LEGAL experts have challenged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's assertion it is ''illegal'' for asylum seekers to arrive by boat in Australia.
Mr Abbott toughened his rhetoric against asylum seekers on Wednesday, saying more than 2000 are ''coming illegally to this country'' every month without papers.
''The people who have come illegally to this country need to know that they are breaking our laws, that they are, if I may say so, taking advantage, unfair advantage of our decency as a people,'' Mr Abbott said.
''There need to be consequences for people who do the wrong thing and that's what rigorous offshore processing is all about.''
Quizzed by reporters in Perth on the illegality claims, Mr Abbott stood firm.
''It is illegal to come to Australia without papers, without proper documentation, without adhering to the normal requirements that we expect of people coming to this country,'' he said.
But ANU international law professor Don Rothwell said it was clear it is not illegal to enter Australia without a visa and seek asylum.
''Any person who arrives at Australia's borders, whether it be at an airport or harbour or being intercepted by navy patrols is entitled to present an asylum claim to Australia,'' he said.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it was not illegal under Australian or international law to come to Australia and claim asylum.
''That's been pointed out to Mr Abbott on many occasions. He's a serial offender at repeating that,'' Mr Bowen told ABC radio.
David Manne, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre also disputed Mr Abbott's statement.
''Let me state simply what the law is and the law that we've in fact signed up to as a country... every person around the world has the right to seek and access asylum from persecution in another country. It's not an act which is illegal.''
But the Coalition's border protection spokesman Michael Keenan defended Mr Abbott.
''I find this debate about whether it's illegal or not to come here without permission is a little bit bemusing. Of course it's not legal or lawful to cross people's borders without permission and without the correct documentation,'' he told Sky News.
with Dan Harrison