Australia's military is reconsidering its ban on recruits who are overweight, have poor eyesight or suffer asthma as it battles to maintain troop numbers, a minister said Friday. Army, navy and air force chiefs want to accept more of the 10 percent of applicants who are rejected on health grounds, The Australian newspaper reported, citing confidential government documents obtained under freedom of information laws.
The standards review comes after the military this year fell 20 percent short of recruitment targets for the sixth consecutive year, the newspaper said.
Assistant Defense Minister De-Anne Kelly confirmed the restrictions based on body-mass index, asthma and eyesight will be reviewed. "You see many elite athletes who have asthma who are able to manage that condition, so it is appropriate that defense looks again at these standards," Kelly told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "Perhaps there are people who are just not quite fit enough and we might be able to assist them with fitness programs or advice," she added. But, she said such troops would not be deployed overseas unless they reached and maintained strict fitness standards.
"Obviously deploying someone who is unfit means they're more susceptible to illness or injury and they can't support their colleagues in a deployment situation," Kelly said.
Opposition Labor Party defense spokesman Robert McClelland suggested the government address the troop shortage by improving employment conditions such as pay, which is lagging behind the private sector. Neil James, executive director of the independent security think-tank Australian Defense Association, warned that the military would lose its flexibility to respond to security threats if new recruits were not able to be deployed, reports the AP. I.L.