National

Aust locks in Manus solution

LABOR has sought to fireproof its revived Pacific solution for asylum seekers from a High Court challenge by striking a new agreement with Papua New Guinea.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard is yet to go beyond her warning that asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters are ''at risk'' of transfer to PNG or Nauru, in what appears to be recognition that the number of asylum seekers set to arrive in Australia in recent weeks is close to outstripping the capacity on the islands.

''You will see some people transferred to Nauru and to PNG, so the message is you're at risk of being transferred if you get on a boat now,'' Ms Gillard said.

She said the government aimed to see people transferred to Nauru by the end of the month.

But Ms Gillard again refused to put a timeline on how long asylum seekers could spend on the islands.

The Coalition attacked Labor for taking too long to set up the Pacific detention centres, seizing on the arrival of a boat yesterday at Cocos Island carrying 99 people.

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Ms Gillard met with her PNG counterpart Peter O'Neill yesterday in Vladivostok on the sidelines of a summit of regional leaders and presided over the signing of a new memorandum of understanding to re-open an asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island.

This follows a similar deal with Nauru signed last week.

It was the second meeting between Ms Gillard and Mr O'Neill in as many weeks after the PNG leader said no new written agreement was needed to open the centre as the two countries already had existing agreements.

But Ms Gillard said after legal advice amendments had been needed to bring the PNG agreement into line with the Nauru deal.

She said the amendments were needed to ensure Australia met its obligations under international refugee conventions.

Mr O'Neill said it was in the hands of the Australian government how long it would take to open the centre and PNG's only pre-condition was for Australia to improve facilities on Manus Island.

''This is a regional issue, we're not interested in making money out of it,'' he said.

Ms Gillard also met with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the two agreed to ask officials to explore options to revive the Malaysia people swap, struck down last year by the High Court.