Friday, 9 July 2010 9:02 AM

Is Solomon Islands an Option for Gillard?

Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is under increasing pressure to find a country within the region that would be willing to host a regional processing centre for asylum seekers.

This came after revelations that her initial top of the list East Timor was said to have refused the offer.

Julia Gillard yesterday confirmed to The Age Newspaper that she is now limiting her option to those countries that have signed up to the refugee convention. "I said we would be dealing with countries that are signatories to the refugee convention," she said. "We have a set of international obligations that as a nation we have signed up to. I believe we have to be working with nations that have also signed up to those obligations."

So who are the signatories? In the Pacific region her immediate options would be New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Political commentators in Australia say that Papua New Guinea would be a hard sell for Labor given the fact that PNG's Manus Island was part of John Howard's Pacific Solution. Nauru was also part of Howard's Pacific Solution so, like PNG, it would not be a likely location.

Fiji has had strained diplomatic relations with both Australia and New Zealand, which basically cancels them out as well.

So that leaves Tuvalu, Samoa and the Solomon Islands as possible locations.

Tuvalu, at 26sq km is divided between four reef islands and five atolls may be too small to host such a centre.

Speaking to The Australian Newspaper, researcher Lisa Roberts, at the Lowy Institute said: "I don't think Samoa would be interested because it is, with Vanuatu, the region's most successful economy and is unlikely to risk disrupting its steady rise towards prosperity by housing hundreds of asylum-seekers."

And of the option of the Solomon Islands, Ms Roberts simply said that there may well be attractive revenue for the Solomon Islands that would accompany such a deal.

But it would appear perverse, she said, to establish such a facility in the Solomons, when Australia was deploying soldiers and police there on the grounds that the situation remained unstable.

Nevertheless, with elections just weeks away the issue of asylum seekers could possibly be thrown into local political discourse should the offer be made formally.

At the moment senior officials within the government remain tightlipped on the issue, stating that they are in caretaker mode and cannot make comments on such a huge policy undertaking.

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