Federal Treasurer Peter Costello and opposition defence spokesman Stephen Martin have backed a controversial Defence Department report recommending that women fight in the trenches and use the heavy guns alongside male soldiers.
The report recommends women be allowed to fill combat roles - which could lead to hand-to-hand combat with the enemy - if they can physically match it with men.
Mr Costello said women were already in combat roles as fighter pilots, in submarines and on ships. "We've established the principle that women can do combat roles and women can do everything that men can do," he said. "I believe women can do combat roles, as they've demonstrated already." Dr Martin said women in the Defence Force had proved themselves in the peacekeeping mission in East Timor and there was no reason to preclude them from active combat roles, as long as they met the essential requirements.
"In government I would be prepared to take a submission to a Beazley cabinet recommending that the report's recommendations be implemented in full," he said.
The report, by the army's directorate of career management, will be passed to the military chiefs of staff committee next month and then to the Federal Government.
But Prime Minister John Howard was yesterday not as enthusiastic about the plan as his Treasurer was on Channel Seven's Sunday Sunrise program.
Speaking in Melbourne, Mr Howard said 95per cent of Defence Force positions were available to women. "I'm regularly flown by some very talented female pilots in the RAAF. I think they're terrific," he said.
But asked whether he backed women risking their lives in front-line combat positions, he said: "That's the subject of a report and we'll have a look at that." The report is the result of three years' work, headed by Major-General Simon Willis. It...