x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Women soldiers in Australia to get front-line roles

Australia will follow Canada and New Zealand in allowing women who meet physical and psychological criteria to perform any role they choose, defence minister Stephen Smith said yesterday.

CANBERRA // Australia will remove all gender barriers in its military over the next five years, opening up positions that had previously been considered too dangerous for women, including front-line combat roles.

Australia will follow Canada and New Zealand in allowing women who meet physical and psychological criteria to perform any role they choose, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday.

"This is a significant and major cultural change," he told reporters. "That is why we'd rather err on the side of caution in expressing a five-year period" to implement the change.

Women can currently serve in 93 per cent of employment categories in the Australian Defence Force, which includes the army, navy and air force. But some roles have been reserved for men, including infantry, artillery and naval clearance diving.

The Cabinet agreed to the change on Monday with the support of defence chiefs, Mr Smith said.

"This is simply about putting into the front line those people who are best placed to do the job, irrespective of your sex," he said.

Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan as part of the US-led mission there.

Mr Smith could not say whether the elite Special Air Service and commando regiments fighting in Uruzgan province could include women troopers before Australia withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014.

Only 8,000 of Australia's almost 60,000 troops are female and defence chiefs have long attempted to recruit more women.