There is a sense of deja vu in Australia's bid to win New Zealand's support for a regional processing centre for asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is hoping to convince Wellington to back plans for a new facility in East Timor, a cause she forwarded in discussions with John Key last week at the East Asia Summit in Hanoi.

Faced with continued interceptions of boats from Indonesia and the pressures they add to the fragile minority Labor Government, Gillard wants to divert all asylum seekers to a centre outside Australia and exclude them from appeals to its judicial system.

The proposed centre would replace the now-defunct camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea established by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard under the "Pacific solution" reviled and axed by Gillard's predecessor and now Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd.

Almost a decade ago, New Zealand helped save Howard's political bacon on the same issue after the rescue of 434 asylum seekers from a sinking boat by the Norwegian container ship Tampa.

With the boats a key issue in the looming 2001 Australian election, Howard decided to ban the Tampa from disembarking the asylum seekers at Christmas Island, boarding the ship with SAS troopers and sending the boat people to Nauru by warship. The move sparked a diplomatic and domestic political crisis.

New Zealand's decision to take 150 of the asylum seekers helped cement the strength of a transtasman relationship that had been sorely battered by the Anzus rift, simmering resentments over defence and aviation, social welfare, and personal antagonisms between the two countries' leaders.

In his autobiography, Lazarus Rising, published last week, Howard says the testy relationship had needed revitalisation.

New Zealand had already gained major points by its decision to join Australia in East Timor, and Howard counted former Prime Minister Helen Clark as a friend.

Howard says he and Clark had differences on political philosophy, but "our common desire to keep relations between our countries as close as possible produced an amiable relationship". They were able to work together in close and constructive harmony and more than once were able to help each other out in difficult situations.

Howard says Clark's decision to take the Tampa refugees was a breakthrough greeted with "considerable relief ... an example of the pragmatism of our relationship".

"She was an internationalist, and there was no shortage of people denouncing my Government's actions as being contrary to the spirit of what the UN stood for on refugees.

"On the other hand, she saw the value of assisting her Anzac partner. It was a gesture from her that I would not forget. It burnished New Zealand's credentials as a humanitarian country."

Howard says good transtasman relations make sense.

"We are two closely linked nations with a rich and entwined history in a remote part of the world (and) we should make a point of getting on with each other. That is what our respective peoples expect of their leaders."