PM announces Australian planes start flying over Iraq today

UPDATE: AUSTRALIAN fighter jets began flying "support missions" over Iraq today, as parliament in Canberra approved the second tranche of the Abbott government's national security reforms.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to reporters on Wednesday to announce former Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Colvin as the new Commissioner.

But he refused to take any specific questions about Australia's role against the Islamic State in Iraq, instead referring reporters to a statement he later made to parliament.

In that statement, Mr Abbott said the government had not yet made a final decision to "commit our forces to combat" in Iraq, but confirmed aircraft had started flying over the country "in support of allied operations".

"I stress ours are support operations, not strike missions. Australian airstrikes await final clearances from the Iraqi government and a further decision by our own (government)," he said.

"But from today our re-fueler and our Wedgetail (control aircraft) will operate over Iraq in support of United States and other coalition aircraft."

While Mr Abbott has not ruled out operations against IS in Syria, where the US has already begun airstrikes, he reiterated his previous comments about the complicated "legal environment" of getting involved in Syria.

His comments came as only one politician from the nation's two major political parties spoke out against the second tranche of national security reforms as they passed the House.

Labor MP Melissa Parke spoke out against the second bill, saying it did little more than make the nation "less free" and could licence the abuse of such powers.

The bill expands intelligence agency powers by allowing a single warrant to access information on any computer connected to another by a network, as well as criminalising the reporting or public exposure of "special intelligence operations".

But Attorney-General Senator George Brandis told reporters after a National Press Club address on Wednesday the powers were not an "expansion", rather they applied existing powers given to police to intelligence officers.

However, House crossbenchers Independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan and The Greens Adam Bandt voted against the bills, on various grounds.

Mr Bandt said "unscrupulous governments" used legitimate fears to "illegitimately take away their freedoms".

Mr Wilkie, a former intelligence officer, said the bill was a clear overreach of national security powers, describing them as the most sweeping reforms to such powers "probably since Federation".

The government has one more "tranche" of national security legislation on its agenda, as the first bill, on overseas travel and "foreign fighters", is set to be examined by a brief parliamentary committee inquiry. 

- APN NEWSDESK



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