Australia does not intend to commit combat troops on the ground in northern Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said, as the government prepares to deploy aircraft to supply Kurdish fighters with weapons to use against the Islamic State.
But nor would Australia "stand by in the face of preventable genocide", Mr Abbott told the Parliament.
Greens leader Christine Milne moves to suspend standing orders in the Senate. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
In a statement to the House of Representatives on Monday, Mr Abbott reaffirmed the government's intention to join American, British, Canadian, French and Italian aircraft in delivering supplies, including military equipment, to the Kurdish regional government in Erbil.
"So far, Madam Speaker, there has been no request for military action itself," Mr Abbott said.
The Prime Minister repeated previous statements that any request from the Obama administration for such action would be considered against strict criteria, including adequate risk assessment and clear humanitarian objectives that were in Australia's national interest.
A stunt: Shadow defence spokesman Stephen Conroy. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
"Like President Obama, Australia has no intention to commit combat troops on the ground. But we're not inclined to stand by in the face of preventable genocide either," Mr Abbott said.
The Prime Minister told the Parliament he refused to call the "hideous movement" Islamic State "because it is not a state, it's a death cult".
"So in good conscience, Madam Speaker, Australia cannot leave the Iraqi people to face this horror, this pure evil, alone or ask others to do in the name of human decency what we won't do ourselves," Mr Abbott said.
"It is right to do what we prudently and proportionately can to alleviate this suffering to prevent its spread and to deal with its perpetrators."
Mr Abbott's statement came after the government and the Greens clashed earlier in the day over Australia's military involvement in northern Iraq, with the Greens accusing Mr Abbott of having no strategy for Australia's engagement.
In a fiery exchange in the Senate on Monday, Greens leader Christine Milne tried to force a debate on the deployment of Australian troops but the move was rejected by the government and opposition as a "political stunt".
Senator Milne accused Mr Abbott of blindly following the United States into the conflict, comparing it to Australia's engagement in Iraq in 2003 – "and what a mess that left".
"Very few people believe that the Prime Minister of Australia has got a strategic plan for Australia's engagement in Iraq," she said.
"Everybody believes that we are simply running behind President Obama who himself last week said he has not got a strategy.
"We want to know what the objective is.
"I would like to hear from the government why they think there is any likelihood of success when there has not been success before from following the United States into these conflicts."
Senator Milne called for transparency on the extent of Australia's military engagement and questioned the legality of the deployment when there had been no United Nations resolution for military action.
Amid heckling from the Greens, Defence Minister David Johnston told the Senate that Australia's involvement was necessary.
"No government takes the putting of young Australian's in harm's way other than with the upmost seriousness," he said.
"This is probably the most important decision a Prime Minister and his cabinet can ever make."
Senator Johnston said it was Australia's duty to protect the lives of people amid mass executions across Iraq by Islamic State.
"Were we to debate what operational activities the Australian Defence Force would undertake, it would be completely counterproductive to protecting those lives," he said.
"This has never been done before in our history.
"The Prime Minister and the cabinet, taking their responsibilities seriously, recommended to the Governor-General that Australian forces be deployed."
"This is the way we have always done our business."
The Greens motion was defeated after Labor rejected it as a "stunt to score cheap political points".
The motion went down by 44 to 13, with crossbench senators David Leyonhjelm, Jacqui Lambie and Nick Xenophon voting with the Greens.
But the opposition has called for a "structured debate" on the deployment of Australian troops and demanded transparency from Mr Abbott about the involvement of Australian soldiers, with opposition defence spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek saying on Sydney radio 2UE: "I think it is a good opportunity for the Parliament sitting this week to discuss what's proposed of our involvement in Iraq - that doesn't mean necessarily having a vote."