The Abbott government will spend at least a week considering whether Australia should join the fight against Islamic State in Syria.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott says while the legalities of helping with air strikes over Syria are different to Iraq, where the government invited Australia to fight, the moralities are exactly the same.
“The terrorists don’t respect the border, so why should we?” he said to reporters in the Kimberley region of WA on Sunday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop says while the US has formally asked Australia to expand its operations in the Middle East to include air strikes on Syria, the government wants to be sure there is a credible legal basis for it.
She indicated a final decision may not be made until late September, after Mr Abbott meets with US President Barack Obama following the crucial federal by-election in the West Australian seat of Canning.
However, Mr Abbott said his government would be carefully considering the US request “in the next week or so” and announce its decision after appropriate consultations.
Ms Bishop says the situation is complicated by the non-recognition of the Assad regime in Syria but the US believes that because the border region is effectively “ungoverned space”, it has the legal authority necessary to bomb Islamic State extremists there.
The US has asked Australia to support air strikes and carry out intelligence surveillance, reconnaissance and air refuelling in Syria’s border areas.
While there has been bipartisanship on tackling terrorism, some cracks are beginning to appear.
Ms Bishop took aim at Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek on the issue on Sunday.
She said the government had Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s full support but his deputy always seemed to take another stance.
“She says that she supports the Labor position, the coalition position, but then she always moves a little bit to the left and has a slap at Bill Shorten on the way through,” Ms Bishop told ABC television.
Labor frontbencher Ed Husic also voiced concerns about a potential escalation of air combat operations into Syria before receiving the US request.
The head of the joint intelligence parliamentary committee and Liberal MP Dan Tehan had called for an expansion of operations a week earlier.
“I don’t think that’s the right way to go,” Mr Husic told ABC TV.
“I think that the Abbott government does need to take a hard look at the way these things get discussed in the public space … this is national security, it’s not a talkfest.”