Opposition leader Bill Shorten has supported Australian involvement in Iraq, saying that it would be “unacceptable … to cooperate with evil by doing nothing”.
“What’s not humanitarian is to stand by and watch the genocide occurring in northern Iraq,” Shorten told reporters on Monday.
“The Constitution gives powers to the Government. The Opposition has the right to disagree but in this case we agree … It is the case, beyond any reasonable doubt that IS is committing atrocities and needs to be stopped.”
“I wish this conflict wasn’t happening at all. I wish Australians were not being put in harm’s way,” Mr Shorten added, before saying he would comment further about the Middle East situation in Parliament.
Mr Shorten’s comments come after the Greens called for a Senate debate regarding Australia’s involvement in Iraq, saying there is no greater responsibility than sending personnel into war.
But the attempt is being opposed by the government and the opposition.
At the beginning of parliament on Monday, Greens leader Christine Milne moved to suspend standing orders to allow a debate in the upper house.
“I believe that it is time that the Australian parliament was brought into this debate,” she said.
“There is no greater responsibility that a parliament has, that a prime minister has, than to send our armed service men and women into a war zone, into a war.”
The move comes a day after Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Australia would take part in an international airlift of military equipment to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic extremists in northern Iraq.
“We are into mission creep,” Senator Milne warned.
Defence Minister David Johnston said a parliamentary debate on operational activities in Iraq would imperil lives.
What was occurring in Iraq had no comparison in recent history and only Kurdish forces had provided any significant resistance to the forces of the Islamic State, he said.
“We would not want to see that resistance fail for want of ammunition or other supplies.
“Were we to delay making decisions as the events confront us, people’s lives will be seriously at risk as we have seen so far.”
Opposition defence spokesman Stephen Conroy dismissed the Greens’ move as “a stunt to score cheap political points”.
He rejected the Greens’ view that parliament have a say in military deployments.
“Executive government is the most appropriate body to exercise civilian control of the Australian Defence Force,” he said.
Former Labor defence minister John Faulkner agreed but said the government needed to be as open as possible in frankly explaining what was going on.
Senator Johnston needed to make a ministerial statement on activities in Iraq as soon as possible and that should be followed by a full debate in the Senate, he said.
“It is responsible, it is serious, it is open, it is consistent with past practice in this chamber.”