A retired Australian judge has made an appeal to the government to allow him to swap places with a refugee held at an offshore detention centre. Jim Macken, 88, has proposed to spend the rest of his life on Manus or Nauru Island in exchange for a refugee being sent to Australia.

According to a Guardian report, the 88-year-old former justice of the industrial court of New South Wales, union official and member of the Order of Australia, has written to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, urging a "body swap" with a refugee. He has also offered to renounce his citizenship if required.

Macken has resorted to this unusual proposal as he "can no longer remain silent as innocent men, women and children are being held in appalling circumstances on Manus Island and Nauru," The Guardian has learnt.

"It is even worse that they are being held in these dangerous and inhospitable conditions in order to ensure no other asylum seekers and refugees attempt to come to Australia for protection. The Australian government is essentially treating refugees in these camps as human shields and this is utterly immoral. As this is being done in my name I cannot remain silent," The Guardian quoted Macken as saying.

While his proposal itself "could be considered too novel for government" he says it is "perfectly possible".

"I've got nothing to lose. If it gets just one refugee off one of those islands, and gives them a chance at a life in Australia, I'm prepared to do it," Macken said. His offer was not a public attention seeking gesture, he added.

Macken wrote to Dutton in July but has not received a reply yet. The retired judge has also requested Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten to get rid of offshore processing. "I would urge you to become the good leader you could be and err on the side of compassion and justice," he wrote in a letter sent to the prime minister.