great problems for asylum seekers," he said.

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