Scott Morrison. Photo: Andrew Meares
"It's not about whether they are poor, it’s about whether they can be safe," Mr Morrison said. "That’s the issue. The [refugee] convention was not designed as an economic advancement program."
Speculation has been growing for weeks about whether Australia will strike a deal to resettle refugees in Cambodia, one of Australia’s poorest regional neighbours, after Mr Morrison and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop independently made trips to the country.
"Without mentioning names, when you have a country that’s willing to be engaged in it, an experienced country that is willing to sponsor it and a third country that is a signatory country like Nauru that is also party to all of this . . . That would seem to be a positive thing and something that should be encouraged," Mr Morrison said.
"I would have thought the point for the UNHCR and the region is to expand the club of countries that are available," he said.
The United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia are "effectively the club of serious resettling countries and I think often these countries aren't recognised for the role that they are playing", Mr Morrison said.
"If we’re going to limit the protection opportunities only to First World economies then we are effectively committing large numbers of people to life in a fairly uncertain place," he said.
"With less than 1 per cent [of asylum seekers] having a place for resettlement, ultimately it's about providing temporary safe haven."
Mr Morrison said he "looked forward to the day when there is no one in the centres", but would not go into details of the ongoing investigation into the death of asylum seeker Reza Barati, despite new footage showing the violence had escalated considerably 24 hours before his death.
He also dismissed the damning criticism of the United Nations over his government’s turn-back policy, saying he's "not surprised and not concerned".
Representatives from the United Nations publicly voiced their opposition on Tuesday night to the government's hardline boat policy, saying Australia was breaching the refugee convention by returning asylum seekers to Indonesia. Instead, they are calling on Australia to process asylum seekers who reach Australian waters.
UNHCR regional co-ordinator James Lynch said that with millions of people displaced around the world, solutions engineered by single countries alone would only work temporarily.
"If someone arrived in Australian waters, we’d expect as a requirement of the refugee convention that they be allowed to disembark and have access to asylum procedures . . . We’d expect [Australia] to honour their obligations," Mr Lynch said.
Mr Morrison said he was "not fazed" by such remarks.
"It's not for us to disprove the negative. I don't feel the need to disprove the negative about our operations," Mr Morrison said.
"We are a sovereign body and we will protect our borders. We said we would and we are.".
with Michael Bachelard