The Government has announced women will be allowed into elite front-line military units if they pass stringent physical and psychological tests. Kathryn Spurling spoke on ABC Lateline

Transcript of the interview

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: Women will be allowed into elite military units under defence reforms announced by the Government today.

The Gillard Government says they will have to pass stringent and physical and psychological tests, but opponents say it is an expensive reform that will do little to increase defence capabilities.

Political correspondent Tom Iggulden reports from Canberra.

TOM IGGULDEN, REPORTER: The Government says the battle for gender equality in combat has been won.

STEPHEH SMITH, DEFENCE MINISTER: And now all of the roles on the front line will be determined on the basis of merit, not on the basis of sex.

TOM IGGULDEN: Until today’s announcement, 93 per cent of jobs in the military have been opened to women.

MICHELE MILLER, NAVY OFFICER: Opening up the rest of the 7 per cent of the roles that are currently closed – it’s about time.

TOM IGGULDEN: The Government is giving the military five years to gradually introduce the reform. Supporters are delighted women will be given the chance to kill as well as die for their country.

KATHRYN SPURLING, AUST. DEFENCE FORCE ACADEMY: The army has most of its categories shut to women and I think, yes, of course, you don’t ask young people to go and serve in a military when you can’t go into frontline combat. That’s not what they go in there for.

TOM IGGULDEN: The closed roles have included mostly positions in the special forces. Supporters of the change say that men in other units are already used to serving alongside women and won’t mind the idea of a female SAS soldier.

MICHELE MILLER: I don’t actually see that there’ll be an issue, no.

PETER LEAHY, UNIVERSITY OF CANBERRA: People will be surprised to find that the Army is ready for this.

TOM IGGULDEN: But former Defence Force Chief Peter Leahy concedes that the demanding physical expectations that come with frontline combat will limit numbers

PETER LEAHY: Studies have suggested maybe 2 or 3 per cent of women might be able to do these sorts of tasks, and right now they are busy being Olympic athletes or making a lot of money playing professional basketball.

TOM IGGULDEN: The New Zealand and Canadian militaries already allow women on their front lines. Opponents of the move in Australia say the Government promised a thorough review before proceeding with its decision.

JIM MOLAN, RETIRED GENERAL: But we haven’t seen that. We’re leaping straight into it. My fear is it’s going to be like the carbon tax for the army – it’s probably is a good thing to do, it will have absolutely no impact on anything, and it will cost us an awful lot.

TOM IGGULDEN: It’s worth noting the military’s Commander-in-Chief is a woman – the Governor General Quentin Bryce – and that Julia Gillard remains the ultimate decider of where Australia’s forces are deployed by virtue of the fact that she is Prime Minister; a fact that Kevin Rudd forgot today in an interview with ABC Local Radio.

KEVIN RUDD, FOREIGN MINISTER: You know something, I’m a very happy little Vegemite being Prime Minister … ah, being Foreign Minister of Australia. Your question was about being Prime Minister – there, you caught me, getting off a plane, jet lagged.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: Every day since his political assassination, Kevin Rudd has thought about going back into the top job.

TOM IGGULDEN: A free shot, as they say in the Army.