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Australia PM Scott Morrison under fresh pressure to accept NZ's refugee offer

Calls are mounting on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to accept an offer from New Zealand to take 150 refugees a year, with high-profile voices of journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani and rugby player Sonny Bill Williams adding to the pressure.

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Melbourne’s Covid-19 outbreak nearly put a halt to the Australian PM’s trip. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as Morrison touched down in New Zealand today, welcomed with a pōwhiri in Queenstown, ahead of his first face-to-face leader's meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern since February 2020.

Ardern previously said the key focus of the meeting would be the Covid-19 recovery and working together on key regional and security issues.

However, tensions in the relationship include the issue of deportees, the stripping of Suhayra Aden's Australian citizenship, Australia's strained relationship with China and what that means for New Zealand, as well as the 2013 refugee offer by New Zealand. 

Behrouz Boochani, who spent six years himself detained, exposed abuses inside the detention centre on Manus Island through producing a book while living there, through sending Whatsapp messages.

He is now calling for those still left on offshore detention centres in Nauru and at Papua New Guinea to be taken in by New Zealand.

New Zealand first offered to take 150 refugees from Australia a year in 2013. That offer was never accepted.

"In Port Moresby, it's not a safe place for the refugees, now with Covid the situation has become worse," Boochani said.

“And Nauru, Nauru is an island, a very small island. For the refugees it's like a prison, a real prison for them.”

"You cannot just keep people in that situation without any future. An indefinite situation, in limbo. It's enough."

Australia has continually rebuffed the offer - saying refugees would use New Zealand as a backdoor into Australia.

"I think no one should accept that," Boochani said.

"That doesn't make sense. That you keep these people in indefinite detention for eight years and always reject this offer, that doesn't make sense."

Sonny Bill Williams has joined Boochani's call - today standing in front of 150 empty chairs in Queenstown.

He said that the 150 chairs "represent the offer of Jacinda and her team to bring refugees from Nauru and Papua New G who are still stuck there".

He said there was still about 240 people left on Nauru and Papua New Guinea

"The question is, why isn't Scotty Morrison saying, yes?"

Williams said people needed to understand what was happening to people stuck in the offshore detention centres.

"It's inhumane. It's really sad to think one person just picking up a pen and ticking a box can change so many people's lives.

"I come from New Zealand, Aotearoa, I believe there are a lot of good people, good hearts."

1 NEWS political editor Jessica Mutch McKay said Jacinda Ardern was set to do a speech this evening, understanding it would be acknowledging there was issues within the relationship but the main focus of talks would be around Covid-19.

Mutch McKay said both Ardern's and Morrison's delegations were "very keen" for the meeting to go ahead - "as a bit of a show, a bit of a symbol" to the world of Australia and New Zealand's handling of Covid.

Doubt was cast on the highly anticipated trip earlier this week, after rules around the Victoria bubble pause extended to the Australian PM.

Anyone who had visited Melbourne between May 20 and 25 were ordered to isolate and get a test once they had entered New Zealand. Morrison was in Melbourne on May 20.

On Friday, the rules were tweaked so that those who had been in Melbourne during that time, but were travelling to New Zealand from another state, could undergo a pre-departure test to gain entry without isolating.

Morrison and his delegation had returned negative Covid tests, to be able to visit New Zealand.

The leaders today met with a hongi.

"When you think of the Covid environment we're in, that is pretty extraordinary, most bi-lateral meetings at the moment are taking place via zoom or through plastic lenses," Mutch McKay said.

"It is very important they wanted to send that message out, and there was pressure on both sides, they'll want that to go out to the rest of the world."