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Coalition may not buy asylum boats: Abbott
Sea change: Tony Abbott says a coalition government may not buy Indonesian boats. Picture: Glen Cordingley/West Regional

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has conceded his plan to buy asylum seeker boats to stop people smugglers might never happen.

The admission comes after the coalition revealed plans to scrap legal help for asylum seekers by cutting handouts to refugee advocates.

Appearing on ABC television yesterday, Mr Abbott defended his plan to set up a fund to buy some boats in Indonesia to stop them being used to ferry boat people.

The $20 million plan, unveiled in Darwin last week, has been criticised by Indonesian politicians who say it is paternalistic and could provide a stimulus to the people smuggling industry.

The program could also include villagers who dob in people smugglers being paid a bounty.

Mr Abbott said it was worth trying to get villages in Indonesia to work with the Australian Federal Police, rather than with people smugglers.

But he admitted it was possible the coalition would not actually buy any boats.

"We may not buy boats back but if we did have the opportunity to pay someone a couple of thousand dollars to stop a boat from being launched, if that boat arrived in Australia, it would cost some $12 million per boat to deal with people, that would be a shrewd investment," Mr Abbott said.

The Government has attacked the plan, warning that Indonesia has three-quarters of a million vessels.