Australian will help deliver arms to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Describing the situation in the country as an "humanitarian catastrophe," Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Sunday that the government had agreed to a US request for Australia to transport military equipment on the RAAF C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster aircraft.
"Australia will join international partners to help the [anti-IS] forces in Iraq," Mr Abbott said in a statement.
Kurdish groups from Iraq and three neighbouring countries are putting aside old rivalries to battle jihadist militants. Photo: AFP
Australian planes will fly alongside aircraft from Canada, Italy, France, Britain and the US.
The move follows RAAF drops of humanitarian supplies to thousands of people stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
The Iraq government and other regional countries will co-ordinate Australia's contribution.
Interviewed on Sky News on Sunday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on reports Australia could also be asked to consider deploying Super Hornets for airstrikes, saying the US had not made that request.
"We're not going to get ahead of ourselves," he said.
However, Mr Morrison said the government was looking at Australia's military capability across a range of areas and would consider other requests.
"Let's not kid ourselves either, [Islamic State] does present a threat. What we're seeing there is evil incarnate," he said.
Labor has strongly backed the action, with its foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek saying the international community had a responsibility to protect civilian populations at risk of genocide or ethnic cleansing from IS.
"The Peshmerga and those other forces in northern Iraq are the only effective barrier to IS slaughtering civilian populations as they advance through northern Iraq. So I don't really see what alternative the international community has," she told ABC-TV on Sunday.
Ms Plibersek acknowledged the mission was not without risk
"We don't know all of the weapons that [IS] have on hand but … as part of their advance through Iraq, they've been capturing weapons along the way. There's some reports that they've been supplied by other nations as well, so you can't count on the fact that they won't fight back."
Ms Plibersek said the situation was very different from the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, because the current US administration of Barack Obama had taken a "much more methodical and much more internationally inclusive approach" than the Bush administration had taken in 2003.
"In 2003, the United States and Australia and a few others went in to Iraq without international support and without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population. The difference here is you've got the newly forming Iraqi government speaking with the international community, you've got an imminent humanitarian disaster, we've seen already that IS are prepared to commit genocide if they can. So you do have a responsibility-to-protect from the international community."