Julia Gillard will be making a "morally reprehensible" decision if she chooses to return asylum seekers to regions where death or injury is likely, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
ALA director Greg Barns said such a policy would be completely unacceptable under international law, and fears Gillard is considering adopting a hard-line policy in order to win the federal election.
"Such action undermines the rule of law and is in breach of Australia's international human rights obligations - most particularly articles 31 & 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention," said Barns, adding that such a decision would also destroy any international humanitarian reputation Australia still holds.
Article 31 of the convention says that parties to the convention cannot impose penalties on refugees, while article 33 states that parties are prohibited from expelling or returning refugees to a place where the refugee's life or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (also known as the principle of non-refoulement).
"The vast majority of asylum seekers who come to Australia are found to fall into one of these categories and so it can be safely assumed that if the Gillard Government was to return asylum seekers to their country of origin they would be jeopardising their lives," said Barns.
"Further, it would mean Australia is morally responsible for the death of people sent back who are later persecuted."
According to Barns, Australia has obligations under international law to prevent people being subjected to torture or cruel and unusual punishment, and sending asylum seekers back to face persecution would be doing exactly this.
"Ms Gillard may be on the back foot because of the way she came in to office, but if she is appealing to the Australian public to judge her on how she does her job, now is the time to show she has some moral and ethical fortitude and do the right thing on this issue," he said.
The ALA has also slammed the Federal Opposition's announcement this morning (6 July) that if they are elected, they will reject asylum applicants who do not have identification documents.
The announcement was made by the Shadow Migration spokesman, Scott Morrison, and is a policy which the ALA says was rejected in 2003 by a Senate Committee which actually included members of Morrison's party.
According to the ALA, the Senate Committee reached the conclusion that a comparable proposal was deeply flawed, accepting evidence from senior migration lawyer and now Chair of the Refugee Council of Australia John Gibson that attempts to deny a person, who cannot produce identification, access to the refugee determination process is wrong in principle.
The ALA said there are myriad examples of people being unable to obtain documentation in their country of origin - either due to the country's lack of sophistication or the fact they are fleeing conditions of persecution - and that the reasons provided by Gibson in 2003 remain valid.
Gillard is due to announce the Labor party's asylum seeker policy later today at the Lowy Institute.