The coalition has added another tough plank to its border protection policy, declaring an Abbott government won’t provide legal aid to asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
Asylum seekers wishing to lodge refugee claims or appeal adverse decisions will still be able to do, but won’t have access to taxpayer-funded legal advice.
Instead, the coalition will maintain interpreters and provide kits in a number of languages that explain how the process works and how people can launch appeals.
Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said scrapping the free government legal advice will save $120 million over four years, and would help deter people from getting on boats.
“This is all about rolling up the Rudd carpet that Kevin Rudd laid out almost six years ago for the people smugglers and their clients,” he told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
There were no provisions under the refugee convention compelling countries to provide such advice, and doing away with it actually brought Australia into line with international norms, he added.
Other groups wishing to provide this legal advice could do so, but it would be at their expense.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said many people would be “appalled” at the cost of this service, which wasn’t available to refugees waiting in camps abroad for their legal visa to Australia.
“If people who want to come the right way don’t get this spending, the people who have come the wrong way certainly should not get this spending,” he told reporters in Rockhampton.
Mr Morrison denied the policy was cruel, saying there was no obstacle to asylum seekers receiving any legal advice they wished.
Shadow attorney-general George Brandis said asylum seekers had “carte blanche” to scarce legal aid while Australians were deprived of these limited resources.
But when asked whether the coalition would redirect the $120 million from this measure to legal aid for Australians, Mr Morrison said the savings weren’t “hypothecated necessarily one way or the other”.
The Australian Greens blasted the move, vowing to oppose it in parliament if Tony Abbott became prime minister.
Greens’ immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said a large number of refugee claims denied by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) were overturned on appeal.
“It’s clear that DIAC assessors make mistakes in their first assessments and if the coalition’s cruel cuts get up then we may be sending people back to their deaths,” she said in a statement.