Winston Peters declares U-turn on Government's plan to boost refugee quota

Winston Peters has poured cold water over the Government's much-lauded plans to double the refugee quota to 1500, which would be a remarkable backdown on a key policy.

His announcement made in Nauru at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), seems to have taken the Prime Minister by surprise.

Pacific leaders are flying in en masse for the 49th PIF, the elephant on the island likely to be Australia's policy of keeping refugees on Nauru.

New Zealand has offered to take in 150 of them, and Australia's steadfastly declined.

It's always been an awkward trans-Tasman topic, and will continue to be tomorrow when Mr Peters meets his freshly appointed counterpart.

"The refugee issue here is the refugee issue arranged between the Australians and Nauru."

The current offer is part of New Zealand's total annual refugee quota, which until recently was stuck at 750 a year.

National increased it slightly to 1000 per year in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and the Government has promised to lift that to 1500 a year - a doubling of the original quota.

Though perhaps no one told Mr Peters.

"We never made a commitment to double the refugee quota," he said.

That's not what the Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said in July.

"It is still my intention to see an increase in the refugee quota to 1500," he said at the time.

He reiterated that just two weeks ago in a press release celebrating Christchurch reopening as a refugee resettlement centre.

He said that would "go some way to help us achieve lifting our refugee quota to 1500 per year in this term of Government" - but Mr Peters is now dampening down that claim.

"We've agreed to take it to 1000... but we've made no announcement to double it," he said.

Mr Peters continued by playing to his base.

"I can show you parts of Hokianga and elsewhere parts of Northland where people are living in degradation. We have to fix their lives up as well before we start taking on new obligations," he said.

The Prime Minister was caught off guard by her deputy's comments.

"It hasn't come through Cabinet yet - that's a fair reflection that the final paper has not come before us yet."

Golriz Ghahraman, New Zealand's first refugee MP, says the Greens want to go even further - gradually increasing to reach 6000 refugees a year.

"There is a coalition government, and that coalition Government did not promise to double the refugee numbers," Mr Peters said.

This is a tricky one for the Government to navigate; Winston Peters has to be seen to be putting New Zealand first - it's the name of his party.

But the Prime Minister specifically put the refugee issues on Nauru on the agenda, constantly niggling at Australia to change their mind.

What was set to be the elephant on the island appears to have become a whole herd storming through thanks to her Foreign Minister.

A herd for her to dodge when she shows up on Wednesday.