The federal government is talking down the prospect of sending in troops to Iraq after Prime Minister Tony Abbott declined to rule it out.
Jihadist militants have attacked the large northern Iraqi town of Sinjar forcing thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians to flee up a mountain and hide there with little food and water.
Two RAAF C-130 transporters based in Al Minhad in the United Arab Emirates are on standby to conduct their first drops of aid in the next two to three days under the auspices of an American-led humanitarian mission.
Mr Abbott told reporters in London overnight he “certainly” did not rule out sending in troops to Iraq to deal with what was “potential genocide” and Australia was talking to its allies about what more could be done to help.
But Defence Minister David Johnston told reporters in Darwin on Wednesday the aid drops were the full extent of Australia’s operations.
US Secretary of State John Kerry in Sydney on Tuesday said that America had ruled out sending in any troops, but would continue to work with Iraq in terms of air strikes.
Asked whether the American position effectively meant Australia had also ruled out troops, Senator Johnston said: “I think that is a very reasonable conclusion to draw.
“We have signed off on humanitarian relief and that is all.”
The minister said all Australians were revolted and outraged by the activities of the Islamic State extremists.
“I don’t believe we have seen genocide just yet,” he said.
“But the portend of what might happen is very concerning given what we have seen before.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who supports the humanitarian mission, said government ministers were at odds over the Iraq strategy.
“It is important for peace of mind for Australians that the government holds one position,” he told reporters in Perth.
“We would like to see different government ministers clarify what exactly is the government’s position on this important matter of national security.”
Mr Abbott said his talks on what could be done in Iraq were much wider than simply the United States and United Kingdom.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said Australia could afford to provide more humanitarian and development aid to Iraq.
In June, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced $5 million in aid for those fleeing the terror group Islamic State.
Mr Abbott is expected to receive security briefings when he arrives back in Australia on Thursday.
Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt said any military action in Iraq should only go ahead if debated and approved by parliament.