Kevin Rudd has raised new uncertainty over the election timetable by saying his intention is to be in St Petersburg for the G20 and declaring that he has not settled on an election date.
The PM had been widely expected to announce tomorrow or Monday that he will go to the polls on September 7, which would preclude him attending the summit on September 5-6.
But he is known to be genuinely concerned that he should not miss the meeting, particularly because his home city of Brisbane will host the next one. If he does not go to the polls on September 7 - which is the date being strongly urged by his key advisers - the most likely date would be September 21.
Today Rudd nailed down another plank in his asylum seeker policy with a deal between Australia and Nauru for resettling asylum seekers found to be refugees.
Nauru’s president Baron Waqa flew to Australia to finalise the agreement, which was announced at a joint news conference of the two leaders in Brisbane. It is in similar terms to the recent deal with Papua New Guinea.
The Australian government will focus on transferring family groups and unaccompanied minors to Nauru.
The deal helps with the serious difficulty of asylum seekers who cannot be sent to Manus Island because of the health concerns for small children and pregnant women who can’t safely take anti-malaria medication.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke said the agreement “resolves some of the issues people have been challenging me with in recent days”. He said he had not been able to indicate what the government intended when he had been questioned about sending children to Manus, because the Nauru agreement had not been finalised.
Nauru will determine the number of people to be settled there. “Nauru is a nation with a small population. We would only expect modest numbers to ever be involved in settlement and our expectation is that they would be family groups and unaccompanied minors”, Rudd and Burke said in a statement.
“The significance of today’s announcement is not the numbers that are involved, but that we are adding an extra layer to a comprehensive regional approach”.
Rudd reiterated that no arrivals will be settled in Australia.
Australia will cover the costs and Nauru is being provided with $29.9 million in aid and $17 million for rebuilding its prison. A major riot recently trashed asylum seeker accommodation and led to mass incarcerations. A number of people have been charged.
Nauru has housed single males for processing but prefers family groups’ especially after the riot.
Nauru first raised the prospect of settlement arrangements on July 9.
Last week the opposition said a Coalition government would seek to accommodate 2000 asylum seekers on Nauru in a tent city.
Pressed on the election timing Rudd said there were some things the government still had to do.
It was still seeking an agreement with Victoria on school funding – although Victoria was now playing politics. There were negotiations underway with Western Australia on disability and negotiations with NSW on better environmental procedures.
The PM said, in relation to the G20, that he had just been talking on the telephone with the Prime Minister of India about the meeting.
Stressing the importance of the gathering, but also putting in a qualifier, he said: “It’s my intention to be in St Petersburg, but I’m very mindful also of the other challenges which lie ahead of us as well.”
Noting the “enormous priority” he placed on the G20 and its agenda, he said “at the same time, I’ll always balance that against other considerations before us as well… no decisions concerning election dates have been made.”