Australia will allow women in its armed forces to serve in combat and front-line duty, including special forces, if they physically qualify.

Stephen Smith, the defense minister, said that while the ban against women in combat will be lifted, it may take up to five years to implement.

Smith also said the measure represents a logical extension to the very strongly held view in Australian society that all of us are equal irrespective of our backgrounds and irrespective of our sex.

He added: From this day forward... no combat roles, no front-line role will be excluded from an Australian on the basis of his or her sex, it will be open to anyone to apply on the basis of merit. This is a significant and major cultural change.

The Australian military, which comprises about 59,000 full-time servicemen and women, has 1,500-strong contingent currently fighting in Afghanistan.

Women in the military are currently eligible to perform 93 percent of the jobs, including artillery duties

Australia’s neighbor New Zealand, as well as Canada and Israel, have already granted women full roles in their militaries.

However, some have criticized the move to lift the ban.

Neil James, chief of the Australian Defence Association, said the government is jumping the gun given there is still inconclusive research the abilities of women soldiers in combat.

It doesn't actually give us a lot of confidence that this is anything more than another political gimmick and a distraction, James told ABC radio.

Complicating matters is that a Australia is in the midst of s messy sex scandal involving its military.

Australian defense officials are investigating alleged acts of sex abuse in the military following a high number of complaints. The probe was sparked after two cadets at a military academy filmed a woman cadet having sex and posted it onto the internet.