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PM's office coy on Malaysia refugee deal

AAP logoAAP 19/11/2016 Lisa Martin

The prime minister's office is keeping the door slightly ajar to the possibility of a refugee resettlement deal with Malaysia.

Australia has already reached an agreement with the US Obama administration to resettle some refugees in limbo on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

So far the numbers and time frames are yet to be finalised and it's unclear whether President-elect Donald Trump will honour the deal.

There is some media speculation Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak could be close to sealing a possible resettlement deal during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit on Saturday (Peru time.)

However, a spokesman for Mr Turnbull told AAP in Lima on Friday night there was no announcement expected.

"There is no deal," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said Australia was talking to a range of third countries.

Asked specifically about Malaysia, he declined to comment.

The coalition in opposition refused to support the Gillard government's attempts to pass legislation for its Malaysia people swap deal after the High Court scuttled the plan in 2011.

Under the arrangement 800 refugees that had arrived in Australia by boat were to be exchanged with 4000 verified refugees in Malaysia.

The coalition cited concerns about human rights violations in Malaysia at the time, but Tony Abbott has since retrospectively expressed some regret that as opposition leader he hadn't allowed the Labor government to pursue its mandate.

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is also keeping mum on the claims of a Malaysia deal.

Mr Joyce said while he "knew the answer" he couldn't announce anything.

"I'm not going to confirm or otherwise - I'm going to leave that to the prime minister," he told reporters in Darwin on Saturday.

But any resettlement deal would be a sign of the coalition's pragmatism.

"No one wants people just hanging around forever on Manus or Nauru," he said.

Earlier on Friday (Peru time), Mr Turnbull told reporters in Lima the matter of the US resettlement deal was likely to come up during his bilateral talks with President Barack Obama in coming days.

He confirmed officials from the US Homeland Security department were already in Australia and would be going to Nauru shortly.

The timeframe would be determined by US officials, he said.

Labor demanded an apology from the coalition if it was about to reach a Malaysia deal, reminding Mr Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton they had all voted against the Gillard government's "Malaysia Solution" in 2011.

"It shows a degree of cynicism and unfitness for government to have voted against that proposal five years ago for political reasons," deputy leader Tanya Plibersek told Sky News.

"Now to be looking at it as a real option, it's shocking in the extreme."

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