Australian taxpayers will fork out at least $60 million in free legal advice for asylum seekers this year

TAXPAYERS will fork out at least $60 million in free legal advice for asylum seekers this year as new figures reveal 80 per cent of detainees are winning their appeal for refugee status.

A Daily Telegraph investigation can reveal $32 million has been paid to 22 refugee legal firms since July - and the surge in boat arrivals is likely to swell their slice of the immigration budget.

And Labor's immigration review scheme is on track to cost up to $30 million as record numbers of asylum seekers use courts to challenge refugee visa rejections.

Meanwhile, the lawyer who led the fight to have the Gillard Government's Malaysia Solution overturned in the High Court, David Manne, appears to be one of the landmark decision's biggest beneficiaries. His Melbourne-based Refugee & Immigration Legal Centre has received $4.13 million since the refugee swap deal with Malaysia was sunk last August, courtesy of funding through the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme.

With 1221 asylum seekers arriving in the first two months of this year, a small army of immigration lawyers are receiving similarly generous taxpayer funds, with 22 organisations receiving a large cash injection to give free advice to asylum seekers.

Just $220,000 was spent on the Independent Merits Review scheme in 2009-10 but this increased to $12 million in 2010-11 and $6 million was spent in the three months to September 30, 2011.

The opposition dubbed it the "Hotel California" scheme with the firm message to asylum seekers that "once you're here, you'll never have to leave".

New figures show the proportion of asylum seekers winning their appeals to become refugees has jumped from 46.8 per cent in 2009-10 to 79.3 per cent.

The department anticipated the scheme cost $22.8 million in 2010-11, with most of this ($19.4 million) allocated to help asylum seekers.

In eight months this financial year, the government has forked out $32.6 million in IAAAS funding, according to figures from the Commonwealth's tender website.

Other big winners include Adelaide-based Australian Migration Options, which secured $5.5 million in IAAAS funding, and the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, with $3.6 million.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison last night vowed to scrap the merit review scheme if the Coalition wins office.

He said Labor's "only policy now is a 'let them in and let them out' that has made Australia an even bigger magnet for boat arrivals than at any other time".

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said: "If the Coalition really cared about reducing asylum seeker costs, they would stop saying no to offshore processing so the government can put in place a genuine deterrent."

He said Australia had a "robust process for determining whether people seeking asylum are in need of our protection".


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