Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to be laying the groundwork for Australia to extend its airstrikes against Islamic State extremists from Iraq into Syria, confirming he has been in talks with Coalition partners.
“Obviously there have been some approaches made at various levels,” he said.
“We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves on this because no formal decision has been made and no formal request has been taken.”
RAAF warplanes have been bombing IS targets in Iraq since September and today, Liberal MP and chairman of Federal Parliament’s intelligence and security committee Dan Tehan said it was time for Australia to step up its commitment.
“We have the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis occurring at the moment in Syria with over 9 million people displaced,” he said.
“They’re raping, they’re murdering, they’re pillaging and we need to stop the foreign fighter flow to the caliphate in Syria.
“We have foreign fighters from Australia still going to the caliphate, some of them, history shows, will try and return home and carry out attacks here.”
Mr Abbott has never ruled out bombing Syria, but he has raised doubts about the legality of Australia operating in an “ungoverned space with a regime we don’t recognise”.
However, today he appeared to be more open to the idea.
“While the legality is different whether these airstrikes are taking place in Syria or Iraq, the morality is the same,” he said.
“The death cult is just as evil on either side of the border, it’s just as dangerous either side of the border and it’s just as deadly on either side of the border.”
‘No legal basis’ to expand commitment, Plibersek says
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the Opposition would receive a briefing on the latest developments next week and he did not want to give “off the top of the head thought bubbles” by commenting before then.
His deputy, Tanya Plibersek, was more forthright, arguing there was “no clear legal basis” for Australia to move beyond the existing Iraqi commitment.
“I think it would be very dangerous to send Australian personnel into one of the most dangerous places on Earth right now,” she told the ABC’s AM program.
“I think it’s extraordinary that the Government sent out a backbencher to start floating ideas without any clear proposal, without any explanation to the Australian people of what the legal basis would be, what the mission would be, what success would look like, what our personnel would be expected to do, and how this would fit in with what the rest of the international community is doing.”
She said the Prime Minister must have the “courage” to go into Parliament and make the case for any expanded role.
Mr Tehan accepted that defeating IS would also require troops fighting on the ground, but said he was not calling for Australians to do that work.
“That is something that I think needs to be discussed in the United Nations (UN), I agree … that we need to get some presence on the ground to help,” he said.
“If you can get the UN to act and if you look at an example like Kosovo, then you can get a resolution.”