Independent Senator Cory Bernardi believes having women in defence force combat roles is not in the interests of Australia's national security.
A retired brigadier turned Liberal senator has launched a stinging attack on upper house colleague Cory Bernardi for claiming that women should not serve in combat roles in the Australian Defence Force.
WA Senator Linda Reynolds, who was Australia's first woman brigadier in the Army Reserve, branded the Australian Conservatives' leader a "complete and utter disgrace" after he said women in combat could pose risks to the nation's national security.
Senator Bernardi spoke against removing an exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act which allows discrimination against women being given combat roles.
"It's about blurring the lines between political correctness and sound tactics in the name of what I think is social justice," Senator Bernardi told parliament.
He said he had deep concerns about the dangers of women serving in combat roles.
"I don't believe incorporating women into combat units is in the best interests of Australia's national security," Senator Bernardi said.
Senator Reynolds made an impassioned speech targeting the South Australian senator over his comments, which she said were appalling.
"I want to say to Senator Bernardi: shame on you," she said.
"He could not have chosen a more insulting or demeaning topic, not only to all of our women who now serve in uniform, but all those women who want to put their hand up."
She said entry standards had not been reduced as part of a push to get more women in the ADF, including in combat roles.
"For the future of defence forces and the security of our nation we need more women," Senator Reynolds said.
The change is part of a largely non-controversial omnibus bill which makes technical changes to a wide range of civil justice legislation.
Liberal Senator David Fawcett, who served in the defence force for 22 years, said he had worked alongside women in the RAAF Aircraft Research and Development Unit who were fantastic contributors.
While agreeing with Senator Bernardi any program driven by political correctness should be opposed, Senator Fawcett said denying women the right to serve in combat roles could limit the force's efficacy.
"If somebody is capable, willing and able to do the task to the required standard with the same amount of training and support that any other member has, then I don't think their gender should necessarily disqualify them," Senator Fawcett said.