The government could change rules barring female soldiers from combat roles, saying the decision to send people into battle should be based on ability, not gender.
The Rudd government says it is “perfectly valid” to argue that all categories of the defence force should be open to women.
It says the only exceptions should be where the physical demands cannot be met – and that criteria should be determined by scientific analysis, rather than cultural assumptions.
Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James insists the current criteria do not discriminate against women.
YOUR SAY: Should sexual equality extend to the battlefield?
But he said he doubted whether the community would accept women in combat roles.
“I don’t think the people of Australia would like to see their daughters, sisters, wives or female friends killed in disproportionate numbers to male service personnel,” he told ABC Radio.
“It’s a simple physicality thing. On the battlefield, academic gender equity theory doesn’t apply. The laws of physics and biomechanics apply.”
‘Ancient views’ on women and chivalry
There was also evidence male soldiers were overly protective of women in the battlefield, he said – an argument angrily rejected by the Women’s Electoral Lobby.
“Grow up, I mean get over it, because that’s something that comes out of some very ancient views about women and chivalry,” spokeswoman Eva Cox said.
“I don’t think most men, most young men these days, are particularly aware of it.”
Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said it was up to Defence Force bosses to decide whether to allow women to serve in frontline combat units.
“This is very much a matter for the defence leadership,” Mr Turnbull told ABC Radio, adding that issues of physical strength were “very relevant”.
“The primary objectives has to be the safety and the effectiveness of our armed forces.”
An informed discussion about the plan should be led by those with “real knowledge and frontline experience in the field”, he said.