|Israeli Defense Forces|
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said cabinet approved the measure during a meeting yesterday
"This is a change which has the strong support from the chief of the Defence Force," he told reporters in Canberra today.
Mr Smith said that 93 per cent of Australian Defence Force positions were now open to women. The other 7 per cent excluded women "simply on the basis of sex", he said.
Mr Smith said the discrimination would be removed over five years in a "careful and methodical" way.
The first implementation report would go to the government in the first quarter of next year.
Once women were allowed to serve in all areas, Australia would fully meet its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Mr Smith said.
It would also mean an end to the Defence Force's exemption from Australia's Sex Discrimination Act.
"In the future your role in the Defence Force will be determined on your ability, not on the basis of your sex," Mr Smith said.
The well-managed implementation program would ensure there was "no diminution of standards" so far as roles were concerned.
Mr Smith said the test for anyone seeking a role in the Defence Force would be whether any individual had "the right physical, psychological and mental attributes to be able to do that job".
"This is a significant and major cultural change," he said, adding the reform would require careful management to introduce.
"That is why we'd rather err on the side of caution in expressing a five-year [implementation] period."
Special forces and commando roles would be open to women. Once the measure was fully implemented there would be no restrictions.
"If a woman is capable of doing the entrance program for the SAS or for commandos then they will be in it," Mr Smith said.
Australia will be the fourth nation to remove restrictions on women in frontline roles following Canada, New Zealand and Israel.
The changes would not affect issues of "inter-operability" with other countries, Mr Smith said.
"We will present our soldiers as potential embeds or potential third-party or third-country deployees on the basis of their capacity and their ability, not on the basis of their sex," he said.
Defence Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon said senior Defence members in Canada and New Zealand had told him there were no issues with women serving in all roles.
"There are obviously cultural issues which had to be worked through and that's what we're doing," he told reporters.
"But once they were bedded down there have been no significant impediments at all."
Dr Rodger Shanahan, a military analyst at the Lowy Institute, said there were low numbers of women serving in infantry roles in Canada, New Zealand and Denmark, despite such positions being open to them.
"Opening up doesn't mean it's going to change the whole balance of force structure overnight or even decades later.
"Some women will be biomechanically able to do it. A percentage of them will actually want to [join the infantry]. And the other issue will be how many of them who want to do it actually want to do it long term."
He said the Defence Department's decision to roll out the positions over five years meant it was unlikely women would be serving in frontline roles in Afghanistan.
The Australian mission in Afghanistan is expected to end in mid-2014.
Countries that allow women to fight on the frontline: Canada, New Zealand and Denmark. They have "non-discriminatory" policies that allow women to serve in infantry units, said Dr Shanahan. Israel restricts women to light infantry roles for "biomechanical reasons", he said. Men-only units serve in border protection roles, which are considered by the IDF as more dangerous.
Women who have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan: The US has lost 28 female soldiers in Afghanistan and 111 female soldiers in Iraq. For the British Armed Forces, two female soldiers have died in Afghanistan and six in Iraq. Both the US and Britain exclude women from dedicated infantry roles.
What a great excuse to post these great pictures. heh
Sydney Morning Herald