Liberal MP Judi Moylan

Liberal MP Judi Moylan Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax

Liberal backbencher Judi Moylan has urged the public to "stand up" to the "rubbish rhetoric" of her own leader over asylum seekers as well as to the ''maladministration'' of the Labor Party.

Announcing a policy to save $1.3 billion over four years by reducing Australia's annual 20,000 place humanitarian intake by more than 6000, Mr Abbott insisted it was ''perfectly legitimate'' to use the term ''illegals'' in reference to asylum seekers arriving by boat.

''I make no apologies for calling them what they are...they are arriving illegally,'' he said.

And he said asylum seekers offered bridging visas under Labor's policy should be forced to work-for-the-dole to get the proposed payment (single rate $434 a fortnight) because they should ''not be able to enjoy life on Australian taxpayer's expense without giving something back to the community.''

Ms Moylan - who is retiring at the next election - railed at the language.

''We should not talk about queue jumpers, we should certainly not talk about illegals, we should not pretend these people are idle, they want to work and be part of our society, we just seem to spin rubbish rhetoric and get people whipped up over it, it's an appalling low level of debate,'' she told the Herald.

''I think this overblown rhetoric has to stop and it is up to the public to say it has to stop, because this is not a political game, it's people's lives we are talking about.

''I think there is likely to be a backlash from the community, just like there was in the Howard years, when people realise what is going on, what we are doing to women and children.

''We can't think this will go away just with sloganeering, there is no quick slogan that can fix this, it is not about turning back boats, it is not about punishing people.''

Mr Abbott agreed he would support a 20,000 intake during parliamentary negotiations in June. He also offered a 20,000 intake in negotiations with Independent Andrew Wilkie after the 2010 election and Mr Wilkie was also cynical about the latest reversal.

"It seems the 20,000 figure only suits the Opposition leader when it's related to its own political self-interest," Mr Wilkie said.

But Ms Moylan was also scathing about the government's policy changes this week, when it was forced to admit its new Pacific Solution was collapsing under the increasing numbers of boat arrivals and said it would release refugees into the community on bridging visas of up to 5 years, but would not let them work - in order to mirror the ''no advantage'' test applied to those still in offshore detention.

''It is a race to the bottom to see who can have the worst, most horrible policies, the leaders in a position to fix this just seem to want to play politics with it and we have seem more maladministration and muddle-headedness from the government,'' she said.

Some Labor backbenchers are worried the bridging visas could leave the asylum seekers in poverty and have argued that asylum seekers should be allowed to work.

West Australian-based Labor backbencher Melissa Parke said they should have the option of living and working in areas where there are labour shortages.

Ms Moylan and fellow moderate Russell Broadbent will vote against legislation to excise the whole of Australia from its migration zone next week, but it will pass with the support of both Labor and the rest of the Coalition.

Mr Abbott consulted with his leadership group, but has not taken his policy announcements to his party room. He said they were similar to the Coalition's 2010 policy and he was confident they would get his party's backing.