FEMALES AT THE FRONT–women at war?
By Sasha Uzunov

The Rudd federal government is pushing for women to be allowed to serve on the frontlines of war in infantry, armoured or combat engineers within the Australian Army.

The Minister for Defence Personnel Greg Combet, who has never served in uniform, is an enthusiastic backer of the scheme. There are those who strongly oppose it. Both sides present strong arguments. Women in combat will probably become a reality more by default than by a political commitment to equal opportunity or grandstanding.

The fact that recruitment numbers are down, that is not enough men volunteer to fight, will cause any future government to open the gates to women in combat. Minister Combet himself has admitted in an article by Christian Kerr of the Australian newspaper, September 09, 2009 that it will not happen overnight and probably not during his watch.

As a clever politician, Combet has commissioned the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DSTO), the military boffins, to test whether women are strong enough for direct combat roles. And who knows how long that will take?

Australian society has been able in a reasoned manner to discuss and debate sensitive issues such as drug abuse, homosexuality, immigration, and so on but for reasons unknown asking why some people volunteer or do not volunteer for military service remains the last taboo.

As a freelance photo journalist and former Australian soldier who in 2003 began to examine why some of those who play an influential role in shaping defence policy or sending others into combat but do not volunteer to fight in uniform, I met fierce resistance.

In August 2008, the Sunday Age’s self-appointed defence expert Tom Hyland called this a “curious crusade.” Why this is a curious crusade beats me? The media is now talking about the possibility of women in direct combat roles.

Questioning the credentials of “defence experts” is a very tough business. The irony of it all is the reason why we are now debating the issue of women in combat roles is the shortage of manpower, pardon the pun. The chickens have come home to roost.

When young Australian men see defence experts who do not serve in uniform it turns them off joining the Australian Defence Force (ADF). But the media will not go there because it is a “curious crusade” and the issue gets silenced.

Dr Anthony Bergin, member of the think-tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute, joined a call in 2007 with Hugh White, former Fairfax journalist turned defence expert, for Pacific Islander immigrants to be given Australian citizenship in return for military service. see link:,20867,21209445-31477,00.html

In theory all of this sounds good but in reality one of the major reasons why young Australians do not volunteer for military service is quite obvious, when they see experts such as White, who have never served in uniform, lecturing from their pulpit, they simply turn off. Then having to drag poor migrants in to do the fighting just adds insult to injury. It is the age old lesson of practice what you preach.

Australia is a democracy where we encourage everyone, including defence theorists to have a voice. But it seems that certain sections of the Australian media have been reluctant to scrutinise these defence theorists.

For reasons unknown the so-called hard-hitting ABC TV Lateline program has been afraid to examine this “touchy subject.”

Lateline has only ever had one journalist with an actual military background on the program. It was the legendary Gerald Stone, founding producer of the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes and a former US Army officer (1954-56) who has appeared a few times. You would think with Stone’s credentials he would be aregular?

Moreover, ABC TV reporter Mark Corcoran served in the Royal Australian Navy and with the super secret Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). Corcoran is the ABC’s only badge-qualified defence expert but for reasons unknown has never been called to provide expert comments.I asked why Lateline was so afraid of opening up the defence debate.

The then Executive Producer Peter Charley, whose wages were paid by the taxpayer to safeguard our freedom of speech, issued this statement to me on Friday 13 January 2006:

“It is neither wise nor clever to suggest that “little ol’ Lateline” is “afraid” to have anyone on the program…”Why is it neither wise nor clever? Charley is now the Executive Producer of SBS TV’s Dateline program

In 2004 Lateline host Tony Jones played hardball with Liberal political head kicker Tony Abbott over his alleged secret meeting with Catholic Cardinal George Pell to discuss government policy. There were overtones of a dark conspiracy between the Abbott and the Catholic Priest! It was actually more high farce on Jones’ part. Perhaps he is a fan of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

But when it comes to defence experts, Jones’ blowtorch is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps Jones is saving himself for a sequel to his Da Vinci Code episode, Angels and Demons, where he questions Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for allegedly getting political advice from the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bornhoffer through visions and dreams!

Perhaps a voice, either an angel or a demon, depending where you stand on women in combat roles, is telling the Prime Minister to send women into combat!