Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the government will not rush a decision on whether to join air strikes over Syria but the consolidation of a terrorist state in Syria and Iraq “would be a disaster for Australia”.
Speaking in Perth on Friday, Mr Abbott confirmed the government had received a formal request from the United States to expand RAAF air strikes into Syria.
“Obviously it’s a very serious request. We’ll take it very seriously,” Mr Abbott said.
“We are not going to rush a decision but we will make a decision in the next couple of weeks.”
Mr Abbott said he had informed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of the request from the Pentagon on Friday morning.
“I want to make it very clear that the consolidation of a terrorist state in eastern Syria and northern Iraq would be a catastrophe for the world, it would be a disaster for Australia,” he told reporters in Perth.
“What we have been seeing on an almost daily basis is the continued lure that this terrorist group, this incipient terrorist state is providing to misguided and impressionable young Australians.”
Mr Abbott said Australians seeking to join terrorists fighting in the Middle East were being stopped by border officials almost every day.
“We’ve seen constant warnings from the death cult, urgings from the death cult to sympathisers in Australia to strike against people here, innocent people here,” he said.
“This is a movement of almost incalculable unfathomable evil and it’s very important that Australia play its part in the campaign to disrupt, degrade and ultimately destroy this death cult.
“I should say that while there is a little difference between the legalities of air strikes on either side of the border, there’s no difference in the morality.”
Earlier this week Australia’s military operations chief offered a cautious assessment in response to speculation that Australia would expand strikes into Syria.
Vice-Admiral David Johnston, the chief of joint operations, said Syria would be a “significantly more difficult environment” than neighbouring Iraq.