Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he never suggested dispatching a 3500-member combat force to fight Islamic State jihadists in Iraq.
He said a media report claiming he did was false and fanciful.
That’s backed by Treasurer Joe Hockey who tweeted that the story was “complete and utter rubbish” and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann who said it was wrong.
The Australian newspaper reported details of what it said was a meeting on November 25 last year in which Mr Abbott raised the idea of sending 3500 troops to help halt the surge of Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Military officials present said dispatching this large force without appropriate support from the US or NATO would be disastrous.
The report didn’t attribute this to any particular source but said it was uncovered during an investigation into how the Abbott government was working and why it was facing problems on several fronts.
By that time, the government had already deployed an air task group to the United Arab Emirates to conduct operations over Iraq and 200 special forces to advise Iraqi troops.
A force of 3500 would have been more triple the size of the last Australian task group in Iraq, withdrawn after Labor’s election victory in 2007.
Mr Abbott said there were never plans to deploy Australian combat forces to Iraq.
“The idea that I would propose a unilateral dispatch of a large Australian force to another country is just fanciful, simply fanciful. The story is false,” he told reporters in Darwin.
Mr Abbott said he had called Defence force chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin who would be expected to be involved in any such discussions. He was equally mystified about this claim.
Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite said Labor had given bipartisan support to deployment of special forces to Iraq.
“But if the prime minister or anyone in the government is considering changing that approach then they need to disclose that to the Australian public and they need to disclose that to the parliament and the Labor Party so that we can consider it,” he said.