Women to join men on frontline

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The Australian government has decided to allow women to fight in frontline combat. Defence Minister Stephen Smith revealed that cabinet had approved the five-year rollout of a new merit-based selection process for all defence personnel.

For the first time in more than a century, women will be able to work as navy clearance divers and airfield defence guards; serve in army infantry and artillery roles and apply for the Special Forces.

Mr Smith said that employment will be based on ability and that women would need ‘the right physical, psychological and mental attributes’ for these positions.

“This is a significant and major cultural change,” Mr Smith said. The integration will be phased in over five years, with an implementation report from defence due in the first quarter of next year.

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, welcomed the decision, which will bring Australia in line with New Zealand, Canada and Israel.

Women are currently eligible to serve in only 93 per cent of job categories.

“This is a decision that will help to provide women in the Australian Defence Force with equal opportunity to men in their work,” she said.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston also backed the changes, while Captain Michele Miller – who has already seen frontline action – said they were vital to giving women a choice.

But the Australian Defence Association said the government should have finished a long-running review into physical employment standards for women before rubber-stamping the changes.

Spokesman Neil James said while the ADA supported more female involvement, the announcement was vague on detail and pre-empted the review by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, launched in 2009.